Embrace the wobble and six other lessons I learned as a novice cross-country skier

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Weather can be fickle. Sometimes short sleeves suffice. Other times, dress for a frozen tundra.

Two and half years ago I moved to Montana. During my first winter I discovered cross-country skiing. Now in my third winter in Big Sky country, I thought it my duty to pass along some cross-country wisdom I have gathered thus far.

Embrace the wobble.

It’s a shaky sport. You’ll be gliding down the smallest of hills, a bump really, and all of the sudden you sense sudden doom involving you and a certain pile of snow ahead. The key to it all? Be ok with the wobble. Bend your knees and absorb the bumps and you’ll be fine. Or you’ll still end up in the snow. 

Accept that you will fall down.

I have heard of no one, no one, who hasn’t fallen down while cross-country skiing. Heck, I fell down last month while standing still and I’ve been doing it for three years. The best part? Most of the time you’ll fall into white fluffy stuff.

Groomed trails are your friend.

Now I know, some people are far more adventurous than I and more power to them. But as someone who is still early in their cross-country career, I love me a freshly groomed trail with tracks waiting to take me away. Do a bit of research ahead of time about the state of the trail and you’ll be glad. Note - some cross-country skiers take their sport very seriously; be sure you’re skiing the right direction of the trail. Sadly, most groomed trails don’t permit dogs, so leave fido at home for this adventure.

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Bless you groomed trails.

Be prepared.

It’s very possible you’ve heard this more times than you care to, but really, it’s true. When cross-country skiing, it’s easy to take a wrong turn that puts you on a longer trail than you were prepared for. Or maybe it’ll start blizzarding. It happens. Bring water. For the love of winter, bring snacks. An apple or sandwich on the trail will be the best apple or sandwich you’ve ever had. And bring layering options. You’ll easily get very warm and then bitterly cold.

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Your hair or beard may freeze. This is normal.

Downhill skiing and cross-country skiing – not so similar.

While they both include the word skiing, don’t let that deceive you. For downhill, you are locked and loaded with your skis. They are an extension of your body. It’s a beautiful thing. Cross-country is more akin to wearing tennis shoes that are tied to two long toothpicks. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But as a lifelong downhill skier, I was expecting more crossover between the two.

Hills you encounter are equally fun and terrifying.

Unless you happen to stumble upon a perfectly flat trail, you will encounter some ups and downs. And that first down is more than a little frightening. But remember tip #1 and you’ll be fine. And once you make it down (one way or another) you’ll be ready and excited for the next one. Hopefully.

Be ready to be exhausted in the best way possible.

Cross-country skiing provides one of the best full body workouts  you can get. What makes cross-country skiing stand apart is how much your upper body plays a role and the combination of “pulling” and “pushing” muscles you’ll use. You may not feel it whilst in the white winter wonderland, but your body is working hard. Schedule some time to take it easy, especially after the first few times of the season.

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Lolo Pass, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. 

What piece of advice would you tell a new cross-country skier?