Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
A beginner's guide to cross-country skiing.

Picture this: You’re gliding through a sparkling snow-covered forest. You hear birdsong and see signs of forest life around you.

There’s no better way to enjoy winter in Ontario’s parks than on skis.

If you’re not yet a cross-country skier, here are some beginner tips to help you get started.

Using the right equipment

There are two main types of cross-country (or Nordic) skiing in Ontario parks: classic skiing and skating.

Many of our parks offer both types of skiing on the same trail.

Classic or traditional ski It involves skiing on groomed and embedded slopes. You will move forward with a diagonal stride with a kick-and-glide motion, while keeping your skis on the slopes.

person skiing

This is probably the best way to start your cross-country skiing experience.

skate ski It is also done on groomed trails, but these trails are full of flat terrain. You’ll apply more of a V pattern, or a side-to-side skating motion, pushing each ski as you go, like an ice skater!

This method of skiing may be faster, but it also requires more technique to master.

people skating skiing

Both methods require equipment specific to that type of ski and the right size for you.

The basic equipment needed for both styles is a set of cross-country skis, poles and ski boots.

Initially, renting or borrowing equipment is a great way to test your skills and style preferences. You can consider purchasing your own equipment later once you are ready.

Take a lesson or join a club

As a beginner, one of the best ways to learn technique is by taking a lesson.

Check with local outdoor stores and cross-country ski clubs to see what is available in your area.

Lesson packages may also include equipment rentals. Rentals can have the added benefit of having the skis pre-waxed for you, saving you that step.

people with ski equipment near the trail

By joining a club, you will also have access to other valuable resources. In addition to beginner lessons, clubs often offer educational sessions to help you develop your skills.

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Many clubs will have adult and youth groups, so the whole family can participate!

You’ll have the opportunity to meet people with similar interests and potentially find new ski buddies, so you won’t have to hit the slopes alone.

In addition to ski equipment, there are a few more important things to consider when preparing for your first cross-country ski outing.

Dress for the occasion

person holding skis

Cross-country ski clothing has come a long way since the days of wool panties and socks.

Nowadays, you’ll see a variety of outfits worn on the road, from spandex rompers to more relaxed wardrobes.

As a beginner, you don’t need to buy any special or expensive outfits to go out and try it out.

Try following these clothing tips to make your first ski experience comfortable:

Dress in layers

Once your body gets moving, you’ll get hot and possibly even start sweating. Dressing in layers allows you to remove your clothing as it warms up and replace it as it cools down.

Fabrics like wool and modern synthetics will keep you warm. Avoid cottons.

Flexible or looser clothing will provide more mobility, so avoid jeans. Try a couple of forward lunges to see if your pants have the flexibility you need for skiing.

mother teaching her son to ski

Layers can include long johns (top and bottom) as a base and windproof pants with a jacket as an outer layer. Add as many layers as necessary to stay warm, but three or four layers total are usually enough.

Gloves versus mittens

On milder days, gloves will give you a better feel when holding your poles, but on colder days, gloves will keep your fingers warmer.

Both can also come in layered options.

Touches and neck warmers

Did you know that up to 60% of body heat can be lost in the head and neck area?

Keeping them covered when you’re outdoors will keep you warmer overall. Simply take off your cap for a moment if you need to cool off.

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Layers are also applied here.

Wearing a thinner pair of socks covered by a thicker, warmer pair will help wick away moisture. Try different combinations of socks inside your ski boots to find what works best.

ski boots

Make sure your boots are snug while leaving some room to wiggle your toes. If the sock and boot combination is too tight, your feet may get cold faster.

Change of clothes

It is always good to bring a change of clothes to after ski.

If you’ve sweated, you can still catch a cold on a longer trip home, even with your vehicle’s heat on.

At the very least, it’s a good idea to change out of your socks and top layers and then bundle up in a nice warm jacket for the ride home.

Selecting your route

If you’re taking a lesson, your instructor will choose the perfect place to start.

Flatter, shorter trails are a good starting point. Trails nestled among the trees but open to the sky will minimize cold winds on your body and allow you to still enjoy the sun on your face.

ski slope

Little by little you will improve your skills and learn techniques to tackle the ups and downs of the mountainous sections!

When you’re ready to try something a little longer, look up ski trail maps for the area you plan to visit.

These maps will provide trail distances, trail difficulty levels, and sometimes even trail terrain profiles, indicating the steepness of any hills you may encounter.

Be sure to test your skills first on the beginner trails.

Where to Ski with Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks has several parks with groomed cross-country ski trails. Check ski conditions for these parks in our Snow Report.

Our parks offer different levels of services and facilities for winter activities, including skiing.

people skiing

Visit each park’s website and check the icons to see what is available and right for you.

Please note: Winter day use fees apply (you may choose to purchase a winter pass for the season).

So, what are you waiting for?

Try cross-country skiing in Ontario parks this winter and #SkiOn!

Outdoor safety is even more important during the colder winter months. Check out these safety tips before you head out.