For the most intense Nordic skiers, speed is everything. Your speed could mean the difference between a first- and last-place finish, or it could ruin the workout you’ve been looking forward to all week. Cross-country skiers are known to do anything to increase their speed—from wearing skin-tight suits to adopting certain stances. However, one factor might have a greater impact than you’d think: head position.

Most of us, especially in the beginning, prefer to look down at our skis while out on the trail. It allows us to focus and stay in the zone—we can concentrate on the sensations of skiing and experiment with small technical adjustments. Even some professional, high-level racers ski with their heads down, another wonderful justification for this habit. However, head position can dramatically impact skiing performance. Here’s how.

 

  • Shoulder function—Your head position will directly impact your scapular position and shoulder function. While Nordic skiing is a pretty benign shoulder workout, keeping your head down may cause a stiff neck, shoulders, or back problems. In keeping your skull up and your spine aligned, you will increase shoulder mechanics.
  • Breathing—Keeping the head up will allow respiratory muscles to better function. This will open your chest, take pressure off the windpipe, and get more oxygen into your lungs.
  • Core response—To ski quickly, cross-country skiers need to maintain core tension while moving smoothly and in a coordinated manner. Your head position will affect your shoulder function, which impacts your hand and pole positions. This, in turn, alters the response in your core muscles, which will affect your efficiency.

 

So, where should we look? Your head should be aligned with your torso so the entire spine stays neutral. Don’t crane your neck to look at the top of the hill, but don’t look at your tips, either. Try it for a few miles and see how you feel.

If you’re here, you either love cross-country skiing or have a genuine interest in the sport. That said, you’re likely a little sad when the season ends and the winter snow completely melts. Unless you live in a climate with year-round snow, you probably want to fill the gap in your Nordic skiing practice. Enter: roller skiing.

This is an off-snow equivalent to cross-country skiing—just what you need to power through the summer months. Roller skis have wheels on each end and are used on hard surface, such as pavement. They are designed to emulate cross-country skiing, and the techniques used are remarkably similar to those used in Nordic skiing. The sport began as a summer training exercise for Nordic skiers, but it quickly grew into a competitive sport. Annual championships are held in various locations around the world. However, many still see this as an off-season training aid; most national cross-country ski teams roller ski during the off-season.

As with cross-country skiing, roller skiers can utilize skate style or classic style. There are roller skis designed specifically for each method, as well as “combi” skis, which may be used for either technique. There are also off-road rollerskis, which are designed for rougher surface conditions like cross-country running trails. Most rollerskis have two wheels—one in front and one in back. Certain skis have three wheels for added stability. Normal cross-country ski bindings and boots may be used with most roller skis, though some manufacturers produce special roller ski versions better equipped for hot weather.

When roller skiing, extra protection is always recommended: full-finger gloves, a helmet, eyewear, and protective knee and elbow pads. The sport is especially popular in France, Italy, Norway, Finland, and Estonia, but there are large groups of roller skiers across North America.

If you’re interested in trying this summer alternative, give it a go—you have nothing to lose. Most ski retailers carry a small supply of rollerskis and concomitant equipment. Go rent a pair, find a secluded stretch of road, and try it out. This might just be your new favorite sport.

When the weather turns cold, you need to find an activity to get outside and stay healthy during the winter months. Alpine skiing can be too much of an investment, and driving to resorts is often a barrier for most Massachusetts residents. You need an activity that you can do easily from (or near) your home, that doesn’t cost much money to pick up, and that is easy to learn. Two popular sports fall into these categories: cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Though similar in action and season, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are dramatically different activities. However, there seems to be a divide among winter sports lovers; as with Nordic and alpine skiing, a rift is beginning to appear between cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiasts. Both have benefits and drawbacks—but which one should you try?

Snowshoeing is easier to learn than cross-country skiing, though not by much. You will have ore balance and stability, and the shoes are easier to maneuver. It is easier to get up after a fall, and participants can get a full-body workout when using poles. The equipment is easier to keep in the trunk of your car, and materials are often less expensive than cross-country skiing. You can take your snowshoes nearly anywhere, and the equipment offers a degree of utility; if a bad storm sweeps through your town, you can use snowshoes to navigate the feet of fresh powder.

In contrast, Nordic skiing allows the user to cover more territory. You can quickly and easily glide over the snow on both groomed-trails and forest paths. This means that skiers will be able to experience more outdoor views while exercising. Additionally, you will not need as much snow to get out on the trail. The low-impact, total-body workout is one of the best available, and you’ll be able to cruise downhill if you encounter shallow descents.

