Is there a difference between cross country (XC) skiing at a commercial center and “in the woods?” You better believe it!
One of the greatest obstacles for increasing XC skiing popularity is the common image of a lone XC skier going into a narrow dark trail as if isolation in the woods was the goal. But designed trails at XC resorts with groomed and maintained trails offer much more than solitude.
Often trails that are built by loggers or by the government in state and federal parks have long straight ascents and descents. Most average skiers are often afraid of the speed of a long downhill. Instead, trail designers such as John Morton of Morton Trails recommend undulating and twisting trails that spark interest on every turn and also help slow down the speed. Destinations, scenic vistas, and accomplishment upon arrival make great sense on XC ski trails, and these are characteristics that well-designed trails provide.
Most XC ski resorts or centers charge a fee between $15 and $35. For that fee the patron gets a business operation and trails that:
* are designed for XC skiing, snowshoeing, or fat biking in harmony with the environment and are user-friendly;
* are regularly maintained or groomed, and include tracks and a lane for ski skaters and separate trails for snowshoers or fat bikers;
* can be expected to be free of debris or fallen trees and provide consistent skiable quality;
* have clear signage with available and understandable maps;
* have quality rental equipment that enhance the activity (easy to use and provides greater control for the average skier);
* offer ski instruction in various forms (kids, women, group, private) in an area for learners where they are not embarrassingly on display;
* include a food and beverage service;
* offer special organized programs for school kids, older folks, etc;
* have a facility where people can change clothes, get warm, or socialize;
* include a friendly helpful staff, who can share local information;
* have ski patrollers to help, if necessary.
Yes, admittedly many people can XC ski out their back door in the backyard, on a local golf course, or on a trail in a nearby forest, and it is very convenient to do so. But fee-based XC ski resorts or centers offer a different skiing product. New Hampshire’s Jackson Ski Touring Center, emulated by hundreds of XC ski resorts across North America, is a perfect example. In addition to the services listed above, Jackson also has something intangible: the “Culture of XC Skiing.” History, Expertise, Community, Education. That’s why Jackson and surrounding XC ski centers can be considered one of the true mecca regions of XC skiing.
Of course, the major issue with non-fee-based XC ski trails is the condition of the snow. The weather rules the snow and without trail grooming and trail maintenance, the snow can be hard packed, icy, sticky, too deep for non-powder skiers, or too inconsistent to offer a good experience.
The statistics have shown over many years that less than 20 percent of XC ski outings are at fee-based resorts or centers. Skiers that experience the other 80 percent of the XC skiing outings are missing out on the benefits, and many are not even aware that those services exist. If you haven’t stayed at a XC resort or skied at a XC ski center, give it a try. It’s a great winter experience.