Cross Country

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Cross Country Skiing (also known as Nordic Skiing) is like bushwalking on skis (or, for racers, like a sprint or a marathon, depending on distance).

Are you tired of crowded ski slopes? Do you want to ski for months before the resorts open and after they close? Are you a bushwalker who would like to explore the mountains in winter? Are you a runner or skater who would like to try racing on snow?

If you want to make first tracks down that snow covered mountain that you can see from the lookout but could never reach, or glide or skate through the trees, or snowcamp for a weekend or a week in a winter wonderland, you should leave the ski lifts behind and embark on a Cross-Country skiing adventure.

Cross-Country skiing can be a leisurely tour on a track or in the backcountry, and it can an adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding sport when citizen racing or descending a mountain by telemark or alpine techniques.

There are several members of the Cross-Country skiing family. The thing they all have in common is free-heel bindings, or those that can attach boot to ski at the toe only, permitting a much more natural stride than with downhill boots. The skis may be waxed for grip, or more commonly have patterned bases or have skins attached to the bases so that they slide forward easily, but do not slip back. This allows the skier to travel across undulating terrain and to climb up hills in addition to descending moderate to steep terrain.

Track skiing, classic and skating, is done on prepared trails, groomed tracks, and moderate terrain. Equipment for this type of skiing is designed for either the classic kick-and-glide technique, with skis running parallel to one another, or for the skating style, with the skis angled in a herringbone pattern for powerful pushes similar to in-line skating. Track skiing can be recreational or racing, from citizen racing (loppett) to Olympic level.

Biathlon, an Olympic sport, seeks the fastest time skiing around a track with a rifle, with penalties for missing shots at targets around the track. It is done with a laser rifle in Kosciuszko National Park and both laser and real rifles at the Biathlon course at Mt Hotham ski resort.

Backcountry touring is for skiers who would rather create their own path than follow a groomed track. Backcountry skiing uses the same kick-and-glide motion as track skiing, but on ungroomed trails and varying terrain.

Telemarking applies the graceful and stable drop-knee telemark turn, achieved by pushing one foot forward and lifting the heel of the other foot, on downhill runs. Telemarking can be done on ungroomed snow while touring in the backcountry or on groomed runs at the resort.

Alpine Touring (AT) or randonee, lets you hit the steep and deep with alpine skills. AT requires bindings and boots that allow a mix of free-heeled backcountry touring and climbing and fixed-heel alpine descents.

Ski jumping, another Olympic sport, seeks to achieve the longest jump from a specially constructed jumping platforms using very long wide cross country skis and landing in the Telemark position. There are no ski jumping platform left in Australia.

On cross country skis and bindings you can do everything you can do on downhill skis and bindings and some things that you can't.

  • You can glide on any skis fitted with free heel bindings, including Alpine Touring skis, with enough kick. However, glide is most efficient on classic track skis. Glide diminishes for the same kick effort as skis get shorter, wider and heavier, and disappears when breaking trail in untracked snow.
  • You can perform alpine turns on any skis fitted with free heel bindings, including track skis, if you have good technique. However, turns are easier to initiate and control on shorter, heavier skis with sidecut.
  • You can telemark on any skis fitted with free heel bindings (except Alpine Touring bindings), including track skis, if you have good technique. Telemark turns were invented on long nearly parallel skis. Alpine Touring bindings are hinged to ascend, not descend while weighting the rear foot.
  • You can skate on any skis. However, skating is more difficult with heavy skis, skis with waxless bases will have reduced glide and metal edges will cut the top sheet of your other ski when they cross.
  • You can wax any skis for grip, including Alpine Touring and Telemark skis and waxless skis that are not gripping adequately in the current snow conditions.
  • Most skis, including waxless skis despite their name, will benefit from glide waxing on the tips and tails..

Cross country is generally a little faster than walking on the flat as, if correct diagonal stride technique is used, you get a bonus slide with every step. Downhill, it is much faster until you crash 'n' burn. Skating is much faster than walking. A fit skier on touring gear can cover up to 30 km in a day on ungroomed snow. Racers and lunatics can go much further. There is an annual race from the top of Thredbo to Perisher (snow permitting). The distance is about 20 km. The year I did it the winner on skate skis took about 47 minutes. Fat unfit me took 3 hours on classic skis.

Many Australian resorts, such as Falls Creek, Lake Mountain and Perisher Blue, have marked and groomed cross country trails. These trails are usually a wide groomed area with two parallel grooves at one edge. The wide bit is for skating. The grooves are for diagonal stride.

  • Classic tracks are usually machine groomed in parallel pairs 60mm to 70mm wide and similar depth around a circuit or trail. Classic tracks suit narrow skis and boots. Wider skis or boots catch the sides slowing them down.
  • Skating tracks are usually a flattened path about 2 to 3 metres wide, often machine groomed with classic tracks on one or both edges.

Basic etiquette on these trails is

  • If marked with arrows, follow their direction, usually clockwise.
  • A skier coming towards you heading downhill has right of way.
  • If someone calls "Track!" they are overtaking you. You should get out of their way by stepping aside.
  • Skaters should stay off the diagonal stride grooves.
  • Smile and say g'day to other skiers. For some reason this rule does not apply to people wearing lycra.
  • Walkers should stay off groomed cross country trails where their footprints leave deep track. There is nothing more disconcerting than planting a pole in a posthole and being thrown off rhythm. This can cause falls, and in extreme cases, dislocations.

The resort trails are patrolled. There is no ski patrol anywhere else. You should not ski alone outside the groomed trails. Many people say that the minimum party is 4. One to stay with an injured person, and two to get help.

Weather is changeable, and navigation is almost impossible in whiteout conditions. You shoulds ensure that your clothing is adequate for all possible conditions, and that you have adequate food and water. You must also be an experienced navigator. Anything beyond the resort boundaries is a very serious undertaking. People die out there.