Ultimately, your decision to try snowshoes or cross-country skis is wholly personal. However, if you want a fast, fun, and sweaty cardio workout, cross-country skis are the way to go. If you want something slower, quieter, and less expensive, give snowshoes a try. In either case, renting equipment for a day will be affordable—if you can, try both and decide for yourself.

As we’ve demonstrated, Massachusetts’ north shore has quite a bit to offer in the realm of cross-country skiing. However, the area is also known for its proximity to wonderful alpine skiing opportunities. The mountains are just across the New Hampshire/Massachusetts boarder, while others are right in our own backyard. These established downhill institutions are great for everyone—from beginners needing to rent equipment to experienced skiers looking to improve their skills. Below, we have included our four favorite North Shore-area alpine ski destinations.

 

Ski BradfordHaverhill, MA
Ski Bradford is a popular beginner slope among North Shore residents. Most of us grew up taking weekend ski lessons at the mountain; those lucky enough to live nearby participated in one of their many after-school programs. With a 248-foot vertical drop, 12 trails, 48 skiable acres, 8 lifts, and an uphill capacity of 9,600 skiers per hour, this is the perfect backyard ski destination. The mountain also offers 100% snowmaking capacity and a terrain park. Around 17% of the trails are for novice skiers, around a third are for intermediates, and about half are designated “advanced”. You might, however, want to take these ratings with a grain of salt; Bradford is truly a family mountain, and limited vertical drop means most trails are beginner-friendly.

 

Nashoba ValleyWestford, MA
Nashoba Valley is very similar to Ski Bradford, but it is in a better location for those on the western part of the North Shore. Sporting a 240-foot vertical drop, this family-friendly destination has 17 trails, 53 skiable acres, 9 lifts, 2 terrain parks, and 100% snowmaking capacity. Like Bradford, Nashoba offers dozens of weekend and after-school lesson programs for skiers and riders of all ages. Lift tickets are a bit pricey for a mountain this size, but this is the best option in the area for novice skiers—over half the mountain is designated for beginner and intermediate riders.

 

Mount Sunapee ResortNewbury, NH
Slightly farther away than Bradford and Nashoba, Mount Sunapee is one of the closest ski resorts to Massachusetts’ north shore. Though family friendly, this mountain is geared more toward intermediate and advanced skiers—they even have a NASTAR racing program. Mount Sunapee boasts a 1,510-foot vertical drop, 66 trails, 230 skiable acres, 11 lifts, and 97% snowmaking capacity. 26% of the trails are for novice skiers and riders, while 49% is designated intermediate terrain and 25% is advanced. The resort offers generous discounts for local college students. They also boast some of the best night skiing around.

 

Pats PeakHenniker, NH
Smaller and closer than Mount Sunapee, Pats Peak is just over the New Hampshire/Massachusetts boarder in the tiny town of Henniker. The mountain boasts a 710-foot vertical drop, 22 trails, 7 gladed areas, and 72 skiable acres. Additionally, skiers and riders can enjoy 10 lifts, three terrain parks, and 100% snowmaking capacity. The longest run is around 1.5 miles, making this an excellent destination for fast and easy coasting. Lift tickets are on the expensive side, but the resort offers great skiing and snowboarding lessons, equipment rentals, free WiFi in the lodge, and three separate beginner areas with their own lifts.

Cross-country skiing is often viewed as alpine skiing boring, less adventurous cousin. This, however, could not be further from the truth; with high speeds, cold temperatures, and stunning scenery, this high-intensity endurance workout is an exciting sport in and of itself. Though we won’t make the argument that Nordic skiing is inherently better than alpine skiing (apples and oranges), we have curated a list of our favorite reasons to make the switch.

No. Lines. Ever. Okay, you might have to wait in line to rent skis, but Nordic skiers enjoy the convenience of coming and going as they please. Downhill skiers spend half of their day in line and on lifts—this will never happen during a day of cross-country skiing.

It’s an incredible workout. Alpine skiing, admittedly, is an excellent full-body work-out. However, cross-country skiing is a lot more tiring than its faster counterpart. This is one of the best cardiovascular exercises out there, and—here’s the best part—it’s low-impact.

You won’t deal with terrible ski boots. Most skiers can agree that boots are the a universally-despised piece of equipment. Cross-country ski boots, on the other hand, are only ankle-high, soft, and flexible–just like a normal shoe.

It’s cheap(er). Though equipment prices are still relatively high, cross-country skiing does not require the purchase of a lift ticket. Additionally, equipment rentals are surprisingly affordable, making this an excellent option for a budget-friendly winter adventure.

Though not a difficult sport, cross-country skiing can be confusing for first-timers. Whether you’re heading out with a group of friends or want to try to ski on your own, this short guide will help you prepare for the day ahead.

