Standing in front of the church in the centre of Chamonix, looking up at the sun setting on Mont Blanc. Breathing slowly to control the nervous energy. Waiting. Trying to make a personal space in a crowd of more than two thousand runners. Wired bodies and minds, tense, yet totally still. All poised to cross the start line. Ready to run into the night. Preparing for whatever the next two days will bring. Nervous, yet calm.
Then suddenly, running down the main street in a blur of cheering home crowds, hearing that haunting soundtrack that marks the start of every Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. And just running. Running, walking, crawling a full lap around Mont Blanc. For nearly two days, broken beyond broken but still putting one foot in front of the other. And all the way, feeling the support of the thousands of people involved in this incredible race. Not daring to imagine what it feels like to finish. Just once in a lifetime …
Long distance runner or not, it’s easy to see why the UTMB is legendary in trail running circles. One of those seemingly unachievable ticks for the bucket list, alongside The Hardrock 100, Badwater Ultramarathon and the Marathon des Sables, finishers of this race are awarded ultimate trail community respect, whatever their time. The UTMB has captured the imagination of runners all over the world, who flock in their thousands just to run on Chamonix’s trails and test their bodies and their will in the ever present shadow of Mont Blanc.
Now in its fourteenth year, this epic race crosses into three countries: France, Italy and Switzerland - a 170km/ 104 mile circuit around Mont Blanc with a staggering 10,000m+ of altitude gain. Taking place at the end of August, the whole mountain community in all three countries comes alive with runners, supporters, film crews, medics and an army of thousands of volunteers.
Places in this ultimate suffer-fest are highly coveted. On paper, it’s a race for super-humans, including Spanish Salomon runner Killian Jornet and The North Face’s British athlete Lizzy Hawker, both multiple winners of the UTMB. The fastest athletes cross the finish line in an unbelievable 19-20 hours, while the back of the pack are still on their feet after 2 nights and 2 days, non-stop.
American ultra runner Scott Jurek is a seven times winner of the Western States 100, author of Eat and Run and holder of the Appalachian trail record. Even as one of the US’s top ultra runners, he seriously underestimated the UTMB. Whilst he’s gone on to eventually complete the race it took him four attempts before finally crossing the finish line.
But trail running in Chamonix is about so much more than the UTMB. The town and its network of mountain paths have deservedly earned a reputation as a running Mecca, and not just for elite athletes. Quite simply, Chamonix is one of the best trail running destinations in the world; combining jaw-dropping beauty, varied terrain, easy accessibility, altitudes than are easily acclimitised to and unforgettable charm. But most importantly trail opportunities for ALL levels of runner.
Over the summer months and run up to the local trail running events such as the Mont Blanc Marathon, UTMB and Trail des Aiguilles Rouges events the Chamonix valley has an incredible, if not unique, vibe of ‘all about running’: shops dedicated to trail running, people of every nationality out and about the main street pre or post training in their running kit, all carrying small packs and poles! It’s as if the world of trail running gravitates towards Mont Blanc for an annual pilgrimage! And yet due to the thousands of kilometres of trail available in and around Chamonix, once out in the mountains it all still feels peaceful.
Broken down into bite-sized chunks, the route of the UTMB (or its sister race, the 103km CCC – Courmayeur, Champex, Chamonix) can easily be an achievable holiday goal for runners of all abilities. With daily distances of 20-30km on mixed mountain terrain, and relaxed nights spent - actually sleeping - in charming mountain refuges or rustic alpine hotels; completing the route of this epic race is a realistic goal for runners of all levels.
Tracks and Trails offer trail running holidays for runners of all abilities. If you are new to trail running or want to simply ‘feel’ the unique vibe of running in trail running ‘mecca’ of the world then join one our Alpine Trail Running Camps
If you would like to run point to point then look at our 4-6 tours including the Mont Blanc Ultra Trail.
