Nordic (XC) Skiing in Five Easy Strides

By Joan Boxall

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Cross-country skiiers gather at Telemark Nordic trails overlooking Okanagan Lake, near Kelowna. Photos: Joan Boxall

In a self-propelled sliding sport, lose the chairlift, the crowds and the downhill emphasis. Press thumb and forefinger together; cross country skis are well in hand – light, strong and flexible enough to go the distance.  

Utilizing well-maintained, track-set trails, two parallel tracks are for classic skiers lining the trail to the right and left. A smooth inner stretch of corduroy lets skate skiers power up the middle.

Arms and legs pendulum-swing with a steady pressure: legs on skis and arms on poles. You’ve traded a walking gait for a skiing glide or stride — gray rain at sea level for sparkling snow higher up.

“It’s great exercise… an opportunity to get out-of-doors and enjoy fabulous vistas. I enjoy trails that loop up and down through the trees.” –Co-president of The Vancouver Skiers Cross Country and Touring Club, Eda Kadar

“I like being enveloped in white and fresh and beauty… and, at this time in my life, on my skate skis, I feel like I’m flying!” –Sabina Harpe, Vancouver Skiers

Go easy, and go about it in the right way.

Stride #1: Take a lesson

The Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI) offers certification levels in cross country (skate, classic and telemark) technique.

Anders Bjorklund, 50, is a top-level IV instructor and co-owner, with his wife Jodie, of Sigge’s Nordic Ski Shop in Vancouver. Anders’ father, Sigge Bjorklund, co-founded CANSI in 1976.

“We’re still trying to break down that old expression ‘if you can walk, you can cross country ski’… [That] did not do us any great service. It is more involved than just walking, and our concern is that those individuals that don’t take a lesson might become frustrated because they’re not enjoying the sport as much as they could be, had they taken a lesson.”

A CANSI-certified instructor (with rental equipment on-the-ready) can be found at most British Columbia ski schools. Try out the sport with a nationally-certified instructor before investing in your own equipment.  Even if you have your own equipment, a periodic lesson keeps you from sliding backward.  

Local ski schools like the Lower Mainland’s Cypress (Hollyburn) Ski School (the largest one in Canada), Whistler’s Olympic Park, Lost Lake Park, Callaghan Country or Vancouver Island’s Mt. Washington are ready to assist you.

Stride #2: Get good equipment

Anders Bjorklund continues Sigge’s legacy as the leading supplier of cross country ski equipment and clothing in BC.

Anders says, “Once you’ve decided which equipment (skate or classic)… it has to do, first and foremost, with weight… skis are now engineered differently; they’re shorter… the camber is stiffer; classic skis are meant to grip and glide… matching the ski to your weight, your height and your ability level is a whole discovery process, harmoniously matching… making sure you have the appropriate calibre boot, binding, ski, and pole… everything works together.”

“How frequently do you intend to ski is something we ask,” says Anders, “and whether you’re going to buy a season’s pass, join a club… make a commitment to do this sport and do it well… we also want that investment to be working well 20 to 30 ski days in. It’s not just selling the equipment, but the follow-up, such as when there’s challenging conditions… there are a variety of snow conditions, so it’s important to get experience and expectations to match.”

Stride #3: Join a club

Become a member of the Vancouver Skiers Cross Country and Touring Club, founded in 1962 by Sigge Bjorklund, or join a club at one of the more than 50 Nordic ski areas throughout British Columbia.  

The Vancouver Skiers gather monthly through ski season on Tuesday evenings for slide presentations, ski swaps and fun activities. Day trips vary from a coaching day at Cypress Nordic area (at Hollyburn Ridge) to Whistler’s Callaghan Valley, and weekend and multi-day trips in British Columbia and beyond.  
“I like XC skiing for only one reason: pleasure — the fun, the open skies, and nature — just the enjoyment of Canadian winters.” –Lies Botman, Vancouver Skiers  

“I have been with this club for about 35 years… It’s the perfect sport for arms and legs… cardiovascular and weight-bearing… I intend to continue for the rest of my life!” –Most-experienced member of Vancouver Skiers, Mo Iqbal, 85

Stride #4: See and Ski British Columbia

* Stake Lake and Salmon Arm: three-day trip
Skiers loop Stake Lake’s green, blue and black (easy, intermediate and challenging) runs that radiate outwards from a club cabin (with flush-toilets).

Two ingredients make it sparkle: new snow and grooming. Grooming machines level and compact all kinds of snow from fluffy powder to slush for easy navigation of most trails.

Try Cowpoke (green), Tumbleweed (blue), and Geronimo (black)! Colour-coded trails give a hint to the trail’s slope.

The Larch Hills Nordic Society and Shuswap Outdoors invite skiers “to get your glide on” with over 50 kilometres of groomed tracks. A favourite destination is Cec’s Cabin, a three- to four-hour round trip, climbing steadily uphill along Larch Hills Road, and winding back along a Monashee-Mountain panorama.

