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