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Lessons for a Nordic Ski Newbie

Lessons for a Nordic Ski Newbie

The aim of this post is to shed some light on what it’s like to get in to Nordic skiing, and to tell you a little about the Nordic Ski beginner camp at Whistler Olympic Park. I hope to also answer a few Nordic Ski newbie questions. As a newbie myself, I wanted answers to things like: 

With no equipment and experience, will I find it difficult to get in to Cross Country Skiing?
Do I need lessons?
What’s the cost?
Is it worth it?
Is it fun?

Firstly, I would like to qualify myself as a Nordic ski newbie. To be really honest, I’m terrible at skiing. Before enrolling on the course at WOP, my only experience on a set of ski’s (alpine) included 1 run falling down Whistler. Embarrassingly, I unclipped my skis to get off some parts of the mountain. I crashed, slid, and swore the whole way down. I quit alpine skiing that day… 

I thought to myself, Nordic skiing is different though, right? So I gave it a shot. Prior to the course up at WOP, my experience entailed a 20 minute crash course by Bob Putnam on a flat piece of terrain in Cypress. I fell down loads there too, and my poor ego took more hits… so it’s safe to say I’m a Nordic ski newbie.  

After seeing how challenged on a flat surface I was, Bob recommended I go on a course. I decided to have a go at the 2 Day Adult Beginner Skate Lessons at Whistler Olympic Park. So, after lessons at WOP and conversations with the highly knowledgeable staff at Coast Outdoors, this is what I know about getting into Nordic skiing. 

Necessary equipment and purchases


Unfortunately, not all your alpine gear will work well here. Because of the heat you generate through Nordic skiing, wearing thick alpine gear will overheat you. Fortunately, you should be able to use a few layers of clothing that you may already have, especially if you train. If you don’t know if you’ll like the sport, it’s best to give it a try in the cheapest way you can and then decide to upgrade once you’ve made a decision to take it further or not. 

Outer layers for Cross Country Skiing
Soft shell jacket: You’ll need a very breathable jacket to let out the body heat (you’ll be spending lots more energy than you would during an alpine ski!). A soft shell is a great choice for most skiing days. Soft shells are tightly woven jackets, typically featuring a durable water repellent (DWR) finish. It will stop light snow or rain from getting in and provides exceptional breathability.

Hard shell jacket: Heavy rain or snow means you’ll need something that is waterproof. A hard shell layer is handy to have in case a heavy downpour hits. You could potentially use your alpine jacket (if you have one) to see this phase through. 

Base Layers
Go for light multiple layers instead of thick singular items of clothing. Snug fitting layers are handy because they will allow freedom of movement. When you get hot, you can take off layers. Make sure you bring a spare pair of clothes that you can get changed in to after your ski (either sweat or moisture could get you wet and cold!). 

Hats and Gloves
A light toque with visor works well on mild days. Add a headband to cover your ears on the colder days, or switch to a wool or fleece toque. For your hands, having layers can help here too. 

Don’t forget sun cream too! 


Ski’s, Poles & Boots
Firstly, from what I’ve been told, it’s not worth getting top of the range equipment until you’ve had time to master the basics (also, your equipment will most likely take a few hits as you learn, so renting or having less expensive gear to begin with isn’t a bad idea!). 
For the sake of ease, I will list pricing below when purchasing for an adult. To find out other pricing, you can take a look here:

Whistler Olympic Park:
Cypress Mountain:

My recommendation is to take the rental route first. This is the easiest and cheapest way to try it out. You can try it out at a number of locations and pricing can vary. Ski’s, boots and pole equipment rental ranges from location to location. Some price points for a day of rentals in our area are:

WOP: Adult day – $31 
Cypress: Adult day – $22 – $31
Callaghan: Adult day – $30

*Whistler Olympic Park have discounted rental rates if bought in combination with lessons ($15)


A few pass price examples for an adult (full day) in B.C:

WOP: $28.50
Cypress: $21.50
Callaghan: $28.50

**Most locations offer cheaper admission tickets at certain times of the day, or on certain days of the week. Check the specific links above for each location to find out more. 


Here in lies the question on whether you need lessons or not? For me, the answer was a solid YES! I would recommend getting lessons from qualified instructors, as they are trained to spot details that will save you time, effort and some discomfort as you learn!

If you have a patient friend that is willing to stick with you and break all the pieces down for you, you could go ahead and do that too. I wouldn’t recommend trying it out by yourself, as you may get yourself and/or someone else hurt in the process. 

The course I enrolled on at Whistler Olympic Park was a 2 day beginner skate course. The cost of the course was $295

More info on the WOP lessons:

Whistler Olympic Park Lessons

Day 1

Transitioning from bambi on ice into something resembling the motion of a cross country skier was a difficult task (for me), but one in which the staff at WOP did a great job at helping with!

Here’s a quick clip of the standard by which our group started out at (3 of us fell during this first screening phase but I vowed not to embarrass my new group of friends and have excluded that from the vid! 🙂 


WOP instructors effortlessly installed confidence in me and my ability to ski by breaking all the elements into small digestible pieces. For me, this was key to the enjoyment of the course. 2 skis and 2 poles is enough moving parts for me to look like I’m doing a confused robot dance. Lessons start without poles so that you can gain the muscle memory in the legs, and then start to layer in the movement of the poles later. Lisa (below) taught our group, and delivered each segment with patience and attentiveness to each person in the group. Group ratio 1 – 7. 

Lessons are satisfying because they break everything down into small achievable goals. Effort, progress, effort, progress. Then, when you finally have some form and are gliding accordingly, it’s genuine fun! 


Before you know it, you’ll be coming down on a gradient and turning! 

Day 2

I was on a genuine high after day 1. I got back to my friends house and celebrated the day by having a few drinks (I was under the impression that the effort I exuded on day 1 would be the same as day 2. This was not the case!)

Day 2 is where we tried to put it all together.  This is where it started to get difficult for me… I tripped so easily on my poles whilst climbing that it almost turned in to my uphill motif. Thankfully, falling into soft snow meant it was only my ego that got damaged!

It’s a WORKOUT! 

I had no clue how exhausting cross country skiing can be. The amount of energy I spent trying to climb up a trail would have me gasping for oxygen, and needing the poles just to stay standing. I don’t think I have ever sweated so much in my life. I was wishing for a trusty chair lift to help me out… it never came. Many regard this as the strength of the sport. It can be quite challenging trying to exercise outside during the winter season due to how slippery or hard the conditions can get around the city. Cross country skiing equips you with the tools to be on a beautiful mountain whilst simultaneously burning a crap-tonne of calories! 

Personal note to self: don’t bring a hang over to cross country skiing… It’s already hell trying to climb hills! 

When I think about my newbie question ‘is it worth it?’, I have to say that it is. It’s clearly a great way to get in shape, be social, and have fun whilst enjoying the great outdoors!

Whistler Olympic Park – Lesson Success

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