Many athletes come to Nordic skiing as an alternative to downhill. Whether they want a day away from the resort or to experience nature in a more intimate, less adrenaline-fueled setting, many new Nordic skiers have some alpine experience. However, those coming down from the mountains are often caught by surprise at the difficult of Nordic skiing. Though the sports are closely related (there’s snow, skis, and poles, after all), alpine skiers shouldn’t pass cross-country touring off as an easy sport. Here are some of the largest differences and challenges one should anticipate when trying Nordic skiing for the first time.
- Equipment stability—Nordic skis are markedly less stable than alpine skis. The latter are heavier, have a wider base, and include metal edges to increase friction when the ski is angled. Nordic skis have none of these features, instead presenting as slender, light, deeply cambered equipment. Additionally, an alpine skier’s center of gravity will be lower because of the weight of the equipment; this is not the case for Nordic skiing.
- Equipment mechanics—Differences in design and construction mean that the mechanics of the equipment are not identical. They may look similar to the uninformed, but different mechanics necessitate different skills. When moving downhill in Nordic skis, for example, skiers must use step turns in order to change direction. Additionally, skidding—a method of stopping—is much more difficult in Nordic skis, as there is no metal edge to cling to the terrain.
- Terrain—Cross-country trails are often narrow, icy, and rutted. Trails are often cupped by both skiers and other recreational enthusiasts (snowmobilers, snowshoers, &c), making skiing on the edges nearly impossible. Additionally, Nordic skiers must follow the contours of a trail, continuing straight even when downhill portions may seem too steep. In contrast, alpine skiers have much more flexibility, and trails are often well maintained by resorts.
Alpine and Nordic skiing are challenging in different ways. However, alpine skiers should never turn to cross-country skiing as an easier alternative; the sports have essential differences in equipment and required skill. Overconfidence can lead to accidents, so remember to do your research and practice before heading out.