Croatia’s Paklenica Riviera, a 20km stretch of coastline where the mountains meet the sea, provides a beautiful setting for our next Nordic Walking break in partnership with Sam Armstrong from Core Concept and Danijela Bucić of Mountain Traveller Croatia. The Paklenica Riviera is part of the Velebit Nature Park, which because of its specific relief, vegetative, and landscape features was placed by UNESCO in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. We’ll stay in Starigrad-Paklenica, a relaxing small port on the coast of the Velebit channel built on the foundations of the ancient settlement of Argiyruntuma. Our accommodation in Starigrad Paklenica is the well-appointed 3-star Hotel Alan, which was completely renovated in 2004 with a cutting-edge wellness centre being added a year later.
Alongside the riviera the Paklenica National Park provides an impressive backdrop with its two canyons, Velika and Mala Paklenica (Grand and Small Paklenica), and high peaks that provide stunning views, deep gorges and beech and pine forests for our walks. The Park’s highest peak is Vaganski vrh at 1,757m. The park is renowned for its wild flowers, diverse fauna and interesting geomorphological phenomena and forms. The protected status of the park has ensured that the area remains unspoilt, with the preserve representing one of European’s last remaining true wildernesses. The region is rightly celebrated for the its heritage and diversity of attractions - on each day our Nordic walks will explore the history of this unique area: you’ll discover the stunning beauty of the Paklenica National Park and sample its local culture, cuisine and fine produce, and learn of its crafts and traditions. During our stay we’ve scheduled visits to discover Paklenica’s ancient villages and hamlets, a renovated flour mill, forts, taverns and an organic vineyard.
The Paklenica National Park, situated south of the Velebit range of mountains (the largest in Croatia) and covering an area of just under 100 square kilometres, is found slightly inland from the coast of northern Dalmatia just north of the vibrant city of Zadar, which we shall visit at the end of our week-long stay in the area. Zadar, set on a small peninsula, is an intriguing city with its old town of Roman and Venetian ruins, medieval churches and cosmopolitan cafes. The old town, which features beautiful Venetian gates in the city walls, also boasts a Roman-era Forum, the impressive 11th-century St. Mary’s Convent with its religious art dating to the 8th century; the 12th-century St. Anastasia’s Cathedral; and its oldest place of worship, the 9th-century pre-Romanesque Church of St. Donat. Despite all these attractions Zadar remains uncrowded and, with the help of a local guide, you’ll get to experience the best museums, shops and cafés the city has to offer.
Join us this May in Croatia Nordic walking and discover this wonderful region of the Paklenica National Park and its riviera - it’s the perfect time to head south to the Adriatic to experience its warmth and sunshine after a northern-European winter! For this week of Nordic walking no previous hill walking experience, just a good level of fitness and sense of adventure for a journey. Find out more about the trip by downloading the PDF trip summary, or contact us with any questions you may have.
We love the Queyras, both for snowshoeing in winter and for trail running in the summer months. The remote and uncrowded Queyras National Park is situated in the Hautes Alpes region of the French Alps, east of the Ecrins, between Briançon and Gap. The area is one of the most picturesque in all of France and so far seems to have remained quite undiscovered - allowing us to truly savour an unspoilt winter wilderness. Venturing into the park on snowshoes we explore its unique, dramatic landscape: breathtaking views of sparkling snowfields, dense centuries old larch and Cembran pine forests and the impressive, jagged rock faces of the rugged mountain peaks with their unique geological features.
We’ll also visit the park's charming villages such as Aiguilles, Abries, Chateau Queyras and St Veran - still the highest village inhabited year-round in Europe. The area surrounding the Queyras has also been long associated with the curative effects of its climate, due in large part to its claim to be one of the sunniest spots on the French mainland - receiving over 300 days of sunshine per year on average! Nearby, the historic town of Briançon, which dates back to the Romans and is now a UNESCO listed heritage site. Briançon has slowly evolved as a town over thousands of years - largely due to its early prominence as a key trading post, and still serves today as a crossroads for commerce, particularly for local art and traditional crafts from both France and Italy nearby.
