Cross country skiing is having a moment. It’s about time.

Cross country skiing, which was a method of transportation in ancient times, is the oldest type of skiing in the world. Even so, it’s long been overshadowed by the more action-packed sport of alpine skiing. But in the age of Covid, cross-country skiing is becoming more popular than ever.

For families looking to avoid the hustle-and-bustle of downhill skiing or hoping to try something new, cross-country skiing is an easy, accessible way to explore the outdoors with your kids.

Unlike alpine skiing, cross country skiing has a low barrier to entry in terms of cost and ski-specific skills. And part of what makes cross-country so special is that as long as there is snow, you can cross-country ski pretty much anywhere—in local parks, town forests, Nordic ski centers, and even in your own backyard.

Cross country skiing is a relatively simple way to get outside and exercise while keeping a safe distance from others. Benefits include improved cardiovascular endurance and a full-body workout. For kids, the sport is a way to learn balance and coordination and experience nature.

The best part? When it comes to winter family activities, cross-country skiing is loads of fun.

Cross Country Skiing Tips for Beginners

Laura Conti, marketing director of Mountain Top Resort in Chittenden—which offers 60 km of Nordic trails—offers tips on how to get your family out onto the trails to cross-country ski this season.

cross country ski tips
-Mama Erica’s daughter, Phoebe, tries cross-country skiing for the first time at the Intervale in Burlington.

What should families look for in a Nordic center?

LC: Varied terrain…for varied abilities. Groomed trails will make a huge difference, especially for beginners. Look for centers that provide accurate maps and good signage, as getting lost on the trails is never fun. Most centers will offer rentals on-site but call ahead this season to ensure availability.  With the pandemic, there are retail and rental shortages at some centers.  Also, confirm if there are any specific pandemic-related processes for things like rentals and pass purchasing.  Finally, check in advance to see if the center offers additional amenities—such as food, lodging—so that you are prepared.

If we’re just starting out, should we rent or buy skis?

LC: Giving cross country skiing a try as a family for the first time is a great idea.  It’s less of a financial commitment than many other options, and usually, less of a travel commitment.  Lessons are always a great introduction to any new sport or activity. And although cross country skis are relatively affordable compared to downhill skis, it makes sense to rent a few times to see which is your favorite before making a purchase. This year, retail has been a challenge, so perhaps wait until next year to purchase equipment if you’re in the market.

What about clothing?

LC: If you don’t have cross country ski gear, “dress like an onion.” That means use layers since you’re likely to get a good workout and warm-up and want to shed some gear.  Wear something similar to what you might wear running outdoors in the winter, such as breathable fabrics that will wick away moisture.

If you have alpine gear, leave it at home. But definitely bring a hat and gloves and avoid bulky socks to ensure the best rental boot fit.

Are lessons for Nordic skiing or snowshoeing important for beginners?

LC: It’s always better to start anything new-to-you with a lesson.  This way, you start with a good foundation and avoid the frustrations of trying to learn on your own.  A lesson will expedite the learning process, and you’re also less likely to incorporate bad habits.

Cross country skiing is an easy-entry sport, and a single lesson will have you well on your way to handling most trails, ensuring that you have the know-how to face inclines, control speed downhill, stop, and more.

Snowshoeing rarely requires a formal lesson.  Once getting help with putting on the snowshoes, most users will be well on their way. But if you have any questions, we’re certainly here to help.

cross country ski tips
Mama Erica’s daughter and husband go snowshoeing at Blueberry Hill Outdoor Center in Goshen. 


What are some benefits to cross-country skiing as a family?

LC:  It’s a fun family activity and accessible for all ages, including the tiniest children. Many centers offer pulks—or sleds—for those too young for skis. Cross country skiing is usually very affordable in terms of day or season passes and equipment, especially when considering the cost for an entire family.  It’s also more accessible in terms of terrain and geography. There’s no need for lifts or mountains, just snow!

Pulk Sled
Pulling the kiddo along in a pulk sled at Smugglers’ Notch

How easy is it to get rentals this season?

LC:  We recommend calling the center first and checking availability if you’re relying on rentals.  We have a good inventory at Mountain Top, and have not had any days in which we’ve run out of rentals, but it’s definitely a possibility.  And if we get another good snowstorm, it will certainly drive up demand!

What are some tips to get young kids interested in cross-country skiing?

LC:  It’s an easy sport to learn, so they’re likely to be up and running in no time.  There are no lifts, no lift lines, and there’s easier access to the trails. And of course, the price-point, on the off chance that your child doesn’t fall in love with it, it wasn’t an insurmountable investment for you.

In general, it’s just a great and refreshing experience, especially with the Covid-19 restrictions on indoor gatherings.   Cross country centers have incorporated extensive protocols to keep everyone safe, and being outdoors is a wonderful, healthy way to get through the winter months.

Read more about cross country skiing centers around Vermont, here.

-Main photo credit: Joanne Pearson/Fair Haven Photographs for the Mountain Top Resort


  • It is an interesting piece. Are there more similarities with Alpine and cross county skiing or are they totally different? What is in your opinion the biggest obstacles and most frequent issues getting started?

    • There are certainly similarities in the tools used for alpine and cross country skiing, but the skis themselves vary pretty greatly, and cross country is far easier to pick up without lessons. We’d say some of the biggest obstacles getting started is getting comfortable and familiar on snow, and dressing properly for the activity to stay comfortable. When in doubt take a lesson and wear breathable layers that are not cotton!
      Check out this article on dressing kids for success:

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