Took entire family out for cross-country skiing this past weekend in Espoo. We ventured down to the only currently open cross-country ski track which is located near Lake Bodom in Espoo. The place was absolutely packed with various skiers and families just out to frolic in the snow and sled down the hills. Even though we are all still just getting our feet wet, we had a great time and look forward to many more outdoor adventures on skis. Being a California native, I am really only used to downhill skiing and let me tell you, cross-country and downhill skiing are worlds apart. They each have their pros and cons, but I would have to say that for all around nature and exercise, cross-country skiing is the king. With downhill skiing you wear a very heavy and tightly locked ski boot and it clicks into your binding, but can easily pop out if necessary for safety. Also, downhill skis are much wider than the cross country version. Cross-country uses smaller boots which are essentially as comfortable as hiking shoes, but they also have a small metal bar in the front which locks into your ski. The downside is that cross country boots do not release when you fall, they need to be clicked out by pushing a button on the binding.
Which one is better to actually do? This is all a matter of personal preference of course. But if you are an endurance sports nut like myself (swimming, triathlon, running, hiking), then cross country would be your preference. Don't get me wrong downhill skiing is very fun, but it is mainly about getting to the top of the hill and flying down as fast as you can. It can be quite exhilarating and thrilling when you are flying down the hill at breakneck speeds, but there is always that fear factor of crashing which happens to the best of us. Falling down a hill at extreme speeds is no laughing matter. With cross country skiing, it can be more of an escape to the nature, like hiking with skis on. Cross-country skiing is typically done in little tracks that are made in the snow, but you could also just ski over the smooth snow. With cross country skiing you essentially shuffle your legs and arms simultaneously back and forth over the flat surface to move forward and you "walk" up steep hills with the skis in a V position. Screw the chairlifts, time to walk up those hills, baby! If you have never tried cross-country, it is one hell of a workout. I honestly cannot think of a better way to get in all around shape than spending a few hours a week on cross-country skis. You are getting a leg, arm and even stomach workouts all in one. Technically there are 2 distinct types of cross-country skiing now, the classic type (shuffle motion) and the skating (like ice skating on skis) type of skis. I wanted to do both, but then I found that one needs to purchase additional equipment (boots, bindings, skis) for each one. Ouch! One equipment investment at a time I guess. What's nice is that after the initial equipment investment, you never need to pay to use the many parks that offer cross-country ski tracks in Finland.
When you live in a Nordic country like Finland, there are many places to cross-country ski, assuming the snowfall has been good. We supposedly have over 30 areas in our city of Espoo alone for skiing. It is great to see so many Finns out and about enjoying the nature and getting their exercise via cross-country skiing. It must be in their blood, as I even noticed that they are encouraging skiing during recess at my 5 year old son's school. So grab your skis and go out and enjoy the nature.