The region, with its proximity to Provence, has a local cuisine that draws heavily on its more well-known neighbour. Recipes make excellent use of much of the fresh produce associated with the neighbouring provinces both in France and also Italy. In the bakeries you will find lovely breads and quiches filled with fresh olives, tomatoes and walnuts and baked using olive oil. The different alpine cheeses made from both the cows’ and goats’ milk of the Hautes Alpes must be tasted too! At our base in Aiguilles, Emelie produces some gorgeous meals made from the local produce.
The Queyras, then, is definitely the place to get away from it all - it's a surprise to meet any other groups in an entire week spent exploring its wild valleys and delightful villages on snowshoes. Our snowshoe weeks are a must for anyone wishing to discover the peace and tranquility of the Alps whilst enjoying traditional French mountain hospitality: we’ve still a few of places on our trips this February and March - join us in this winter paradise!
Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the Alps and Norway can be amazing value!
Making a trip across the Atlantic for a winter break cross country skiing or snowshoeing doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s a misconception that venturing to Europe need be a once in a lifetime endeavour! In fact now’s a better time than ever to make the most of a great Dollar/Euro exchange rate that works in your favour - the US Dollar hasn’t been this strong against the European single currency for 10 years! Norway too is more affordable than ever for our guests from the United States ($1 bought you less than 6 Norwegian Krone last year in 2014 - now it’s up more than 35% in the past 12 months to just over 8.5 Norwegian Krone!).
When factoring in the return flight it pays to shop around on price comparison sites such as Expedia and Orbitz, as well as checking with low cost airlines. Increasingly we’re having many clients travel to spend a week with us in the Alps from the northeastern United States, with New York City now particularly well connected with airlines WOW and Norwegian offering great deals either direct (to Oslo) or through connections to Geneva and Paris airports. Consider too that travelling by rail in Europe is convenient - particularly as good, reliable networks now access many resorts directly. Towns such as Chamonix are also connected by a range of shuttle bus services from the nearby airports: the healthy competition between the different services driving down prices even more! Rail connections in France and Switzerland are particularly good, allowing for European city stopovers (using the Eurail pass, for example) and short breaks to be incorporated should you wish to make the most of a longer break. There’s the opportunity to visit the European museums, theatres and palaces that you’d miss out on with a trip to the Rockies or Quebec!
Our snowshoe and cross country trips feature carefully chosen accommodation that immerse our guests in the authentic charm of mountain life in the Alps and Norway. By choosing a winter snowshoeing or cross country ski trip in the Juras, Alps or the Norway you’ll also get to sample the authentic cuisines, which include regional specialities based on locally prepared meats, cheeses and, of course, the wines! Exploring the mountains with an experienced and knowledgeable Tracks and Trails guide from the area provides a unique insight into the traditions and way of life of the little-changed communities en route. In general, with the current strength of the US Dollar you can expect any additional expenses such as drinks, local travel and gifts for friends and family back home to be very reasonable in value.
At Tracks and Trails we can provide guidance on selecting the trip that best meets your aspirations and schedule.
We can also arrange for tailor-made and custom packages for individuals and groups - just drop us a line by phone (from the USA: 011- 44 - 20 8144 6442 note: we’re 6 hours ahead of EST, 9 hours for PST) or email to discuss how we can best arrange the perfect trip for you!
It can seem a little daunting choosing the right destination for your cross country skiing or snowshoe trip this winter. So much choice!
Well, we’ve a short guide to the different countries - what they each have to offer by way of their distinct charms and unique experiences …
France offers two mountain ranges within reach of Chambery, Lyon and Geneva airports for snowshoeing and cross country skiing: the Alps and the Jura. It’s also possible of course to take the train from London, Brussels and other destinations making use of France’s well-run high speed TGV network and Eurostar. Our guests love the traditional French ambiance they experience in the Alpine towns of Chamonix, Samoëns and Briançon. In the smaller villages the peaceful way of life and farming traditions have remained little changed for fifty years. Of course, French cuisine is also a great draw: fresh baguettes and patisseries, mulled wine and and seemingly endless variety of local cheeses.
