By Kendell Tylee
Mountain to Sound Outfitters
Recovering from a sprained wrist. Snowfall in the Cascades. What’s a lifelong snowboarder to do?! Well, readers, I decided to go Nordic. While I didn’t move to Copenhagen and take up Hygge (though wonderful ideas), I did don two skis. For the first time in my life. After having a wonderful time getting back into snowshoeing, I delved into cross-country (nordic) skiing, and took off to the “Gold Creek Pond” trail at Snoqualmie Pass. Below are a few things I learned. I hope they can help you in your journey!
How do I know my size? And how old do I have to be?
Mountain to Sound Outfitters has quick and easy charts and even an Alpina color scale to get you sorted. And we have set-up 6 year olds, 70 year olds, and every age in between with x-c skis.
What do I need?
You will need cross-country boots that clip into cross-country skis, and cross-country poles. We can help you make sure that your boots and skis are compatible. We generally carry “NNN” boots and skis. And your cross-country poles will be about armpit high (we will also get you set with the right size for your frame).
Remember hydration! It’s easy to forget about while playing in snow. I wore the Helena 20 CamelBak, which we sell at Mountain to Sound Outfitters. 20 liters is a great size for a day hike. It holds plenty of water and has space to pack away layers.
It even has compartments in the waist belt, where I stored dog bags, lip balm, and a snack. Lastly, it features pole loops, for when you want to store your poles away.
Depending on where you go, you may need a Sno-Park pass for the parking lot.
And lastly— bring a very happy snow dog.*
I have snowshoed before. Is that similar to cross-country skiing?
Yes and no. You can use similar trails. But, it is all about the “glide and slide” locomotion. Having snowshoed before, I found myself picking up my foot and ski off the ground. I got tired pretty quickly. All I needed to do was keep the ski on the ground and slide forward, while only slightly lifting my heel off the ski. The latter was much less work. Phew!
At Gold Creek Pond, we were the only cross-country skiers on the trail. We created our own route to the side of the snowshoe tracks, for a smoother glide.
How are cross-country skis different from downhill (Alpine) skis?
Cross-country skis are more spindly. They do not turn like downhill skis. Sometimes I felt like I was on ice skates. And occasionally I chose to “step” diagonally when going up and down little slopes.
What if I fall?
Turn to your side, make your poles into an “X” on the ground, and push on the “X” to get yourself up.
Can you cross-country ski with a dog?
If the dog is ready and willing! My K9 nephew loves the snow. But he does not love his booties. So, I applied paw wax (found at a pet store) in and around the pads of his paws. This prevents ice from forming. A dog leash harness and bungee leash can also keep your hands free for poles. This is called “skijoring”! Given that it was my first time ever on skis, I was thankful that my co-worker, who has skied before, was happy to wear the harness. Otherwise I suspect there would have been a lot more falling on my part!
Where to go?
Decide whether you want to take a pet and whether you want groomed trails, or want to go off on your own. When starting out cross-country skiing, I recommend groomed trails. Our classic Alpina Control 60 cross-country ski rentals are great for that. If you want to explore some, we sell a hybrid Alpina Control 64 Edge Ski, with metal edges. And if you really want to go off-path, our wider Alpina Discovery 68 Ski is the one for you.
Some trails do not allow dogs. We went to Gold Creek Pond, near Hyak, which is dog-friendly. It is a gorgeous, accessible trail for beginners. On the backside of the pond, the path is more wooded. It made for a fun adventure, but was probably more suitable for snowshoeing.
We saw dogs of all sizes out enjoying the snow. Just know that even if you have your dog on a leash (which is required), others may be off-leash and approach your dog. Given its proximity to Seattle, Gold Creek Pond can get very busy on the weekends and holidays. And the trailhead is accessible by a narrow road, so plan accordingly. We went on a Tuesday and only a few other groups were on the trail.
Pack it in. Pack it out!
This goes for whatever your dog may leave behind, too. There were porta potties but no trash cans at the trail head.
Lastly, have fun gliding away!
For more information, visit the Washington Trails Association guide to cross-country skiing in Washington State.