Say the word skiing, and what comes to mind depends on an individual’s experiences. Skiing could be sliding blissfully down a mountainside supported by lifts on cleared and groomed corduroy, mogul fields or glades, meandering across open meadows, skating rhythmically over prepared tracks, or climbing on a quest for a powder-filled heavenly float back to earth. Since the advent of lifts and machines for grooming, the act of skiing has diverged into many different manifestations, each with its own rewards and approach to the satisfaction experienced while moving gracefully over a wintery landscape.

Two primary distinctions separate skiing into alpine, aka downhill, named after the steep and majestic Alps mountain range in central Europe, or nordic, known more commonly as cross-country (aka XC) named after the Scandinavian style of skiing which involves more of an overland type of travel. Each of these disciplines has evolved into subsets of specific types of skis and techniques of skiing specialized according to type of snow and goals of the skier.

The term Cross-country commonly refers to the manner of skiing that has free heels and lightweight gear, meant for traveling over rolling or flat terrain. The popular mode of XC skiing involves faster, narrow skis that move well over packed snow, but that flail in powdery unpacked conditions. Here in the Rocky Mountains the term BC, short for BackCountry, typically involves heading into the mountains with climbing skins attached to the surface of the skis to enable climbing up steep pitches and montane peaks with relative ease, and then turning around to enjoy a glorious ride down.

XC BC refers to a hybrid of cross-country’s kick and glide, and backcountry mountain-style skiing. It involves performing cross-country type skiing over unprepared snow on more rugged and sturdy equipment than is necessary on prepared tracks. Skis are wider, metal edged and less prone to breakage. Boots are sturdier with more ankle support, and ski pole baskets are larger to support a strong push in what might be bottomless powder. Before the concept of grooming,* and the widespread installment of lifts, this was what skiing was. Though nowhere near as popular as its evolved, specialized brethren, who are tethered to the lifts or groomed trails, skiing XC in the BC remains a versatile and marvelous way to explore the forests, fields and foothills that surround our valley. It is a means of escape into a wilderness of mystery and adventure, with stories written by footprints of elusive inhabitants on a tapestry of white. We are fortunate to be located in a region surrounded by National Forest, National Park and multiple designated Wilderness areas. This type of skiing provides the means to access and enjoy the winter wilds around us. No matter what type of skiing you prefer, sliding on snow remains one of the great ways to remain active, boost your health and fitness and enjoy the outdoors in Winter.

Happy Trails!

Jeff Russell has been sliding on snow for over 55 years, on and off trails and mountains from Maine to Colorado. He has worked as a Maine Guide, Professional Ski Instructor, Trail groomer, and photographer among other things.

*Grooming is considered to have been started not so long ago, around 1950 with the Bradley Packer, a tool for taming snow that may have originated right here at Winter Park.