Why we love France:
- A choice of different type of resorts: quieter locales such as Samoëns or the villages of the Queyras, or towns with a buzzing nightlife such as Chamonix.
- Good food and wine at affordable prices.
- Alpine centres such as Chamonix have a long history of winter sports, but also offer many other activities both during the day and in the evening. Chamonix also has the added bonus of easy access to Italy and Switzerland, and not forgetting of course Mont Blanc itself!
- Extensive cross country ski networks with affordable, quality ski rental and good value day ski passes.
It’s very name conjures up images of alpine chalets, dramatic snow-covered mountains and charming villages that feature on chocolate boxes and postcards from a country that turns into an amazing winter wonderland when the snow falls. Access to the mountain villages and towns of the Swiss Alps is often made by scenic railways that wind their way through spectacular valleys and alongside pristine frozen lakes. There’s perhaps no other country that’s quite so well looked after! The superlatives used so often to describe Switzerland really are well deserved – it is breathtakingly beautiful!
-First rate public transport that’s reliable, clean and efficient making village to village skiing a breeze!
-Good food and warm hospitality.
-Efficiency and service: whether it’s at the ski shop,hotel, restaurant or the airport - the Swiss will always do their best to make sure you’re taken care of!
-Good green credentials in many of the resorts, with increased efforts being made to be eco-friendly.
The Italian resorts all have the own distinct charms and individuality. Italians will say that there’s ‘no such thing as Italian food’ it’s all regional: from one region or valley to the next, there’s a different style and a unique speciality that they’re very proud of! We can’t praise the food too much - really, it’s a major draw for our guests who come back year after year! Coupled with the cuisine is the amazing warmth and hospitality of the Italians, which is especially generous in the mountain regions of Aosta and Piemonte.
Choose Italy for:
-Local people are very friendly and relaxed.
-Quieter resorts than many in the other Alpine countries.
-Great value for money.
-Glamourous mix of mountain tradition and style whilst staying in Courmayeur below the towering Monte Bianco.
Germany’s most popular holiday region transforms into a winter sports wonderland with the first snowfalls in December. Skiing in the Black forest region of Germany, close to the Swiss border, is truly a delight (and not just for the cake!). The area has a particular, hand-crafted feel and the region proudly preserves its distinctive identity. The cross country tracks are well groomed and orientation via the trail maps and signposting top notch - the skiing here is indeed made all the more enjoyable by the excellent facilities and care taken to assist visitors. The hotels and restaurants too are of a high standard and provide a warm welcome. All-in-all a first class experience for the skier!
Germany's special for:
- Friendliness of the local people.
- Good public transport: efficient, clean and good value.
- Environmentally friendly ski operations.
- Well-run hotels with great service.
- Incredible Black Forest gateaux and sweet treats!
Norway is synonymous with Nordic skiing… it’s a way of life! Cross country skiing in Norway is a unique experience, and quite different from that of the Alps: you’ll experience the majesty of exploring wilderness areas where population centres are few and far between. For the Norwegians the mountains are ingrained within their culture, and the outdoors are seen as a wonderful playground to venture into and enjoy. Staying in Norway you’ll experience first class service and the warmth of a people genuinely proud to share their love of nature!
-Stunning scenery and the feeling of complete remoteness.
-Regular flights to Oslo and easy/efficient trains to the resorts.
-Sterling/Krone: the best exchange rate for several years!
-Warm and welcoming people that are genuinely enthusiastic about all things skiing!
-Amazing light in the spring months.
-A different pace of life: Norway’s generally quieter than its Alpine counterparts
-You won’t struggle with the language: almost everyone can speak English really well!
Need more help? Do get in touch and we’ll be happy to provide further guidance and advice to help you choose the best trip for you!
Which ski for which course? A ‘Rough Guide’ to cross country skis!
