Vancouverites looking for winter adventure that doesn’t include careening down a near-vertical slope on two slats of fibreglass shouldn’t discount skiing altogether. Cross-country skiing may not have the sex appeal of downhill skiing or snowboarding, but the sport offers snowy fun with a great workout thrown in.
Since the 2010 Olympics, local interest in cross-country skiing has surged. T.K. Campbell, who works at Kitsilano-based nordic ski shop Sigge’s, said there has been a definite increase in interest, particularly among baby boomers looking for an alternate to downhill, and in young, fit people looking for a tough workout.
“The young people are definitely coming in to skate ski,” Campbell said, referring to a type of nordic skiing where a skating-like technique is used.
Campbell said the first time out can be fun for a beginner since picking up the basics isn’t too tricky. What is more difficult is perfecting the technique.
Best local option: Cypress Mountain
Cypress Mountain is a good option for beginners, since it offers rentals and is close to town. Cypress also boasts lit trails for night skiing, making weeknight outings possible for those stuck in the office or classroom during the days.
Stephen Greenaway, a former competitive cross-country skier, said the Cypress nordic ski area is on the side of the mountain, which is both a perk and a downside.
“The easy trails mostly stay at one elevation,” Greenaway said. “If you want more interesting trails, you either have to ski down for a while and then all the way back up in one shot, or all the way up and then down.”
Overall, he said the trails are good for beginners, and a long slope at the beginning of the park gives skiers a solid workout.
Cypress doesn’t offer a student or youth rate, but fortunately cross country ski tickets are far cheaper than downhill tickets, making this an affordable day on the mountain. A full-day lift tickets for adults (19-64) costs $17.86, and a half day (3 p.m. to close) costs $15.18.
Not sure you can even put skis on, let alone glide in them?
Cypress offers one-day lessons. $66 includes a lesson, rental and ticket.
A bit further away: Callaghan Valley
The Callaghan Valley, located just south of Whistler along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is a cross-country skier’s paradise. More than 90km of trails wind through snow-covered deciduous trees across visually stunning landscape of towering peaks.
The valley is also the site of the Whistler Olympic Park, where the Nordic events of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games were held.
Not surprisingly, deluxe fancy ski and stay packages are available, and different itineraries are available. Prices vary.
Skiis, poles, bindings and winter clothing. Simple, right?
Well, yeah. But be aware: downhill skis and cross-country skis are different. Classic cross-country skis are long and narrow to distribute the skier’s weight, allowing him or her to move quickly. Ski length varies based on a person’s height, but average dimensions are 2m long by 5cm wide.
Skate skis tend to be shorter and stiffer than those used for the classical technique, and the poles are longer.
I will be strapping on cross-country skis for the first time on Sunday! Stay tuned for an update on my experience (with photos).