Presented by YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain RanchIf you’re into hiking, jogging, trail running, snowshoeing, alpine skiing, or really any other aerobic sports, you’ve gotta give Nordic skiing a try. As one of the most accessible ways to explore the mountains in winter, Nordic skiing is fun for every level of skier at truly any age. From hill climbs to speed tracks, classic to skate skiing, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide for everything you need to know about how to get into Nordic skiing in Colorado this winter. See you out there!

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Getting Started with Nordic Skiing

The best way to get started is to head to one of the many Nordic centers across Colorado. YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch has one of the most picturesque landscapes in the Centennial State and features more than 120 kilometers of groomed ski track. Just ask any of the 25,000 skiers that enjoy the Nordic Center every year: the range of beginner, intermediate, and expert terrain make this one of the most accessible Nordic centers around.

If you’ve never tried Nordic skiing, take a ski lesson. Certified professionals guide you through the fundamentals of the sport to get you off on the right foot. In addition to lessons, Nordic centers often offer full package gear rentals so that you can try the sport without the commitment of investing in expensive equipment. The experienced staff can help find you gear that fits properly. YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch additionally offers a Kids’ Nordic Ski Program in January and February for ages 5-9. Through games, nature activities, and some technique training, the program introduces kids to Nordic skiing in a fun and interactive environment. Finally, Nordic skiing is an aerobic sport. You’ll have the best experience if you do some aerobic training before you hit the snow. Balancing and stretching exercises, jogging, hiking, and interval training will help to get you in shape for the best season possible.

Dad carrying child - Nordic Skiing - courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch - OutThere Colorado
A dad enjoys a day of Nordic skiing with his child at YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch. Photo courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch.

Nordic Ski Gear – What You’ll Need

Snow Mountain Ranch offers half and full day gear rentals, so if you’re just trying out the sport, no need to invest in a lot of expensive gear. Here’s what you need to know before you go. There are two main types of Nordic skiing: classic and skate. Classic skiing technique is the most accessible for a beginner, while skate ski technique is more aggressive and often used for racing. Once you’ve gotten comfortable on classic skis, move on to skate skis for a more aerobic experience.

  • Classic skis – These narrow skis are best on groomed terrain and use in grooved tracks. The experienced staff at the Nordic Center will fit you for the proper ski size.
  • Boots – Classic cross-country ski boots are much more comfortable than alpine ski boots. This lightweight footwear is stiff enough to make you feel secure on the ski but gives you enough range of motion to get the most out of your glide.
  • Poles – If you’re an alpine skier, you’ll notice that cross-country ski poles are significantly longer than you’re used to. They’re designed this way to help propel you forward with every pole plant.
  • Chariot child carrier – If you’ve got small children and are up for a workout, the best way to bring them with you is in a tag-a-long chariot child carrier. These carriers function similarly to those you might see rolling behind a bicycle, but they’ve got ski runners instead of wheels. You can typically rent chariots at the Nordic centers.
  • Layers – Cross-country skiing is an aerobic activity, so dress in breathable clothing. You’ll also want to make sure to dress for the weather, but definitely expect to work up a sweat.
  • Sunscreen and eye protection – The sun can be brutal when it reflects off of the snow. To avoid snow blindness and sunburn, wear proper eyewear and sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

Nordic Skiing Glossary

Nordic skiing requires a different set of vocabulary. Here’s a guide for the basic terms that you’ll need to know when you head to the slopes.

  • Classic technique – Also referred to as “kick and glide”, this technique combines a swinging arm and leg motion with the goal of gliding straight ahead. This technique is the most accessible for beginners.
  • Groomed trail – One of the best features of Nordic centers is their easy-to-follow groomed terrain. A machine is used to smooth and optimize the trail for the best experience possible. Look out for recognizable green, blue, and black trail signs marking the difficulty level of the trail.
  • Skate skiing – This technique utilizes a style similar to ice-skating. The skier pushes off of the inside edge of the ski to glide across the snow. This is an aerobic style that can propel the skier quite quickly if desired.
Kids Nordic Skiing - courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch - OutThere Colorado
Kids get geared up for a day of Nordic skiing at YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch. Photo courtesy of Snow Mountain Ranch.

Nordic Skiing Pro Tips

  1. Stay hydrated. Even though it’s cold, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t overexert yourself without refueling.
  2. Carry an insulated pack. Keep your water from freezing with an insulated bladder pack or storing your water bottles upside down in your pack.
  3. Stretch. You’ll want to remember to stretch before and after your ski to stay limber and avoid unwanted soreness.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Cross-country skiing can be one of the most invigorating and peaceful ways to spend a day in the outdoors in Colorado. The more you practice, the more you’ll feel like skiing is becoming second nature.

Next Steps

Now that you’re initiated into the sport of Nordic skiing, here are some next steps to get you out there enjoying the winter landscape.

  • Book your Nordic ski getaway at YMCA of the Rockies at Snow Mountain Ranch. To get the most out of a Nordic ski weekend, plan to spend the night so that you can practice what you learned the following day.
  • Explore the backcountry. Once you’re comfortable on the groomed trails of Snow Mountain Ranch, you’ll want to try skiing in the backcountry to really immerse yourself in the winter landscape. Backcountry touring gear is different than classic and skate gear. Consult your local Nordic center or experts to determine exactly what you’ll need.
  • Safety first. Take an AIARE 1 Avalanche Course, and be sure to fine tune your GPS and navigation skills before heading out away from groomed terrain.
  • Do Your Research. If you’re going on backcountry trails, be sure to, 1) check weather conditions, 2) check snow conditions, 3) have maps and good route finding skills, and 4) always tell people where you are going and for how long.

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