Cross country skiing

These middle schoolers just learned some tips for cross country skiing and are gliding along a groomed trail on the Grand Mesa National Forest.

By Anita Evans

Cross country skiing? With kids? You bet! This fantastically fun activity is a life skill that can open doors for your family winter after winter. Here are a few tips to make your cross-country ski trips fun for the whole family.

The magic of cross-country skiing is that you can enjoy this activity no matter what your skill level. Beginners will experience the thrill of fresh snowflakes on their cheeks while they master the art of the diagonal stride — the basic method for moving forward down the tracks. More advanced skiers can work on perfecting their glide, coordinating their poles and skis, and learning how to move more quickly across the snow. We are very fortunate to have several areas on the Western Slope that provide excellent cross-country ski terrain close to home.

If you do not already have cross-country ski gear, ski packages can be rented locally at several shops near you from experts who will help fit you with properly-sized skis, poles, and comfortable boots. Cross-country ski boots fit just like a hiking boot or tennis shoe — they are very comfortable and allow your foot to move in a natural motion with only the toe of your boot fastened to the ski. This allows for a natural walking motion as you move down the trail. These local shops have cross-country ski gear near you:

Grand Junction — Summit Canyon Mountaineering and Board and Buckle

Mesa — Odin Recreation

Cedaredge – Grand Mesa Outdoors

Montrose – The Great Outdoors and Sports Rewind

Be sure to ask them to show you how to attach and release your boots from your skis, and how to put your pole straps on your wrists.

Once you have your gear, you will need to decide where to go. It is important to bring extra clothing and healthy snacks (see friendsofyouthandnature.org/bundle-up--for-winter-fun.html). Although you can have fun in the snow on any snow-covered hiking trail, for beginners it is more fun to learn on a groomed track. There are several volunteer organizations that groom cross-country ski trails for the public. Be sure to make a donation at the trailhead if you are able, to help these organizations with fuel and grooming costs — or better yet — become a member to ensure these services can continue to provide us with quality trails! Grand Mesa Nordic Council offers groomed trails on the Grand Mesa at three different trailheads. County Line trailhead, located at the Delta/Mesa county line on Grand Mesa is the most beginner friendly with short gentle trails that loop through the spruce and fir forest on Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest. The Black Canyon National Park outside of Montrose also grooms the snow-covered road just past the visitor center — be sure to call first to see if it has been recently groomed. Cerro Summit has trails groomed by the city of Montrose. There are also volunteer groomed trails on the Dave Wood Ski Trails west of Montrose, Top of the Pines outside of Ridgway, and Ironton, outside of Ouray.

Once at the trailhead, you are ready to go! This may sound silly, but the most important first step in having fun while cross-country skiing is learning how to fall down and stand up. Learning how to stand up properly after a fall will make your whole day much more fun! The key is to untangle yourself (sometimes by putting your feet up in the air), put your skis next to you so they are parallel, scoot your body around to the front of your skis so your knees are on your skis and you could kiss the tips of your skis if you wanted to. Then put one knee up so you are kneeling on just one knee, and finally, stand up. If you are in the correct position you won’t even have to use your poles to help you, as you are using your leg strength. As you move down the trail, keep your knees slightly bent and bouncy. Practice bending your knees so you can touch your hands to the snow and you will ensure your feet are in the correct position — flat on your skis and stable. You start down the trail by “walking,” using very short bouncy steps to get used to the glide, and keeping your nose over your toes. Then pretend you are running across the playground or soccer field using very short steps transferring your weight from one ski to the other. On the first flat stretch you have, take your poles off your wrists and ski using short running steps down the trail without your poles. This allows your body to trust your legs. As you get comfortable without poles, you can then add them in combination with your stride. Use your arm motion the same way you do when walking or running — opposite arm (pole) with your opposite leg (ski). As you get more and more comfortable with this motion, your body will naturally start to extend your stride on your skis and you will soon be gliding down the trail. Voila! You are now cross-country skiing using the basic motion called the diagonal stride. Many instructional videos can be found online for more information.

As you learn to cross-country ski, a whole winter world will open up to you and your family. There are many other resources to help you get started. The Nature Connection out of Hotchkiss has scheduled several “pop-up” ski days (Jan. 23, Feb. 19, Feb. 27 and Feb. 27) where they will offer basic lessons and cross-country ski gear free for youth and with a nominal charge for accompanying adults. You need to call to reserve your gear and get more information at 970-872-5910. Grand Valley Nordic Ski Club is offering cross-country ski lessons for youth ages 5-13 every weekend with experienced coaches on Grand Mesa starting on Jan. 9 through March 6. More information can be found at gvnsc.com/youth-programs and scholarships are available for those in need. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council offers individual and small group lessons. In addition to these three programs, Odin Recreation out of Mesa, CO is offering a program called “Odin Recreation Mountain Education” in cooperation with Powderhorn Ski Area. Contact Toby at odinrecreation@gmail.com for more information about this exciting program.

Wild winter fun on cross-country skis is the most natural movement you can do across the snow! There is nothing like it, and it will provide years of fun for your whole family.

Friends of Youth and Nature is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. Follow our outdoor news blog and receive monthly tips on connecting your children to nature. Learn more outdoor safety tips, trail game ideas, and hiking trails, visit: friendsofyouthand nature.org

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