Biathlon facilities in Obertilliach, © Tirol Werbung/Bert Heinzlmeier
Biathlon facilities in Obertilliach, © Tirol Werbung/Bert Heinzlmeier

Cross-Country Skiing: Top Tips on How to Get Started

Cross-country skiing is not only a fantastic way of staying fit but also one of the best sports to discover the beautiful alpine landscape in Tirol. It is easy to learn, meaning that even beginners will soon be out exploring the trails in the region.

Cross-country skiing is a sport often stands in the shadow of its bigger brother, alpine skiing, but is very popular in the Alps and Scandinavia. Why? We think it's about time you found out for yourself! Cross-country skiing is not only one of the healthiest winter sports out there but is also a fantastic way to glide through the snowy landscape and enjoy the absolute peace and quiet seldom found on ski pistes. Tirol is home to many cross-country skiing areas, from the Tannheimer Tal Region in the west to the Kitzbühel Alps in the east and the Dolomites of East Tirol in the south. Many of these resorts have special offers for beginners and those getting back into the sport after a while away. And one of the best things about cross-country skiing compared with alpine skiing is how quick and it is to get started. Most of the 4,000 kilometres of cross-country skiing trails in Tirol can be used free of charge.

We have put together a guide on how to get started with cross-country skiing. If you follow these simple steps then you will be out and about exploring the region on two skis before you know it!

Step 1 · Get Fit for the Trails

© Tirol Werbung / Charly Schwarz

Cross-country skiing is excellent for the body's cardiovscular system, trains all the major parts of the body and at the same time – unlike running – minimises the pressure and impact on the joints. Those are just some of the reasons why this sport popular in the Alps and Scandinavia is recommended by many fitness experts for people of all ages, especially those who are getting back into sport and exercise after a while away. Of course, as with every other endurance sport it will be easier and more enjoyable if you already have a certain basic level of fitness before you start.

Jogging, cycling and other endurance sports are a good way of preparing for cross-country skiing. If you are planning on going cross-country skiing next winter, we recommend that you start training in summer or autumn. Balance and stretching exercises are very useful. Nordic walking (power walking with poles) is also a good way to prepare your body for cross-country skiing and helps you train the diagonal arm-leg coordination needed for the Classic technique. Inline skating also involves similar movements to cross-country skiing. And there are even special 'ski rollers' – short skis with wheels on the bottom which recreate the sensation of cross-country skiing and can be used during spring, summer and autumn on tarmac. If you follow these tips and start training during the warm months of the year then you will be ready to go when winter comes.

Step 2 · Find the Right Cross-Country Ski Area

© Tirol Werbung / Aitzetmüller Johannes

Tirol has plenty of cross-country ski areas ideal for those starting out or getting back into the sport. Beginners should aim for low-altitude trails which are mainly flat and not too long – despite its elegant appearance, cross-country skiing can be hard work. Blue trails are perfect for beginners. Just like the pistes in a ski resort, all cross-country skiing trails are rated blue (easy), red (intermediate) or black (difficult).

Another important aspect for beginners is the quality of the ski instructors in the resort. There are a number of top cross-country skiing regions in Tirol which specialise in Nordic sports. They often have all-inclusive offers which also cover private lessons with a cross-country skiing instructor.

Step 3 · Skating or Classic? A Question of Style

© Region Seefeld / Stephan Elsler

There are two main techniques or 'styles' in cross-country skiing: Classic and Skating. It is a good idea to choose which one you want to learn before you start – not least because each requires different equipment. Experts also recommend that beginners should focus on just one style.

The Classic technique is generally recognised as being the easier of the two to learn. It is based on what is known as the 'diagonal step'. This means that when your left arm and pole are held out in front of your body, your right foot and ski are behind your body. This position switches from left to right, with arms and legs always diagonally opposed, as you progress along the trail. Although it is easy to glide along in different ways, it is important that beginners learn the right technique from the start – it is harder to correct poor technique once it has been learned by the body. Classic cross-country skiing is less intensive and places less of a strain on the cardiovascular system.

Beginners who already have a good level of fitness – and, ideally, are already familiar with sports such as inline skating – can try the more dynamic and challenging Skating style. The technique required for this style is similar to that used for ice skating: skiers push off on one ski, then glide on the other, etc. The poles are used in tandem to give extra impetus. Skating is harder work than Classic cross-country skiing and skiers can reach higher speeds. Steep trails and inclines are easier to ski using this techqnique.

The Beginner's Guide to Classic Cross Country Skiing
The Beginner's Guide to Skate Skiing - Cross Country Skiing

Step 4 · The Right Equipment: Buy or Hire?

Cross-country skis, © Tirol Werbung/W9 STUDIOS

If you're not yet sure whether cross-country skiing is the right sport for you, we recommend that you hire your equipment. Tirol's top cross-country skiing regions are home to plenty of hotels and shops where guests can hire skis, poles and boots by the day. Those who do want to take the plunge and buy their equipment will find lots of sports shops with friendly and exprienced members of staff who will be happy to help.

For beginners, 'no-wax skis' are often the best equipment to get started. The base of these skis are specially designed to help skiers climb hills without slipping backwards. They can be used with or without wax, making them a quick and easy solution for inexperienced skiers. More experienced skiers generally use traditional skis which require wax on the base. Skis for Classic skiing are generally around 10 centimetres longer than those used for Skating.

The choice of poles and boots is just as important. For the Classic technique skiers need poles which reach up to the middle of the chest when placed on the ground, while Skating requires poles that reach all the way up to the skier's chin. Boots should cover the ankle in order to provide warmth and protection. Last but not least, it is worth choosing a flexible binding system if you plan on changing your shoes more often than your skis.

It may sound like cross-country skiing is an expensive sport, but that is not the case. The equipment needed to get started is significantly cheaper than the gear needed for alpine skiing.

Step 5 · There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather – Just Bad Clothing

Wildmoos trail in Seefeld, © Region Seefeld

"Not too warm, not too cold" is the basic philosophy behind the often difficult art of choosing the right clothing for cross-country skiing. Almost more important is the type of clothes you wear: breathable sportswear, Windstopper jackets and fleece jumpers are ideal, combined with long ski underwear. Cotton should be avoided as it absorbs moisture rather than transporting it away from your skin. Clothing, including gloves, should be tight but comfortable. It is also a good idea to bring an extra pullover to put on while you are taking a break.

If you already do outdoor sports such as running, cycling and ice skating in winter then it is likely that you will already have a set of appropriate sportswear which you can also use for cross-country skiing. Don't forget to bring along a small rucksack with a flask of tea and a few muesli bars to top up your energy reserves.

Step 6 · Learn the Basics from an Expert

© Tirol Werbung / Charly Schwarz

Cross-country skiing may be slower and less risky than alpine skiing, but there is still always the risk of falling. Cruciate ligament injuries are among the most common injuries suffered by cross-country skiers. The best way to stay safe and have fun is by learning the basics from an instructor. Many of the over 300 ski schools in Tirol offer cross-country skiing courses. Experienced instructors will show you the right technique for pushing off, gliding, braking and even how to perform an 'emergency fall'. Many beginners need just a few lessons to get the hang of it. Starting out with an instructor is definitely a good idea and worth it in the long run.

Learn more

How did you like this article?

Want to receive an answer? If so, please get in touch using the contact form.

Go up

Is your inbox in need of a holiday?

Then subscribe to our weekly newsletter full of exclusive holiday tips from Tirol!