Glide Into the New Year

A beginners guide to cross-country skiing.


Graphics by Lillian Small

Do you want to experience the snow without shelling thousands of dollars and sitting on frigid ski lifts for hours? Often overlooked for its glamorous adrenaline-driven cousin—downhill skiing—cross-country, also known as nordic skiing, is an excellent sport that allows you to fully experience the solitude and majesty of winter. Think of cross-country skiing as hiking on skis; Each trail has different terrain of flat, up, and down hill. Nordic skiing is an overarching category of skiing on mostly flat terrain, further split by classic and skate skiing. Skate skiing uses a distinct style that resembles a skating motion. It is generally more physically demanding and requires well-maintained tracks. Classic cross-country skiing is considered more versatile and approachable to beginners. Additionally, cross-country skiing is great for cross training as low-impact cardio during the winter. 

There are several great locations near Seattle that offer a range of trail difficulties from beginners to advanced. Cabin Creek Sno Park is an hour East of Seattle off of I-90 that is regularly groomed and maintained. Another location is Summit at Snoqualmie pass, which is also a popular downhill skiing area. Snoqualmie has an extensive trail system on the mountain, including the Mt. Catherine loop (just under 10 miles) for those seeking a longer trail. Beginners who want to avoid a ski lift and the descent down the pass can enjoy the flat Hyak trail, including views of Keechelus Lake. For skiers willing to drive longer than an hour, Winthrop, WA has the largest cross-country ski trail system in North America, with over 120 miles of interconnected trails. 

Unfortunately, most winter sports have a sizable economic barrier, from the gear to passes, and this cost makes activities like downhill skiing and snowboarding inaccessible. Cross-country skiing is a great option for those who want to explore the outdoors during wintertime without breaking the bank in the process. A seasonal Sno Park pass is $50, giving access to all Sno Park trails for the year, and lift tickets for Nordic skiers at Snoqualmie range from $28-35. Nordic boots, skis, and poles can be rented from many downhill ski locations and are less pricey than downhill gear. 

The cross-country ski season is dictated by the amount of snow on the mountain, which depending on the year begins in early winter and ends in early spring. While the weather and snowfall impact the ease of skiing, the frequency of trail grooming can make or break the day. Fresh, powdery snow can be sticky, while frozen, icy snow can be slippery. With Seattle’s close vicinity to the mountains, skiers can find snow up until March without traveling far. If one of your new year’s resolutions was to get outside or try something new, accomplish both of these by trying out cross-country skiing!