Cross country skiing is like bushwalking on skis (or, for racers, like a sprint or a marathon, depending on distance).
The heels of cross country ski boots are not attached to the ski so that the heels lift permiitting a much more natural stride than with downhill boots. The skis are waxed, or more commonly have a patterned base so that they slide forward easily, but do not slip back. This allows the skier to climb up hills and to have something to push against while sliding the opposite ski forward.
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.
There are two basic techniques. Skating, where the skier pushes off from the edge of a ski, and diagonal stride, or classic, where the skis are kept parallel.
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. Basic etiquette on these trails is
- 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.