Cross-Country Skiing Lesson in Crested Butte

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K found a great deal through the hotel we stayed at in Crested Butte for a cross-country skiing class at the Crested Butte Nordic Center. I had never been, and K’s only experience was when he was about 8 years old. Suffice it to say he didn’t like it at the time but we both wanted to give it another go, or a first go in my case. We lucked out and the day was gorgeous – bright blue sky and puffy white clouds. The temperature was even so mild we took off our jackets (and later on even stripped down to just our t-shirts).

First, I have to say how comfy I think the ski boots were. This is worth noting because with only prior experience with downhill skiing boots, this was almost magical. They are so light and easy to walk in, and in a strange way kind of fashionable looking too I think! The boots clip into the skis only at the front of the toe, which at first seems a little unnerving but turned out to be totally secure. And believe me, I tested those puppies by falling immediately upon exiting the groomed track for the first time, ha. I likened it to getting of the ski lift your first time out on the slopes – recipe for disaster. Anyway, after some nonchalant (or not so nonchalant) flailing about I was back on my feet. 🙂

The groomed tracks are interesting. They are simply two parallel tracks that have been dug into the snow to allow you to ski in. It’s nice because they are nice and smooth, help guide your skis and your direction, but because of the same we found that at times you get going faster than you might be comfortable with in which case you have to exit the tracks in order to be able to snow-plow and slow yourself down. Also, sometimes on a turn you kind of get thrown out of the tracks anyway – or maybe that was just us and something to improve upon. 🙂

Now, full disclosure, K fell too (maybe out of solidarity with me), but probably because he discovered an important fact: turning on cross-country skis is not like turning on downhill skis. You just don’t have the edges to do so. Instead, you have to do more of a step turn. That’ll take more practice to get better at.

After the lesson, we were set free to ski on our own for the rest of the day. The lesson had been immediately outside the Nordic Center building, but we then went over to the Magic Meadows areas.We did a loop, going out on the “Pooch’s Paradise” trail (rated green), and circling back on the “Outer Magic Meadows” trail (rated blue). We don’t plan on running out and buying our own gear at this time, especially since we’re now into spring, but we had a lot of fun and would definitely do it again.

The Basics

Who: Anyone with an interest in trying out cross country skiing. We think it’s a good alternative to downhill skiing and snowshoeing and lets you have an even greater variety of winter activities.

What: Specifically, we did classic skiing, but there is also the skating style. The difference is that in classic skiing there are “fish scales” on the bottom middle of the skis, that allow you to kick off of one ski and provide the traction so that it does not slide backwards, but instead propels you forward in a straight line. After kicking off with one ski, you glide forward on the other ski. Eventually you progress to being able to lift the foot you kicked off with off the ground and balance only on the ski gliding forward, but for starters we still kept a toe down for some balance to work up from. Groomed ski tracks you see on trails are for the classic style. Skate skiing on the other hand looks just like I’d pictured it, it you were on ice skates instead of skis, transferring your weight from one ski to the other while kicking them at outward angles. I’d recommend finding an online video so you can see the difference as it may be hard to fully picture from a simple description. There are pros and cons to why you may want to start with one over the other. Our instructor indicated that in his experience it can be easier to do classic style at first but that it can be harder to master. Conversely, it can be more difficult to start the basics of skate skiing but once you get the hang of that it usually seems easier to progress from there. We were personally more interested in the classic style.
Where: As mentioned, we went to the Crested Butte Nordic Center. The folks were friendly, and our instructor very knowledgeable and personable. He definitely helped us get going the right way. Our class was bundled in a package with the hotel we stayed in and for that we also received the gear rental and a pass to use their extensive trail system for the rest of the day, but at this and probably other centers like it you could mix and match and for instance just get the trail pass on its own if you get your own gear. Going to a center with its own network of trails can be convenient, but there are so many of free trails out there as well you could probably find plenty to do and not ever pay a penny.
When: Whenever there’s enough snow!
Why: It is a lot of fun. It’s a sport that provides the ability to go by yourself or spend some time with a friend, get enough speed to feel some exhilaration or at times simply coast along, all the while being able to enjoy great scenery. Not to mention you get a great workout. It made me feel better to read in the Wikipedia article about cross-country skiing that “As an endurance sport, cross-country skiing is one of the most difficult, as its motions use every major muscle group and it (along with running, rowing and swimming) is one of the sports that burn the most calories per hour of execution.” Whew, I guess it’s not so shabby then that we felt exhausted by the end of the day!
How: Of course you could buy your own gear and go out to a free access trail and give it a whirl on your own, but with a quick online search in your area (or in an area you plan to vacation in if your local climate doesn’t lend itself to this sport), there should be some place to rent the equipment for your first time out. We definitely recommend taking a lesson as well as we learned a lot of tips, tricks, and techniques that would have been lost on us if we’d just strapped on some rentals and gone for it ourselves.
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