Cross-country skiing promises a great cross-training workout

Cross-country skiing has become a popular sport because it's inexpensive, safe and convenient (Photo courtesy of

Sometimes runners have to travel to get to a cross-training workout but on somewhat rare occasions that different form of exercise comes to them.

One usually has to jump in a car to get to an indoor pool, a gymnasium or a skating rink.

No transportation needed, though, when it comes to cross-country skiing.

Just wait for the flakes to fly — as they will around here sometime Wednesday afternoon – open the back door, snap on the skis and you’re ready to go.

Yes, as soon as the white stuff gets deep enough to cover your backyard grass, new tracks can be laid down.

If you’re a somewhat advanced Nordic skier, a nearby park within walking distance will be more of a challenge.

Thing is, this upcoming Wednesday-Thursday snow event has become increasingly rare. Let’s say the forecasted eight to 10 inches do arrive. . .that will mark the biggest storm in a few years.

X-C enthusiasts usually have to head north to places such as Lake Placid, N.Y., the Poconos or resorts in Vermont to ski in excellent conditions.

The sport is fairly easy to learn and doesn’t require a lot of cash.

A good set of skis, poles and boots can be purchased for under $200.

The trick is to get out first thing in the morning after a storm, particularly if you are using places such as Tyler State Park, Core Creek Park or the Delaware Canal towpath.

Waiting too long will make it difficult once the snow has been churned up by foot traffic.

As for the benefits of cross-country skiing, there are many. First, it’s both a good aerobic and anaerobic workout. The balance and the pushing motion required really tests the core muscles in your midsection.

Plus, Nordic skiing is different from the downhill Alpine type in that there are no lifts. Alpiners go down and ride up. When Nordic enthusiasts take on mountains, like they do at my favorite spot at Mount Hoevenberg (site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid), you ski down the slope and then you ski back up.

Arms, lower legs, quads, stomach, back and shoulders – everything gets tested.

Besides that, one gets to sight-see throughout a newly formed winter wonderland.

You can be sure veteran cross-country skier Jeff Griesemer will be out there early Thursday morning. He agrees with our checklist regarding exercise value, cost, safety and convenience.

“Cross-country skiing includes some good benefits such as it’s a full-body and non-impact exercise,’’ Griesemer says. “You can get into a rhythmic groove and glide that feels great, and you can feel part of the winter landscape.

“Also cross-country skiing has a low overhead and is quite accessible.  Equipment is minimal and relatively inexpensive plus the sport is not confined to a specified (i.e., expensive) ski area.’’

As mentioned, the key is to get out there and create your own tracks. At resorts, trails are groomed with tracks already in place so there’s no need to arrive at the crack of dawn.

“In this area of the country cross-country skiing can be considered one of those stop-what-you’re-doing-and-drop-everything sports,’’ Griesemer explains. “When the now relatively rare adequate snowfall occurs, you drop everything to get out and ski.’’

If you’re a novice, lessons are available, but really it’s about as easy as riding a bike.

Just place your poles in the snow, slide one foot forward, push with one pole, then repeat on the other side with a slide and kick motion. Before you know it, you’re on your way.

According to an article on the Human Kinetics website, elite cross -country skiers tend to be as fit as their elite running counterparts.

In a study of Olympic cross-country skiers, the average elite female skier carried 11 percent body fat and elite male skiers carried five percent.

These percentages are well below the average for people who are considered to be athletic (encompassing a large percentage of runners): 17 percent for females and 10 percent for males.

In addition, the article points out the high number of calories burned while skiing helps to keep skiers trim and lean. One hour of moderate cross-country skiing can burn approximately 470 calories for a 130-pound person and nearly 700 calories for a 190-pound person.

There are two general types of cross-country skiing: The classic Nordic style, in which the skier follows a track, and the skate ski method, in which shorter skis are used and a more diagonal stride is employed for propulsion.

Here are some more staggering numbers: Olympic cross-country skiers have resting heart rates between 28 and 40 beats per minute, quite something compared to the average person, which is 60 to 80 beats per minutes.

Another benefit to cross country skiing, similar to running, is the emotional lift it produces. Scientists believe this has to do with the good old-fashioned endorphin rush, or post-exercise “high’’ that one experiences after running.

So give it a try. My guess is once you do, you will be hooked for life.


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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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