As ski technology continues to advance manufacturers have developed a massive range of skis all designed for a certain type/style of skiing and terrain. Choosing the right ski for the holiday you have booked can be a little challenging, but we can help point you in the right direction toward making the correct choice of equipment. The information below is just an indication of what is available; as you will discover, there are many variations and makes and models.
Do not be put off by the range of skis which you might need, you can HIRE all of them. If you plan to buy your own then always check with us before buying!
Cross Country Skiing in the Alps
We offer a range of cross country ski holidays which are based almost entirely on cut tracks and prepared trails, the only exception is the Trans Jura Swiss. So for example, for our Italian Ski Breaks, you need ‘Classic’ style cross-country skis. If you see skiers appearing to walk/run on their skis this is ‘classic’. These should be approximately your height plus 25 cm in length, the poles should come up to your armpits when the basket is placed next to your boot. These do not have metal edges and are designed for being ‘in tracks’.
An example of the type of ski most commonly used in the Alps would be the Salomon Elite 5, which is a ‘waxless’ ski meaning it has ‘fish scales’ under the foot to allow you to kick and glide without the need for rubbing in a ‘grip’ wax. With cross country skis, used in a traditional way, you would choose a grip wax to suit the current temperatures and snow conditions and apply that to the base of the ski. In other words, ‘waxless’ is the easy option and means you can simply put them on and go.
The type of ski boot used with this ski is usually very light and comfortable. Imagine that the toe of the boot is attached to the ski by a metal bar, and the heel is ‘free’. The boots should be waterproof and warm, and are very similar to a walking boot, but lighter, and neater on the foot. Everything is light, and comfortable to use.
Skating is the other cross-country discipline, but instead of the running/walking motion of ‘classic’ skiing, the skier in this instance moves forward in a ‘skating’ motion. For example, our ‘Learn to Skate Breaks’ based in Cogne, Italy. For skating you use skis, poles, and boots specifically for this discipline. The skis will be shorter than ‘classic’: your height plus approximately 10 cm. The boots will have more ankle support and the poles will be longer – reaching up to a height between the chin and the base of the ear lobe. With these skis we do not apply wax under the foot, nor do we use ‘fish scales’. The skis are smooth down their entire length, and the only wax applied is a glide wax, perhaps once a week or so, to promote speed of travel. An example of a skate ski would be the Salomon Equipe 7.
The boots are also specific to ‘skating’ and will have more ankle support to allow you to drive the ski forward. Otherwise, they are similar to the boots used for ‘classic’ skiing and are light and comfortable to wear.
Journeys in the Alps
For our longer journeys across the Alps such as the Trans Jura Swiss and the Grand Traverse of the Jura you require a non-metal edged ‘classic’ ski. Most of these trips you will be skiing in ‘tracks’, but they may not always be freshly prepared, and a little rough, and other days if it snows heavily there may be no tracks at all, so you will be breaking trail. For this type of trip, which is a journey, it is best to have a more robust kind of ski, with ‘fish scales’. In other words a little heavier and wider than the ‘classic’ skis used for trips that are instructional ‘track’ skiing holidays.
We do encourage everyone on our ‘journeys’ to use ‘fish scales’ so that you are all able to just ‘get up and go’. On a journey there is less chance to opt out during the day, and it is important you have the right kind of ski. If you really wish to use waxing skis, then do speak to us beforehand so we can access your level of experience. The Salomon Snowscape 7 is an example of the type of ski, which is good at dealing with on and off track. It is a good idea to choose a boot that is comfortable and also will keep your feet warm on a long day on skis.
