I live in Vancouver and we are fortunate to be able to paddle 12 months of the year. I'm an avid paddler, but in all honesty, during the months of November to March I'd rather be doing something other than kayaking, paddle-boarding, outrigger canoe, or surfski. This is where cross-country skiing comes in. Often when its 6 degrees and raining in Vancouver, our local mountains are a winter wonderland.
So you should consider strapping on the skinny skis and getting out onto the frozen water. Here's why.
The same things that attract you to paddling are present in XC skiing. Getting outside, enjoying nice scenery, engaging in a low-impact activity that exercises many parts of the body, propelling yourself along a medium that provides less resistance and gives you the feeling of gliding unencumbered, and hanging out with other friendly, like-minded people. Similar to paddling, when you finish xc skiing your mind feels clear, your body invigorated. Both activities are fabulous for the body and soul.
XC skiing means different things to different people, there are multiple variations, back-country where you’re climbing up mountains, tromping around the woods, but what I will focus on is track skiing, skate and classic, where you are skiing at a local club or Nordic centre where trails and tracks are machine-groomed.
XC skiing is renowned for being an all-body sport: legs, trunk, shoulders, and arms. It has excellent cardiovascular benefits and improves your independent leg balance. As with paddling you can perform XC skiing at a variety of different intensities and technique requirements. If you take a deep dive into paddling technique it can be quite involved, but you can still get great enjoyment from just doing the basics. The movement of classic skiing, is essentially the same as walking: skis have a variety of grip mechanisms, so you can simply walk on skis, more vigorously march on skis, or work on the graceful technique of diagonal stride trying to maximize "kick and glide". If you’re wanting something a bit more vigorous? Try skate skiing. If you're an ice-skater or alpine skier you'll have lots of transferable skills.
From a physical standpoint both skate and classic skiing are full-body activities. As with paddling, good technique is a huge benefit and allows you to involve more muscle groups while performing the activity. Right off the bat, it’s clear that XC skiing involves legs a lot more than paddling. For our core strength, trunk, obliques, lats, XC skiing and paddling complement each other nicely. For both paddling and skiing, we employ some rotational movement of our trunk to help generate power and propulsion. Of course, physical stamina is a huge benefit of XC skiing. Usually people go out for 1 hour plus. As with paddle sports you can pack a snack or lunch and take a break. After a winter of XC skiing, when you jump back into your boat, you'll find you have more strength in your stroke and you'll discover you can paddle further and tire less.
I can't stress enough, as with most activities, no matter your ability, improving your technique greatly enhances your enjoyment of the activity. It should be no surprise that the greatest athletes have coaches and work on their technique all the time. Even if you are an experienced paddler or skier, there is no shame in taking a lesson. Getting constructive feedback on your technique will pay dividends. You'll learn to be more efficient in generating power, learn how to maximize glide or rest, and learn how to spread the work load over a variety of muscle groups.
So give XC skiing a shot this winter. Being active 12 months of the year is key to living a long and healthy life. Also consider taking a lesson, in both XC skiing and paddling. Even experienced paddlers will learn and improve.
Get Outside - Get Fit - Have Fun