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The ABCs of XC Skiing

By Jann Wiswall

If you’re thinking about trying cross-country skiing for the first time, the most important thing to consider is what type of skiing you’d like to do, said Andy Dickson, an avid cross-country skier and a co-founder of Allegany Nordic, a volunteer organization established to raise funds and provide support for Allegany State Park’s skiing program on the Art Roscoe Cross-Country Ski Trails.

Dickson said you should decide if you expect to be skiing on groomed cross-country trails or if you would rather make your own trails in your backyard or the surrounding countryside. If you know the answer, your equipment choices may be different.

On groomed trails, you’ll be skiing on relatively packed snow. Trail skis typically are long and narrow and lightweight to allow for easy striding and speed. For backcountry skiing, you’ll want shorter, wider skis that usually are waxless and have metal edges. These skis are better for that ungroomed terrain and will help you float higher in deep snow.

If you’re not sure, or think you want the flexibility to do both, Dickson said you can find one set of skis that suits both styles. Your local ski shop can help you decide. In addition to terrain, the right skis also are determined by your height and weight. Boots and bindings are determined to some extent by the skis you choose, as well as by personal preference. Poles are determined by your height. Again, your ski or rental shop will advise you.

The next consideration is clothing. Cross-country skiing involves constant physical activity for an extended length of time. It’s easy to work up a sweat. Dickson recommends wearing a wicking base layer with an outer wind/water-resistant layer. Add as many middle layers as necessary for the day’s weather conditions. Thick ski jackets are bulky and too hot for cross-country skiing. Always err on the side of keeping warm, but be prepared to remove layers as you go. In addition, you’ll need appropriate hats, scarves, mittens and socks to round out your cross-country skiing wardrobe.

Safety is a critical consideration for any cross-country skier. On patrolled, groomed trails like the Art Roscoe Trails, you’ll find rules and regulations for course use that are designed to keep you and other skiers safe. Follow these rules!

If you’re on a trail that is not patrolled or if you’re going backcountry skiing, prepare for the worst-case scenario. Take a backpack stocked with water, nutrition, a map, your cell phone, a first-aid kit, etc. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. And if you’re a beginner, said Dickson, don’t go out alone. Take a friend every time you go until you are comfortable with all the basic skills.

Dickson said you’ll probably want to try both groomed and backcountry skiing to see what you like best. He suggests renting equipment for a while before purchasing to give you the opportunity to find your favorite style. Most ski shops and ski areas in and around Ellicottville rent cross-country equipment, and rentals are available at the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Trail as well.

As for lessons, Dickson says they’re hard to find in our area. His advice is to ask a friend who’s experienced in the sport to teach you the basics of stopping and climbing hills. After a few times out, you’ll develop better balance and move your arms and legs in proper rhythm. Being prepared and developing your skills are the best ways to enjoy this healthy, lifelong sport.

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