Monday, 9 March 2009

The myth of cross country skiing

I recently enjoyed a winter holiday in Austria. Before I went, I was surprised to find that most people who asked what I was going to be doing reacted with mild horror when I told them I would be cross country skiing. "Cross country? Isn't that incredibly tiring? Doesn't sound like much of a holiday" etc. I was doing classic style cross country, where you ski in cut tracks as opposed to the skating style which is more like what you see in the Olympics. As you're skiing in tracks, you only have to concentrate on forward movement which is a handy benefit given that your skis are about 2" wide and for anyone with downhill skiing experience a little tricky to find an edge on. To go with the super light, 2" wide skis, you also get very comfortable boots that clip into the skis only at the front. This is awesome because the gear is very manageable, but it also means that you can fall over in pretty much any direction you can imagine.

The myth I want to dispel is that you have to be incredibly fit to cross country ski. It's no different from anything else really, you perform it to your level, wherever that level may be. I can go for a run, you can go for a run, Gordon Brown can go for a run and Usain Bolt can go for a run; we're all running - just each to our own level of fitness. For me, that means when I cross country ski I enjoy nice little breaks where I can take in the scenery. This is a great benefit of cross country skiing over downhill, as you move a lot slower (we averaged around 6km/h) and can really appreciate your surroundings. The motion required for classic cross country is similar to ice skating/rollerblading; you have to transfer your weight from foot to foot, first propelling yourself with the weighted foot and then gliding on it as you transfer your weight. Because this requires quite a lot of co-ordination, another benefit is that it's atually quite hard to think about anything other than propelling yourself, listening to the swish of the skis and enjoying the scenery. Any worries or stresses quickly evaporate leaving you with a rare, and pleasurably clear mind.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it's easy, but it's certainly not as hard as you might think. The max we skied in a day was about 15km, which took about 2.5 hours, and the last 2km of that were pretty painful. Another observation is that I seem to have got into cross country about 20 years earlier than most people; it seems to be a sport for 40-60 year olds. This is pretty inspiring because by the time I reach that age, I should be an amazing cross country skier, but it's a bit irritating when you're brutally over taken by a lycra clad, silver haired blur.

You can watch my holiday video below, perhaps it will inspire you to give cross country a go the next time you get the opportunity. I highly recommend it.

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