Late Season Cross-Country Skiing for First-Timers


IMG_6685Spring is officially here and the season openers are fast approaching for Oregon’s outdoorsy types. Soon bear hunters will be in the woods, gobbler guns will be loaded, and fresh-caught trout will be what’s for dinner … soon, but not quite yet. While you’re waiting for the excruciating countdown to finally end, there’s still time to get in a last-minute trip to the snow.
Although snow season in Oregon is usually in the month of December, a late March trip into the great white expanse is the perfect time for a newbie to dive into the action. No one will be out there, and you will have the woods all to yourself.

Crash Courses and Packed Powder:
Before this adventure into snowy wooded back roads near Willamette Pass, the extent of my knowledge on cross-country skiing could be summed up with one word: Bond. James Bond. Remember the 1981 classic 007 film For Your Eyes Only? You know, the one where actor John Wyman plays the part of a burly East German biathlon champ who loses his cookies and comes after Roger Moore (Bond) in a relentlessly homicidal cross-country ski chase. That scene is the stuff of legends and it’s pretty much all I knew about the pastime of cross-country skiing. I thought it would be an easy-going no-sweat type of thing where I’d glide across the snow and enjoy beautiful scenery as it blew by me. This was not the case.

After renting the necessary gear from the friendly folks at Willamette Pass Resort, I set out with a group of Eugeneans ready for day in the snow. I was determined to learn how to cross-country ski or just fall a lot. It was a sunny afternoon and the Gold Lake trailhead off of Highway 58 was covered with a nice packed powder. Snapping into the skis and starting up the road was a fish-out-of-water experience that soon lead to a trial-by-fire system of learning. I spent a great deal of time up-close and personal with the snow pack, and became privy to many helpful tips from the skiers who maneuvered their way around me on the their way up the road. Cross-country skiing leaves the skier plenty of room to adapt, it is not like downhill skiing where your skis are firmly on the snow at all times. You have the freedom to be very mobile. A quick mention of things you should and shouldn’t do could save the first-time cross-country skier a lot of time:

  1. Don’t try to jog. Lean forward, throw your arms out in front of you and let that momentum carry you.
  2. Pause between your steps to get a good glide on. This will save energy.
  3. Bend your knees … seriously… bend them, it really helps.
  4. Do not be afraid to fall. You are going to fall down a lot. Deal with it.


Snow Legs:
Once you get your snow legs and learn the basics of maneuvering with cross-country skis, a quick way to begin testing your abilities is to go off the beaten path. Stay away from big icy logs or thick patches of trees, but find little bunny hills you can ski down and practice your downhill technique. This will help you become more comfortable with the changes in elevation you can encounter when taking a long cross-country ski journey. Also, try pushing off of the edges of your skis, similar to the way one would ice-skate. This helps facilitate some nice gliding action that will save you tons of energy.

Cross-country skiing is a full-body workout, dress in layers and be prepared to strip down. If you’re headed on a longer trek, make sure to pack a lunch. If you’re skiing the right way, you’re going to be sweating, burning calories, and expending a great deal of energy.

At Your Own Risk Extras
I’m not advocating the use of alcohol during your first cross-country ski trip. Booze and cold weather do and do not mix. It’s nice to have a hot drink in the cold weather sometimes, so long as you know what you’re doing. In the late season, when you don’t have to worry about getting so cold that you freeze to death by accident, it can get chilly out there during the moments you stand still long enough to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Below are a couple cold-weather drink suggestions that are sure to make lunchtime or the trek back far more comfortable.

  1. Hot Spiced Wine: Slow boil water, cinnamon and cloves in a pot for 5 minutes. Add wine. Slice up some oranges and toss them in the mix also. Now keep it at low heat for 40 minutes. Strain it, put it in a thermos, and you’re good to go.
  2. Meade: Fermented honey. It was good enough for the Norsemen, and they knew how to stay warm in cold places.
  3. Whiskey: When all else fails, you can’t go wrong with this in your pack.

Please (cross-country) ski responsibly. Now get out on the snow and go for it, and don’t forget to stop and smell the pine trees.


Dante Zúñiga-West is an Afro-Latino writer and outdoorsman known to some as “The Backwoods Blaxican.” He escaped Los Angeles and now makes his home in Oregon. His fiction has been published in various literary journals. His novel Rumble Young Man Rumble: How I Fought to Stay Alive is awaiting publication in 2014, on Black Coffee Press. For more adventures, check out his weekly column at or follow him on twitter @BackwoodsBlaxi

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