On the right track: South Lake Tahoe cross-country skiing at Lake Tahoe
Both cross country skiing and skate skiing are favorite pastimes at South Lake Tahoe
Where to cross-country ski at Tahoe-Truckee:
Royal Gorge is the largest cross-country ski area in North America, located at Soda Springs, with over 200 kilometers of groomed trails and 6,000 acres of pristine terrain.
Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area offers a 65-kilometer trail system that accesses Ponderosa Pine and White Fir forests, open meadows, and views of Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Resort is located in Truckee and offers 100 kilometers of trails that include climbs, rolling hills, pine and aspen forests.
Northstar California offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and Martis Valley, which can be seen from many of the 35 kilometers of groomed, scenic trails.
The Resort at Squaw Creek Nordic Center is situated in Squaw Valley, adjacent to the mountain that was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. It hosts 18 kilometers of groomed trails.
Auburn Ski Club Training Center is located on Donner Summit and offers cross-county skiing and Biathlon facilities and programs. It operates a world-class, 20-kilometer trail system.
Sugar Pine State Park on Tahoe’s West Shore is located in Tahoma. The area hosted the 1960 Winter Olympic Nordic skiing competitions. It features open meadows and stream paths on four trails and 20 kilometers.
Camp Richardson near South Lake Tahoe offers 10 kilometers of skier-packed trails along the shore of Lake Tahoe, or winding through giant Jeffrey pines and over gentle hills on the groomed track.
Hope Valley Cross-Country Ski Center offers 60 miles of trails, 10 groomed, in meadow and forest. Staff escorts guests on Full Moon Tours, Wildlife Tours and Backcountry Skills Seminars. No trail fees are charged, but they rely on voluntary donations.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort, located 45 minutes or so south of South Lake Tahoe, features 24 trails and 70 kilometers of groomed trails.
Bijou Cross-Country offers an informal 4-kilometer marked trail across Bijou Community Park in South Lake Tahoe. No trail fee, but no rental equipment or lessons are available.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the 2014-15 winter edition of Tahoe Magazine, a product of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine is available now throughout the Lake Tahoe and Truckee region.
It’s not always about the downhill at Lake Tahoe. South Lake Tahoe cross-country skiing covers a lot of ground in the region, with more than 600 kilometers of maintained trails and more than 15,000 acres of terrain. That’s plenty of areas to get a daily winter workout.
Classic and skate skiing are two styles of Nordic skiing. Classic skiing is the most traditional form, which involves kicking and gliding in a forward-leaning motion. The proper ski technique for this style is done in groomed tracks that run parallel to each other.
Skate skiing is performed on thinner skis and requires the skier to push off each ski in a “V” pattern, similar to an ice-skating technique, and involves gliding on one ski and transferring your weight to glide on the other ski. Skate skiing is performed on hard-packed, wide-groomed tracks.
Biathlon, also a Nordic sport, combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting and offers the benefits of cross-country skiing as well as focus and concentration while trying to hit a target.
While cross-country skiing is not for the faint of heart, it is a fabulous overall exercise.
Health benefits of cross-country skiing
Cross-country skiing is a low-impact sport that offers a total body aerobic workout and can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. It engages both upper and lower body for an overall workout. Every major muscle group is utilized while propelling the body forward.
Like any form of exercise, what you put into the sport is what you get out of it, depending on the intention. If you are looking for a gentle, mindful experience or an intense workout, either can be attained
You can achieve an excellent workout gliding across the snow, and if that’s not enough, try skate skiing to up-level your exercise program. It’s proven that increasing your heart rate while exercising is good for your health. Being outdoors and breathing fresh air is beneficial to the lungs and respiratory system.
The benefits of exercise are undeniable. Exercise improves our chances of living a longer and healthier life. Studies show exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Exercising can also alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and uplift our mood. In addition, it promotes weight loss when combined with a healthy diet and can improve heart-lung and muscle fitness and aid in a better night’s sleep.
A person can burn anywhere from 500-1200 calories while cross-country skiing, according to various health studies, and the sport enhances cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength and power, coordination, speed and flexibility.
The gliding movement engages the core, which is central to a strong body. A strong core can help alleviate low back problems and create better balance. As we age increasing our ability to balance becomes crucial.
Building upper body strength is important, particularly for women. Utilizing poles in cross-country skiing helps strengthen the biceps and triceps.
With most athletic sports breathing is key, and cross-country skiing is no different. Utilizing the breath helps us to relax and creates focused awareness. Breathing opens and expands us and connects us not only to our physical body but helps us to remain present in the moment, creating a deeper mind-body connection.
Snowshoeing Lake Tahoe is another great exercise. It provides a cardio workout while also building strength, agility, balance and endurance and is available at most area South Lake Tahoe cross-country skiing resorts.
Technique and skill
Technique is important in mastering the sport of cross-country skiing, says Tim Hauserman, author of the book “Cross-Country Skiing in the Sierra Nevada: The Best Resorts & Touring Centers in California & Nevada” and director of the Strider Glider Program at Tahoe Cross Country in Tahoe City.
“While classic cross-country is easier to learn, it is harder to master,” explains Hauserman, a passionate skate skier. “Skate skiing is harder to learn, but easier to master — it takes some time, and the learning curve is big, but after a few times it starts to click, and before you know it, you catch on.”
Many runners, cyclists and triathletes train in the winter with cross-country skiing.
“Cross-country skiing is not as jarring or hard on the body as other sports,” says Hauserman.
Jo Jo Toeppner is the director of operations at Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort, located at Donner Summit, near Sugar Bowl Resort. She is also a fan of skate skiing, but says it is dependent upon conditions.
“Skate skiing is a challenging sport. It utilizes both sets of large muscle groups,” says Toeppner. “You are driving up the hill on a diagonal instead of parallel. It’s the best form of exercise and engages our center of balance.”
Royal Gorge will host the iconic Gold Rush Race on March 15. The race is being held for the first time after an almost 30-year hiatus. The race celebrates the culture, history and heritage of cross-country skiing.
John Monson is marketing director of Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge. While he grew up a downhill skier, he also touts the merits of cross-country skiing.
“The cross-training element of cross-country skiing has great fitness benefits,” he said. “Many downhill and backcountry skiers benefit from cross-country skiing.”
Further, both Hauserman and Toeppner highlight the relationship between yoga and cross-country skiing. They’ve seen great results and have received good feedback from people who practiced yoga before skiing Tahoe for the day, explaining that yoga improves their skiing technique.
Exploring Tahoe and Truckee on cross-country skis can be one of the most magnificent ways to commune in our natural environment. If you are looking to get a great workout and haven’t tried cross-country skiing, there are plenty of opportunities and places to learn.
Originally published in the January 2, 2015, issue of the Tahoe Daily Tribune and regularly vetted for accuracy.
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