Cross Country Ski Journeys in Norway – Nordic Skiing:
Peer Gynt Trail
For our trips such as the Peer Gynt, or our 'Nordic in Norway: Venabu' trip, where we are on tracks then the above ski is once again ideal, and you do not need metal edges. We often hire our skis in Norway at your arrival hotel, and they will supply the best ski for local use. Often these will be waxing skis, and your guide will teach you how to apply grip wax under the foot to give you good kick and glide. This is the traditional Nordic method and gives fabulous ease and efficiency if you get it right! You can, of course, also arrive with your own ‘fish scales’, and these will be fine. Whatever the ski it must fit into the ‘cut tracks’, and with tracks cut to a width of 60 to 70mm, then you may want a maximum of 65mm on the ski tip or tail to allow them to slide smoothly in the tracks. You can also hire metal edged track skis for both the Peer Gynt and Venabu trip and although heavier a metal edge does allow a more aggressive snowplough.
The Trolls Trail is several steps up from the Peer Gynt in terms of difficulty, and is best skied with a metal edged Nordic touring ski. The metal edges give more grip when turning and for snowploughing, and are more aggressive than the non-metal edged skis which we often use on the Peer Gynt. The Trolls Trail is mostly on ‘cut tracks’ but also goes ‘off track’ where a slightly wider more robust ski is very useful. Again the skis can be waxless with ‘fish scales’ or waxable skis where you apply a grip wax under the foot. For this trip the boots will also tend to be more robust than the standard ‘classic’ style ski boot. For a ski you could consider the Fischer E89 Tour Xtralite which has a steel edge, and for boots perhaps the Fischer Offtrack 5 which fit perfectly in the tracks, but also give enough support for the one day we spend ‘off track’.
Technical Talk - What is ‘sidecut’?
You will often hear the term ‘sidecut’ bandied around amongst skiers of all disciplines. It’s not complicated, and simply refers to the width of the ski. Ski width is measured at three locations on the ski. The tip (the widest point near the front of the ski), the waist (the narrowest point near the middle of the ski) and the tail (near the back of the ski). The resulting hourglass shape is called the sidecut.
Therefore, when looking for skis for use in tracks, it is important that the tip be no wider than 70mm. In addition, the sidecut should be minimal so the skis glide straight and efficiently. You can also hire skis, if you wish, with metal edges from our departure hotel and these make descents and control of speed much easier.
By now you’ve worked out the choice is huge and varied and there is almost a ski for every different type of terrain and trip. See this as a great excuse to collect some new mountain toys, and relish the chance to try them out! We are very happy to talk to you about the ski required for your trip. They can all be hired, and you do not have to have the expense of buying several different skis to cover your various aims and ambitions for Nordic skiing. Some skis can in fact be used for several of the trips mentioned above, and it all really depends on your ability and desire for speed and comfort. Don’t get confused, speak to us!
Jules gives the lowdown on what kit you’ll need this winter in Trail Running Magazine’s ‘Meet the Expert’ gear advice section.
Get the autumn issue of Trail Running - it’s out now on the news stands!
Why Begin Cross Country Skiing this Winter? It’s the perfect boost for your running fitness
Cross country skiing (a.k.a. Nordic skiing, or ski de fond) is currently enjoying a serious renaissance. Like the boom in road cycling and ultra trail running that’s taken the UK and US by storm in recent years, it’s no longer just nerdy endurance geeks and burly army boys who are hooked on this now-fashionable-again winter sports pursuit. Unlike their Scandinavian forefathers, today’s Nordic newschoolers are decked out in on-trend, technical gear (from brands such as Oakley, Maloja and Salomon), while events such as the Vasaloppet in Sweden have attracted celebrity participants including Kate Middleton’s sister, Pippa. The Swiss Engadin Marathon – one of the biggest XC Ski events (even looks cool in writing!) has between 11,000 and 13,000 participants every year.
A US report from SIA (Snowsports Industries America) estimated that cross country skiing participation was up 29% from 2013 to 2014. Downhill skiing plummeted by a similar percentage. Possibly a reflection of a poor winter season? Or many defecting to join the free heel skinny ski crew? Probably a combination of both, and for good reason.
So, why is cross country skiing so perfect for runners (as well as for other endurance sports athletes)?
