The Beginners’ Guide to Cross-Country Skiing in the Northwest

Winter Sports Tuesday, February 25, 2014 Written by

No lines, killer views and cheap (or free) trail passes. Sound like a dream come true?

It’s time to try Nordic (or cross-country) skiing – one of the best ways to explore the beautiful Northwest in the winter while getting a great workout. Lucky for first-timers, it’s also easy to pick up. While you can spend years mastering your technique, beginners can quickly grasp the fundamentals and be on the trail in no time.
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Traditional Versus Skate Skiing

There are two distinct styles of Nordic skiing: classic and skate. Classic skiing is the more traditional form. You’ve likely seen a ski machine that mimics the motion in the basement of a friend’s house. Classic skiers glide in a forward, straight motion on two parallel tracks.

See it in action in this introduction video:


By contrast, skate skiers use slightly longer and thinner skies and push off in a V-shaped pattern, similar to ice skating. Skate skiers use wide, groomed trails and gain much more speed. While skate skiing may seem more difficult to pick up, don’t be intimidated if you’re just starting out! After a few awkward hours on the trail, you’ll be zipping by traditional skiers in no time.

See skate skiing in action and get a few tips on technique:

The Skis – What to Get

There are many different types of skis based on the types of trails you’ll be skiing on. If you’re a beginner, rent skis before you head out and try different types before you invest in a pair of your own.
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Suiting Up – What to Wear

Leave your downhill ski gear at home – especially your ski pants and thick coat. You’re going to be too warm. Think in layers, similar to what you would wear while snowshoeing. REI has great tips for gearing up.

Where to go in Washington:

  • Winthrop: Lucky for us Northwesterners, the largest groomed trail system in North America is in our own backyard! For an unforgettable Nordic skiing experience, head to Winthrop, a small town in the Methow Valley with more than 120 miles of interconnected trails to explore.
  • Leavenworth: The Leavenworth area offers several options for beginners. Try out the relatively flat figure eight track at Icicle Creek if you’re just starting out. For more advanced skiers, or those wanting to try their hand at night-skiing, head to Ski Hill.
  • Lake Wenatchee: Advanced skiers will love the views on the Nason Ridge trail, which runs for 28 kilometers and has a 1,200 foot elevation gain. Beginners can stick close to the lake and try the Lake Wenatchee Loop trail.
  • Lake Easton: Easily accessible from I-90, this Washington State Sno-Park has nearly 10 miles of trails popular with skate skiers.
  • Mount Spokane: Mount Spokane State Park offers more than 20 different trails to explore, from easy blues to black diamonds. Explore on your own or sign-up for adult lessons through the Spokane Nordic Ski School.

Check to see if you have the appropriate passes before you go. You may need a Washington State Sno-Park Pass or a Discover Pass.

Where to go in Oregon:

  • Bend & Mount Bachelor: The Mount Bachelor Nordic Center is a must visit for Nordic skiers. Head out on more than 30 miles of trails – from beginner loops to double diamonds for advanced skiers. On the way to Mount Bachelor you’ll also find local ski club Meissner Nordic, with over 20 miles of top-notch trails.
  • Mount Hood: The Nordic center at Mount Hood offers nearly 10 miles of trails through beautiful forested areas. You can also try Teacup Lake nearby, with striking views of Mount Hood from the trails.
  • White River West: If you’re feeling adventurous, head to White River West Sno-Park in Mount Hood National Forest for access to backcountry ski trails. (Note: make sure you have a Sno-Park permit before you go)
  • Diamond Lake: For those in Southern Oregon, try Diamond Lake, just north of Crater Lake National Park. The resort there has 20 kilometers of trails with no fee.
  • Anthony Lakes: Eastern Oregonians can explore Anthony Lakes, with nearly 20 miles of groomed tracks for skate skiers and more than 5 miles for traditional Nordic skiers.

Have any favorite trails to explore? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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Check out more of Ariana’s Tips and read about her health journey on Actively Northwest.