Lunch is at Michele’s Dawg Waggin. Michele Broemeling and Ann Steenhuysen unhitch their stovetop and canopy to dish out quinoa “cluckers,” locally-raised chicken sausage with quinoa, red pepper, onions and spices. Mine’s fully-dressed. Ken has the borscht with a dollop of sour cream. Kilometre-counting takes precedence over calorie-counting.  
The Larch Hills Winery is the highest-elevation winery in North America. Its owners, Jack and Hazel Manser, season hot-mulled wine, and wafts of it pull us in. Skiers’ faces glow with the fresh air. Cheeks are a 2010 Tamarack Rose.

Telemark Nordic, Sovereign Lakes/Silver Star and Kelowna Nordic:  three-day trip
We scamper off the bus like eager snowshoe hares, ready to make tracks onto Telemark Trail and Panorama Ridge with views of Lake Okanagan.

The Kelowna Nordic’s web-messaging cautions gardeners in the middle of March: “keep your mitts off the spade and back on the poles.” This is strictly a snow garden.  

Near Vernon, Sovereign Lake Nordic Club’s trail system has over 105 kilometres of daily groomed trails adjoining Silver Star, a mile-high (downhill and XC) ski hub, making it the largest continuously groomed grid of cross country ski trails in Canada.  

Small wonder the US National Ski Team voted Silver Star their #1 Nordic destination, and Canadian Olympians, Beckie Scott and Sara Renner, top pick it for abundance of trails, snow and amenities.
Rocky Mountain Tour: six-day trip

Alberta and British Columbia share the Rocky Mountains and skiers are indiscriminate about carving up both sides of her flanks. A six-day road trip with The Vancouver Skiers provides an International-Stage-Lines coach driver who delivers skiers safely to the slopes. The club’s executive of dedicated volunteers organizes the travel and accommodation details.

“Cross country skiing for me is both therapeutic and self-indulgent.  It’s a time to listen to your heart beat and the wind in the pines.”    
–Fred Peters, Vancouver Skiers

“(Nordic skiing) is only positive… changeable with lots of variety and conditions… peaceful and serene… it fits for me.” –Roy Helland, Vancouver Skiers

We ski at Dawn Mountain’s Golden Nordic club in Golden with their apt logo: Golden Rules. The Golden Rule, found in many cultures, ensures success. It also implies “ski unto others, as you would have them ski unto (not into) you.”

With 33 kilometres of volunteer-groomed (yet impeccably manicured) tracks, our host, rental router and club vice-president, Wayne Manzer, greets us in front of the newly-minted (since 2010) Dawn Mountain Chalet. We gravitate to a four-way-stop at the corners of Hawk Owl, Marmot, Raven and Cariboo trails in a flurry of snacks, sips and photographic snaps.

We access Canmore Nordic trails, Banff Upper Hot Springs, Mount Shark and the Watridge Lake Trail System, for those who want to (snow) plow on.
Slipping back through Roger’s Pass to Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club, craggy mountaintops reveal snow-stacked layer cakes – frosting upon frosting, sweeter than sweet. We congregate at Ole Sandberg’s heated cabin – taking optional loops until we flop – ski-satiated, back on the bus.

Stride #5:  Appreciate Balance

Follow a regime of brisk walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, and you’re already practicing for a sport that engages heart and mind. You’ve been cross-training for XC skiing!

“Cross country skiing is one of many parts of my life… I ski a little; I play bridge; I do aqua fit; I dance; I garden… it’s just the combination of being active, enjoying fresh air, nice people… generally having a great time.” –Maya Trost, Vancouver Skiers

“Having had a journey with breast cancer means that if I am XC skiing as a senior, I have been gifted these precious moments to soak in the white sparkly snow, smell the forest and keep my body healthy with this activity that lifts my spirit.” –Leslie Fierling, Vancouver Skiers

“Since I ski with a blind skier, I try to figure out how to describe things… I appreciate it more because I can see it.”    –Anna Bentley, Vancouver Skiers Member-at-Large, and blind ski guide

This sport energizes its can-do participants. Start off with a lesson. Graduate to multi-day ski trips. Share in the ongoing flow of tips about equipment, technique and life. These gliders take it all in stride.


january 2017 INSPIRED senior living


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Showing 1 to 4 of 4 comments.

Thanks for the article. It was great to host you for the two days you skied with us. A very fun group with a great attitude. Running into people who are part of your group who have come to ski with us. A small note on the groomer. We have the marvelous Erwin Persinger who is our head groomer. This is a paid position. Erwin also has a crew of volunteer groomers he takes care of. Hope we get to see you again. Eda, was great to work with you to make this happen.

Posted by Wayne Manzer | January 6, 2017 Report Violation

Joan, I've enjoyed cross country skiing for 47 seasons now. I have no intention of stopping any time soon. The fresh air, great exercise and fun keep me going. I hope your article inspires others to take part. See you on the trails.

Posted by Sharon Moore | January 3, 2017 Report Violation

Joan, this is a great article and makes me want to get over my snow shovelling injury asap so I can get back on skis. I guess snowshoeing will have to do for a little while yet.

Posted by Dan Bowditch | January 3, 2017 Report Violation

Thank you for this wonderful article - so full of details, images and great enthusiasm! It is indeed a wonderful sport and you have captured it so well! Thank you, Joan!

Posted by Sabina Harpe | January 3, 2017 Report Violation

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