The growing popularity of Nordic cross-country ski-ing

Nordic ski-ing.
Nordic ski-ing.
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NORDIC skiing, also known as cross-country skiing, is a sport growing in popularity in Scotland.

Carrbridge-based ski instructor Ian Bishop backs this up: “My phone never stops ringing, my emails are full. I don’t need to advertise - if we get snow, then people will come in their droves.”

Nordic skier Callum Smith. Picture: Getty

Nordic skier Callum Smith. Picture: Getty

With Arctic weather blasting the country this week, Bishop will be preparing himself for said “droves”.

If you’re looking to make your first steps - or rather skids into cross-country skiing - here’s a beginner’s guide on the sport.

What is cross-country skiing?

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Nordic skiing was created as a practical means of getting cross-country in snow-rich countries, but soon morphed into an exhilarating sport due to the physical and technical skills involved.

There are subtle differences in equipment used in nordic and alpine skiing. In nordic skiing lightweight boots are clipped into thin skis at the toe, meaning participants can lift their feet easier and move in a skate-like action.

Furhtermore, nordic ski poles are long and lightweight, allowing skiers to use their upper body strength to thrust themselves forward.

Nordic skiing trails are traditionally less crowded and cheaper to access than alpine ski slopes - hence the growth in popularity.

The fitness benefits

If you’re a fitness-freak looking for your next fix, the all-over body workout offered by nordic skiing that should appeal.

Nordic skiers can burn up to 700 calories an hour during an intense ski.

Huntly Nordic and Outdoor Centre duty officer Helena Sierakowska notes that nordic skiing is a great way of getting into shape.

“It’s much better for your fitness than downhill skiing, it’s more of an aerobic sport. Low intensity nordic skiing is probably on a similar level to jogging and once you get to competition level it’s a very strenuous sport. For keeping fit it is ideal because you can go at your own pace.”

Bishop, who runs cross-country skiing lessons from the Slochd Mhor Lodge in Inverness-shire, suggests the sport is unique in the fitness benefits it offers.

“There isn’t anything on the market like it. You look at nordic skiing on the telly - there is nobody fitter than these guys. It’s the ultimate in fitness. It works the shoulders, it works the arms, it works the legs - these guys are machines.”

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What makes Scotland a great place for cross-country skiing?

While we may not be as blessed with snow as our Scandinavian neighbours, Sierakowska suggests that excellent forest cover and a cooperative Forestry Commission means that Scotland makes for a great nordic skiing destination.

“Because there is so much forestry cover it complements nordic skiing - the Forestry Commission are quite open to people making trails which helps us enormously. The actual cover of the forest keeps the snow on the ground for a long time.

“Last year I don’t think we got snow until February due to our positioning near the east coast, but because we have such good forest cover the snow lies for a long time, the last skiing day we had was on the 1st of May. “

Nordic skiing doesn’t have to be a winter-only hobby. When the snow disappears, the Huntly Nordic and Outdoor centre in Aberdeenshire offers 800 metres of tarmac roller skiing track.

Roller skiing is a snow-free alternative to nordic skiing, for those looking to hone their cross-country skiing skills in the summer months.

How to get started

Ian Bishop recommends an introductory lesson before taking to the snow.

“Turn up at the Slochd, get here by half past nine, get the equipment on which is only £20 for the day. We do an hour and a half lesson with a maximum of seven people, just a basic introduction. It’s fun and then you can go around the tracks yourselves.

“The worst thing you can do is not take a lesson, you’ll get along well enough, but you’ll just flounder about. Whereas if you work out how to distribute your weight, you’ll be far better off.“

Once you’ve taken your skiing lesson, you can test your skills just about anywhere blessed with snow.

Places you can try cross-country skiing in Scotland

Cairngorm Bitahlon and Nordic Ski Club, Aviemore,

Huntly Nordic and Outdoor Centre, Huntly,

The Slochd, Carrbridge,