Safety first. Though cross-country skiing doesn’t look particularly dangerous, improper form and reckless behavior can result in hurt or broken limbs. The relatively tame sport has its share of dangers; weather is always a factor, but speed and improper equipment use can be dangerous. Always tell somebody where you are skiing and take the time necessary to ensure the trails are properly groomed.

Choose your style. When starting to ski, you may simply fall into the action that works best for you. However, there are two distinct Nordic skiing styles: classic and skate. We have previously published an article explaining the important differences between the two. Once you determine the style you would like to use, you can turn your focus to equipment, safety, and technique.

Assume the position. Before heading out on the trails, practice adopting the correct cross-country skiing stance. Start by standing tall, then move to an upright slouching position by flexing your ankles. This will allow you to bend from the ankles, not your hips, and your arms can swing freely in both directions–forward and backwards.

Dress the part. Appropriate apparel is necessary for this outdoor winter sport. Dressing in layers is crucial to cross-country ski safety and comfort. Of course, your body temperature will increase through the duration of the run; however, cold temperatures could cause it to crash dramatically if you break or stop.

Cross-country skiing is an exhilarating winter sport—especially in the dense, beautiful forests of the North Shore. With spectacular scenery, a peaceful environment, and a low-impact movement, nearly any age can enjoy this wonderful practice. Perfect for solidary explorations or group expeditions, this pastime also doubles as a great fitness routine. One of the healthiest full-body cardiovascular activities, it is easy on the joints, utilizes every major muscle group, builds core strength, and increases heart rate.

 

There are two basic types of cross-country skiing styles—classic and skate. In both styles, the boot is attached to the ski at the toe, leaving the back heel free. This movement and lift is utilized to create speed and push off. The classic method depends on a series of motions: kick, stride, and glide. Similar to walking, the skier moves their feet parallel to one another in a shuffling motion while using the kick to create motion. Classic skis are generally long with a large camber, or flex.

 

Skate skiing differs slightly but retains a similar basic movement. More similar to skating/roller-blading than walking, this method utilizes a lateral push to propel the skier forward. Skate skiing is fast and requires more effort than classic cross-country skiing. Additionally, these skis are shorter, lighter, and designed to take on the full weight of the skier with each stride.

 

Regardless of your chosen cross-country ski style, practitioners of the sport should be prepared for cold temperatures. If you spend a day on the trails, be sure to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, tissues, and lip balm. Dress comfortably warm, but ensure your mobility isn’t hindered by bulky clothing. Hats and gloves are a must, and synthetics and wool blended clothing are a perfect choice for apparel.

The North Shore of Massachusetts is full of beautiful scenery, lush forests, and snaking Nordic skiing trails. Both professional and recreational cross-country skiers can appreciate the dozens of sinuous paths that wind their way through the historic region. Below, we have detailed a few of our favorites—they surprise and delight year after year, and we hope you have the opportunity to experience them.

 

Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary—Topsfield

Length: 12 Miles

This wildlife sanctuary is composed of a series of interconnecting trails—skiers can experience forests, meadows, and wetlands in the course of a single outing. The trail is also home to several endemic bird species, including owls, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds. Crossing through the wetlands? Watch for river otters, painted turtles, and great blue herons.

 

Martin H. Burns Wildlife Management Area—Essex

Length: 3.4 Miles

Once used for a trolley line, this trail winds its way through a heavily-wooded 1,555-acre wildlife area. The trail ends before reading busy I-95, making for a quiet and peaceful ride. Skiers can glimpse deer, fox, beaver, and several bird species. Looking to extend your ride? Riders can choose to take one of two wide trails leading toward Newbury, and a connection can be made heading in the direction of the Merrimack River.

 

Ward Reservation—Andover

Length: 10 Miles

These trails link three major hills—Shrub Hill, Boston Hill, and Holt Hill. If you hike to the top of these hills, beautiful “Solstice Stones” mark the summits. Holt Hill is the highest point in Essex County. These ten miles of easy/moderate trails make for a wonderful place to spend a sunny, snowy day. The trails themselves are part of the larger Bay Circuit Trail, which is a greenway linking the North and South Shores of Massachusetts.

 

Bald Hill Reservation—Boxford

Length: 1.75

This quick and easy trail is perfect for beginning Nordic skiers. It touches on parts of North Andover, Boxford, and Middleton, winding through Ball Hill’s 1,700 acres of forested land. The conservation area is home to white-tailed deer, fisher, mink, otter, and several species of birds.

 

Discover Your Own Favorite Trail for North Shore Cross-Country Skiing