December 14, 2015
By Rebecca Agiewich
Photo at right: Lake Wenatchee State Park offers our author a splendid backdrop during a day’s outing on skinny skis. Photo by David Taylor
The Northwest is a paradise for all kinds of snow sports, including cross-country skiing. Hit the hills on any winter weekend and you’re likely to find many Nordic heads setting out on free-heeled skis (both skinny and fat) for some fun at the Northwest’s many Nordic centers and backcountry trails.
But wait, why do you cross-country ski at a Nordic center? Is cross-country skiing the same as Nordic skiing? If you’re a newbie to skiing, you might be a little confused about the terminology.
Heck, we are too, sometimes. That’s because the terms “cross-country skiing” and “Nordic skiing” seem to be used interchangeably.
Are these the same? Slightly different? What’s the deal?
The many subsets of Nordic Skiing
According to local expert, Jim Brisbine — a trip leader for the Washington Ski Touring Club, who’s been cross-country, backcountry, and telemark skiing for 40 years—the short answer is that cross-country skiing is a subset of Nordic skiing.
Says Brisbine, “Nordic skiing refers to the region of origin (the Nordic, or Scandinavian, countries) where the sport was founded. The sport is also distinguished by the evolution of equipment that was designed to keep the toe securely in place yet allows the heel to freely move up and down when skiing over rolling terrain.”
There are many subsets of Nordic skiing, all of which are familiar terminology to most Northwesterners.
“Cross-country, which is often referred to as “classic” or X-C, involves touring on skis that are typically narrower than downhill skis,” Brisbine explains.
“Traditionally, cross-country skis do not have metal edges, although metal edges are now common on cross-country skis intended for steeper terrain. They also use a free-heel binding and tour over rolling terrain without any mechanical assistance from lifts, rope tows, etc.”
Other subsets of Nordic skiing include cross-country skating, which is very similar to classic skating but uses a more specialized boot and ski for faster propulsion.
Ski jumping is also considered a Nordic subset, as is telemark skiing which combines downhill techniques for free-heel skiing with classic cross-country skiing on less steep terrain.
The truth is, you won’t actually hear many skiers refer to themselves as “Nordic skiers.” Instead, they’re more likely to refer to the specific kind of Nordic skiing they like to do, such as skate skiing or telemark. You will, however, see the term Nordic Center used to describe locations where you can rent Nordic gear and ski on groomed trails.
Where to Nordic Ski
Now for the fun stuff. Where can you get out on free-heeled skis in the Northwest? Many Northwest ski areas have Nordic Centers that offer groomed trails (trail passes required), lessons and rentals. Nordic Centers are a great place to get started because of all the amenities.
Here are a few of our favorite “Nordic Centers”:
Stevens Pass Nordic Center: 28km of groomed trail. www.stevenspass.com/site/mountain/nordic
Snoqualmie Pass Nordic Center: 50km of groomed trail. www.summitatsnoqualmie.com/mountains/nordic
Mt Hood Meadows Nordic Center: 15km of groomed trail. www.skihood.com/the-mountain/nordic-center
Mt Bachelor Nordic Center: 56km of groomed trail. www.mtbachelor.com/site/winter/nordic/tickets
Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center: 40km of groomed trail. www.sunvalley.com/things-to-do/nordic-skiing
Galena Lodge Nordic and Snowshoe Center: 50km of groomed trail. www.galenalodge.com/xc-skiing
Other Nordic trail networks
Washington’s Methow Valley in northeastern Washington is famed for its Nordic skiing and extensive trail system. Ski rentals, lessons, and lodging are available in nearby towns such as Winthrop, Mazama and Twisp. About 60 miles from the Methow Valley, Lake Chelan has an excellent volunteer-run trail system called Echo Ridge.
Methow Valley Ski Trails: 120km of groomed trail. Trail pass required. (Bonus: selected trails also groomed for fat bikes.) www.methowtrails.org/winter-trails
Rebecca Agiewich of Seattle is a regular contributor to OutdoorsNW and an avid outdoors enthusiast.