As snowflakes silently fall onto the ground beneath you, blanketing the pathway ahead, you clip on your cross-country skis and slide effortlessly into the freshly laid tracks. At least, that’s what cross-country skiing is like when you’ve been at it a time or two, and while the magic of the moment won’t escape you, the ease may.
So what’s cross-country skiing like for beginners?
Truthfully, it might be a little awkward to start, but we promise, it is well worth the untouched nature you’re about to witness.
How to Get Started
You can buy or rent x-country skis in Banff from Snowtips-Bactrax and Banff Adventures, and in Lake Louise from Chateau Mountain Sports or Wilson’s Mountain Sports. You’ll be fitted for a boot that fits similarly to an ankle-height hiking boot, some skinny skis, and poles.
What to Wear
Layer. Layers. Layers. Canadian winters can be chilly and we always advise dressing for the weather, but you will work up a sweat, so make sure you can layer down as needed.
- Fitted athletic pants
- Warm socks
- A waterproof slush pant
- Long sleeve shirt
- Waterproof jacket
On colder days, an insulated jacket and snow pants are recommended
What to Bring
We recommend grabbing a tasty packed lunch from a café in town before leaving, bringing lots of water, a trail map, some bear spray, and a backpack to carry it all.
Where to Go
Some of our favourite beginner trails include:
- Tunnel Mountain Winter trails – right in the town of Banff, these trails are lit at night and track set.
- Cascade Valley – just across the highway from Banff, this road is closed to vehicles during the winter and is track set for skiers.
- Moraine Lake Road – mostly uphill on the way in, this trail takes you to a stunning lookout over the Lake Louise valley. Just be sure to turn back where the tracks end or you’ll enter avalanche territory.
- The Great Divide Trail – the whole trail is 20 km long but you can turn back at any point. If you chose to do it all, you’ll go from Lake Louise into British Columbia!
Find more trails online at Parks Canada or drop into a visitor center for up-to-date conditions.
Time to Ski
Once you hit the trailhead, it’s time to clip into your skis and hit the trails.
Depending on the style of boot and ski you have, you’ll affix them by either stepping into them toes-first or sliding a clip over a bracket at your toes. Either way, your heel won’t be locked in so you can get a good stride going.
Just like you’re skating, you’ll push off with one foot and glide forward. Use your arms and poles to help pump yourself forward and gain speed. When you hit a downhill section, you can tuck your poles between your arms and torso (pointy end back) and bend your knees to ride it out. Alternatively, when you hit an uphill section, ski forward until it becomes too steep and then switch to a herringbone pattern where you point your toes outward and walk uphill like a penguin.
Celebrate with Après Ski
You’ve done it! You can now call yourself a cross-country skier. So, now that you’ve worked up an appetite, it’s time to head back into town for a well-earned cocktail and appetizer.