It goes without saying that cross country skiing is one of the best all body work outs around. Not only are you working both lower and upper body simultaneously, but the benefits to your heart and lungs are second to none.
Cardio vascular fitness
Professional cross country skiers consistently rate as having amongst the best cardio vascular fitness levels of all sportspeople. Skiers such as Espen Harald Bjerke have recorded V02 max recordings as high as 96, surpassing the cyclist Greg LeMond (92) and long distance runner Kilian Jornet (89.5). The combination of continual aerobic activity, endurance, bursts of power (when you hit a hill) and keeping warm at altitude make cross country skiing one of the best possible ways to improve your heart and lung capacity.
The kit (skinny skis with free heels, trainer-like boots with rigid soles and long carbon poles) might be lightweight, but it’s pretty clear from looking at the physiques of any serious cross country athlete that the skiing builds not just cardio endurance, but muscle power too. And the beauty is not just in building muscles, but also in that it builds the right muscles. Whether your main sport is running or cycling - or in fact any other endurance activity - the balanced muscle tone you earn from days on the cross country tracks will help you build the optimum base for your next endurance challenge.
The stance of a cross country skier – proudly upright with open chest and poles pushing behind you – is the perfect antidote to modern life’s postural disaster zone. Too many of us spend far too much time sitting slouched at desks, in cars, hunched over our handlebars, or running the same repetitive routes on tarmac. Our shoulders are rounded, our bellies are soft, our hip flexors and hamstrings are over-tight, our glutes don’t work properly, and we often have backache. Enter the cross country ski remedy. It is impossible to Nordic ski without engaging those lazy glutes and fire up your rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles and bring your shoulders back into line. Result: a long-term solution to improved posture.
Balance, proprioception and core strength
Not only does cross country skiing give all your major muscle groups a serious work out, you’re also challenging those little-used muscles that tend to get neglected. In particular, the muscles that keep your ankles and knees strong and safe from twists and sprains. While the uneven surface of trail running also has the same effect, the reality is that most of us switch to tarmac when the nights draw in. We end up in a routine of repetitive pounding without working on proprioception and balance. Core strength is absolutely critical for Nordic skiing too. You can’t ‘get away with it’ on cross country skis as your core is essential for holding form and keeping balanced, while you change weight from one ski to the other.
Joint protection and injury prevention
The smooth motion of cross country skiing is perfect for protecting your joints while you exercise. Although the sport is weight bearing, your skis are in constant contact with the snow, which means you avoid pounding. Any keen runner will know about the effects of impact, no matter how good your shoes and technique. Get into cross country skiing and your knees, hips and lower back will thank you, not just because you’re helping re-build muscle, but you’re also giving your body a well earned rest from being beaten up on winter tarmac. Taking the impact out while you build your fitness and strength helps protect your joints and prevent injuries.
Natural interval training
Most cross country skiing is relatively flat, especially when you’re starting out. But as you progress in the sport, the playground becomes a natural interval work out. Unlike running where you can slow to a walk or even stop, when the track starts to head uphill and you run out of puff you don’t have the same luxury on skis: slow down too much and you’ll start slipping backwards! Undulating terrain provides the perfect interval session as you’re forced to hit the accelerator to make it up each hill. And you’ll be so busy concentrating you’ll hardly even notice that extra effort. Plus of course, what goes up … which is a skill in itself (and a lot of fun, especially when you’re learning) on slightly wobbly cross country skis.
Cross country ski tracks are usually on the lower slopes of ski resorts, ranging from an altitude of 1,000m to around 2,000m in the French Alps. Not high enough to cause a problem with acclimatisation, but definitely high enough to benefit from the effects of altitude training. Spend a few days working hard at around 1500m and you’ll notice your usual sea level run or bike ride feels a whole lot easier when you go home.
Thrills, spills and adrenaline rushes
It might not feel like it when you first start out, Bambi-like with too many arms, legs, skis and poles to coordinate, but you’ll be amazed how quickly you ‘get it’ and can start picking up speed on cross country skis. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of the wind in your hair as you whizz through snowy forests, propelled completely under your own steam. It also goes without saying that anything involving balance and speed will also involve a little dose of adrenaline.
