Playing up: Cross-country skiing is effectively 'hiking on skis'
We visit New Zealand's home of cross-country skiing to try our hand at the self-propelling snow sport.
Every four years the Winter Olympics arrive and prompt questions about why anyone in their right mind would want to ski uphill. Cross-country skiing is far more than a demanding alternative to the chairlift. What started as a form of transportation is now a globally practised recreational activity. It's a style of skiing where participants use their own motion to propel themselves across terrain — rather than start at the top and hurtle down.
At Cardrona's Snow Farm there are 55 kilometres of trails open to experienced cross-country skiers and complete beginners. The course features classical style terrain — evolved from Nordic skiing — where inverted grooves help to keep skiers in a straight line. It also lies on the doorstep of the Pisa Alpine Conservation Area allowing for more of a freestyle approach on both groomed and untouched mountainous terrain. For those who like multi-sports, there's a course dedicated to biathlon — also known as skiing with a gun.
GIVING IT A BASH
The objective for this assignment was to complete a roundtrip from Snow Farm headquarters to the backcountry Meadow Hut. Before embarking on the first 4 kilometre leg we were briefed on the basics of the sport. The instructor took us through each piece of gear, the process of getting from A to B, getting back up (because eating snow is a given), and how to stop.
The obvious difference from downhill skiing is that the heels of cross-country boots are free from the skis to assist with locomotion. The underside of the skis also feature a fish scale pattern which helps to propel you forward on flat and uphill terrain. The basic kick and glide movement is relatively similar to ice skating — weight is shifted to one foot as it glides in front of the other. As discovered, the biggest dilemma is getting your head around the rhythm of the skis and poles.
Further techniques covered included the downhill position which resembles someone sniffing their fingers with bent knees, the herringbone movement that uses the inside ski edges to retain grip on the snow when moving uphill, and the comical task of turning 180 degrees while stationary.
With our newfound skills we embarked on the mostly downhill hut expedition. The classic 'pizza slice' stopping technique came in handy here, as did the 'if all else fails, bend and fall over' tactic. The inverted grooves created by Snow Farm's cross-country grooming machine helped facilitate an almost fluid gliding motion and served well as a guide in the right direction. They didn't completely remove the possibility of face planting, however. The steady pace allowed several opportunities to soak up the beauty of the stunning Pisa range. Light muscle fatigue became apparent in the arms and legs during the return journey the following day and the more demanding uphill section prompted the removal of clothing layers. It's effectively hiking on skis. A throughly enjoyable experience.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT
Cross-country skiing is a great way to cover distance across rolling terrain. One of the benefits of the 'take it at your own pace' activity is the ability to appreciate the beauty that comes with alpine terrain, often overlooked in other snow sports. The physical benefits of cross-country also outweigh traditional downhill skiing. It translates as aerobic exercise, stimulating the heart rate and engaging the upper and lower body and the core — depending on how much effort you put in, that is.
While cross-country sidesteps a number of risks that come with the speed of downhill skiing, there are still some present. The unpredictable alpine weather and snow contact are contenders for things like hypothermia so warm clothing is a must. Snow Farm is well equipped for beginners and the instructors are well trained.
For more information about cross-country skiing visit www.snowfarmnz.com