I’m a lifelong Texan, who had the opportunity to take a job out in the Mountain West. The move has been a gorgeous, incredible, beautiful change in my life, but there’s one issue: I have no experience with any winter sports. I grew up about six feet above sea level with marshland and mosquitos and never saw ‘real snow’ until after college. I spent my first winter in Utah hiking but never took the leap into the wide world of winter sports . . . until now. 

Here are some things I know about myself: I'm not an adrenaline junkie, I appreciate peaceful trails and enjoying the scenery around me, and while I’ve done my fair share of yoga, grace does not come naturally to me.  I thought that cross-country skiing might be a good fit for me, but as I started researching, I realized there were two types of cross-country skiing—classic and skate. Classic skiing is the traditional Nordic tradition, where your parallel stride is like walking while skate requires a motion akin to ice skating. Without any experience understanding which would suit me, I decided to try both! 

Getting Started with White Pine Touring

I was a little intimidated to try something new, so I reached out to the White Pine Nordic Center to book ski lessons with a private instructor. Booking was simple; I was able to check out their full availability calendar online. And as a bonus, everything I needed was included in the cost—instructor, ski rentals, and a day pass to use their trails. Their location was simple to get to and conveniently found on two bus lines in Park City (1/Red and 3/Blue). 

The morning of my first lesson I wasn’t entirely sure what to wear, so I asked a couple of friends about their experiences cross-country skiing. They all told me that it would feel like I was hiking in the winter: you'll generate some heat while skiing and shed layers quickly. I took their cue and didn’t worry about specialized snow gear and simply dressed like I was hiking! I went with base layers, my trusty, flexible hiking pants, a puffy vest, a coat, hat, and thin gloves. Cross country skiing is an aerobic sport, and once I was out on skis, I shrugged off most of my layers. However, it was a chilly day, and I was still happy to have them to start. 

White Pine Touring offers cross country tours and lessons in Park City!

Classic Skiing

To begin my exploration of cross-country skiing types, I started with classic skiing. After a quick explanation of the correct stance on class skis, I was in my bindings and on the practice tracks within ten minutes! The rest of my hour long lesson was spent pacing back and forth in front of the Nordic Center, with my teacher sprinkling in a new layer of technique each lap. The instructors did a wonderful job of working with me at a pace where I felt comfortable and building my confidence throughout the lesson. We started without using ski poles, focusing on shifting my weight to each leg, and not moving “like a sasquatch” so I would be as efficient as possible on the track. As that layer became more fluid, we added in ski poles to complement the work my legs were doing. Throughout the lesson, I slowly progressed from feeling unsteady sliding on the snow to surprisingly capable. At the end of my hour lesson, I’m proud to say that I didn’t fall (not that there’s anything wrong with falling), and I was ready to keep practicing without an instructor.  

As my lesson was wrapping up, my instructor invited me to keep using the Nordic track at White Pine to practice. I didn’t think to build more practice time into my day, so I didn’t take advantage of my all day White Pine Track Pass. But I absolutely recommend spending more time on the snow after a lesson to hone your skills! I’m happy to report that I was invited to classic ski with friends the following week and I felt confident enough to go. I had enough of a foundation to keep up with my friends on the tracks and genuinely enjoy the experience of gliding through the forest. I even got my first fall out of the way, and it wasn’t a big deal at all! 

Skate Skiing

The next week it was time for me to try skate skiing. Compared to my classic ski lesson, skate skiing was definitely more technical. The first half of my lesson was spent running drills without skis on—settling into an engaged stance, feeling how to shift your weight between your legs, and practicing correct timing. Once I finally snapped into my ski bindings, the rest of the lesson was repeating the same drills with the addition of skis and the concept of ‘finding the ski edge’ to push from and ‘glide’ on the Nordic track. While I clearly improved and laid an important foundation over my hour long lesson, in the end I wasn’t comfortable generating any kind of forward momentum.  

This time, I was sure to schedule a little extra practice time after my lesson. The problem was I didn’t feel ready to continue with skate skiing without an instructor. Lucky for me, White Pine is happy to trade your rental gear for a different set, so I swapped out my skate skis for classic and took a loop around their 3k groomed track. I was happy to feel comfortable and confident on cross country skis again. 

Finding New Fun

In the end, I’m grateful I took the time to explore both cross country skiing types to feel out what is the right fit for me. While I appreciate the technical aspects of skate skiing, it seems to be a style more suited for skiers looking to maximize their speed and athleticism. As someone who is looking for a low stress way to enjoy winter, classic skiing feels like a natural fit for me. Am I amazing at it—not yet. But I really appreciate that after just one lesson I can find fun in skiing with friends without demanding any kind of perfection from myself. And for me, that’s everything!