The Challenge, and fitness
Cross country skiing is simultaneously challenging and accessible for all abilities – from complete beginners to experts. To get going enough to enjoy it and feel the fitness benefit is relatively easy. To become technically expert is an ongoing investment. Learning something new is one of the best ways to improve your fitness, whatever your training goal. If you don’t keep challenging your body in different ways it will never need to change or improve. So, while you might still be doing your usual 10km or clocking up 100km per week on the turbo, you’re not actually getting any fitter or seeing results. Frustratingly, you’re just maintaining your fitness level. Learning a new sport and seeing your own progression and improvement is a fast track (and fun!) way out of that plateau.
Whether or not you wear a heart rate monitor and clock your effort while you ski, your body will pretty quickly tell you it’s hungry! The combination of head to toe exertion, altitude and cold air temperatures make cross country skiing top of the list of fat-burning activities. A boost to your metabolism and absolutely no excuses needed to indulge.
And … Adventure
As a runner, cyclist or other endurance athlete – at whatever level – a large part of why you love your sport is about the journeys that you go on. Travelling, exploring, seeing new places, meeting people, participating in events, improving, spending time alone with your thoughts or connecting with friends. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned skater, cross country skiing also taps into that sense of journey and adventure. If getting away from it all is your goal, then with minimal kit and a small pack you can spend days travelling point to point under your own steam in some of the most stunning and remote winter environments that Europe has to offer.
For more information check out all of our Tracks and Trails Nordic ski holidays
Thank you EPIC TV for an easy to understand informative guide on how to choose your next pair of trail shoes. If you have any further shoe & kit queries please get in touch as we are always happy to advise.
Snowshoeing using the latest lightweight equipment has opened up a whole new world to those who previously thought mountain walking was only a summer activity. Snowshoeing is neither technical or complicated and allows access to a wonderful snow covered playground. You don't need any prior experience to snowshoe in the Alps, just some warm clothes and a sense of adventure! With a little guidance you can soon pick up the skills: we regularly see whole families wandering through magical snow covered forests or across high meadows enjoying the views normally only afforded to mountaineers or skiers. There is also the myth that it's all hard work. Indeed, if you happen to have to break the trail it’s a bit of a workout, but if there is a trail already there, and there often is, then it's really no harder than normal hill walking.
It’s often overlooked that we have been snowshoeing far longer than we have been skiing - historians generally believe that snowshoes were invented around 6,000 years ago in Central Asia. A little closer to home, inhabitants of the Caucasus used to attach flat leather under their feet and the Armenians used round wooden surfaces. The aim of course was to travel on the surface of the snow pack rather than sinking knee or thigh deep.
A century ago snowshoes looked a little like something you might use for an early game at Wimbledon, and I do have friends who constantly tease when I suggest I am off for a spot of snowshoeing. 'Oh, getting the tennis racquets out then?' But snowshoes have come a long way since the French first referred to them as raquettes. Today's snowshoes are made of modern lightweight materials and come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. They are a pleasure to wear and without doubt a fantastic way to move around a snow covered landscape. For the fashion conscious you can easily tailor your snowshoe collection (let's face it, one pair’s never enough!) to match your winter wardrobe.
In the Alps snowshoeing has been credited with being the fastest growing winter activity. In France alone the latest figures show two million people snowshoeing on a regular basis. More people in the Alps have taken up snowshoeing than any other winter sport, with annual sales now at 140,000 snowshoes each year. Snowshoeing with Tracks and Trails is the perfect way to explore the mountains and valleys of the Alps - a magical experience of silent forests, beautiful mountains and stunning view. Join us this winter and enjoy fabulous snowshoeing in Chamonix or try one of our explorer trips to Italy or Switzerland.
Find out more about our snowshoe trips this winter here.