Cross-country skiing for beginners: where and how to practice this popular Czech winter sport

Do you know your Nordic from your Skate skiing? And where can you try it near Prague? A Czech-Aussie cross-country enthusiast guides us.

Marcus Bradshaw

Written by Marcus Bradshaw Published on 22.01.2021 12:00 (updated on 23.01.2021) Reading time: 5 minutes

“I got into cross-country skiing through snowboarding”, says Vojta Haša, a Czech-Australian who looks forward to winter snows with great anticipation. “I was snowboarding, and I could see that there were other mountains adjacent to the slope. I was amazed when my friend told me that we could actually ski to them. I love an adventure, and I like exploring the mountains, so that drew me in.” 

Growing up in Australia, Vojta understands that cross-country skiing might appear daunting for the uninitiated, but he assures me that it’s easy to do, fun, and remarkably accessible. He explains that there are three types of cross-country skiing in the Czech Republic: classic or Nordic skiing, skate skiing, and turistické.

Looking down towards Pec pod Snežkou and Černa hora in the Krkonoše
Looking down towards Pec pod Snežkou and Černa hora in the Krkonoše. Photo: Vojta Haša

Nordic  

Classic or Nordic cross country is a form of skiing when you follow a stopa, or track in the snow. A stopa is made of two parallel tracks of compacted snow, which helps your ski glide with ease. He compares it to jogging with a slide, where the ski gives you a little bit of extra distance for every step you take. “It’s like a more efficient form of running, where you can really chew up the miles”. 

Skating

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Skating is a more advanced form of cross-country skiing. It takes place on specially marked trails, created by driving a snow grooming machine through the mountains. Whereas the action of Nordic cross-country is similar to walking or running on skis, skating, as the name suggests, is more like ice skating or rollerblading. In skate skiing, the skies are worked in a V-shape, with the tips wider apart than the tails. 

Turistické

"The final option isn’t strictly speaking a style, but more of a universal approach, turistická (the Czech word turista means hiker, rather than tourist). This involves using skis as makeshift snowshoes and going off-piste on hiking trails. For beginners, this can mean just taking a walk on skis across snowy fields or forests, whilst for more advanced skiers it approaches backcountry style alpine skiing." 

This approach has significant drawbacks. It can be a lot of effort to move about on ungroomed snow, and it’s very difficult to make a turn when going downhill on cross-country skis. For these reasons, this isn’t recommended for beginners. Despite this, skis sold as turistické are the most universal and forgiving for beginners who want to try a bit of Nordic, as well as skating styles.

Which style is right for me?

Skate skiing demands excellent balance, but Nordic skiing is a little bit more forgiving. If you struggle with balance, classic skiing will be more accessible and more enjoyable. Bear in mind that you pay a higher price for the inefficient technique in skate skiing, rather than in Nordic, and as a beginner you’ll be able to ski further and for longer on classic skis, rather than skate skies. Classic skiing has a very natural feeling, whereas skate skiing is fast and fun, and has a definite cool factor.

The Nordic style is the easiest type of cross country for beginners to take up as you keep your skis straight and parallel (imagine it as going for a walk in the snow with skis on your feet) and the stopa will provide you with lateral stability. You can slide on the flat, walk uphill and slide downhill in a basic ski-squat position.

Winter maps

Cross-country skis are shorter and narrower, and crucially, much lighter, than their mountain cousins. "They are designed for flat terrain, and so if there has been a heavy snowfall, you can literally go outside into a field and start skiing", says Vojta.

“If you look at mapy.cz, select the “Winter” filter, you will find ski stopy marked in blue; many of these are just made by local people. Just get out there and start shuffling along”.

Gear

Skiing track in the mountains
A typical trail next to a stream near Pec pod Sněžkou. Photo: Vojta Haša

Unlike downhill skiing, cross-country doesn’t require much specialist gear. Apart from skis and poles, normal hiking clothes will suffice. For beginners, Vojta recommends a light waterproof jacket, and waterproof pants, and warns that you should expect to fall a few times at first. 

“Layers are essential, as you’ll warm up or cool down according to the amount of exertion on a given section of the trail. So bring a backpack, ideally with a spare set of dry underclothes. Of course, first-timers should consider renting their skis rather than buying.”

You can buy cross-country skis at most sporting goods stores (Decathlon, Hervis, Sportisimo). Some of the larger chains offer a rental option while there are also shops dedicated to ski rentals that are currently operating online. One of them, Happysport.cz has pick-up locations across Prague and includes boots and poles. You can also rent cross country gear from Skisurf.cz and Harfa Sport.

Waxy or scaly

One of the remarkable things about cross-country skiing is that it's possible to ski up a hill. This seeming gravity-defying motion is achieved in one of two ways, by placing either wax or unidirectional 'scales' the base under the foot, which grip the snow and stop you from sliding backward downhill.

"Purists and hardcore skaters don't like these scaled skies, as they ever-so-slightly slow you down on the downhills or during skating, but for me it is totally worth that almost negligible braking to not have to wax them up all the time. If you're hiring skis, definitely go for the ones with the šupiny, or scales.”

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Where to do it

The Krknošk
The Krknošská Magistrala, a 73km long route through the Krkonoše mountains Photo: Vojta Haša

There is no shortage of places to go cross-country skiing, some closer to Prague than others. Vojta recommends the Brdy hills, west of Prague, and says that the Jizerské mountains near Liberec are very popular, as well as the Krušné hory, the Šumava and the Krkonoše. “Basically, anything that makes a good cycle track in summer will make a good cross country route in winter.”

But for Vojta, there is something particular about the Czech approach to the outdoors that really endears him to cross-country skiing: “I know that some people do it for fitness, but I love the mountain huts – every couple of miles you find a hut serving warm goulash, washed down with beer and a stunning view of the mountains.” 

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Our school that utilizes the world-famous BASIS Charter School curriculum, is the first school with grades 1–13 opening.. in Europe in September 2021.

No reviews yet

Townshend International School

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Residential and day school for Pre-K to High School, combining academic excellence (Cambridge curriculum) with character.. education. Located in beautiful Hluboka nad Vltavou.

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Vojta Haša is the proprietor of Chateau Hostačov, a boutique hotel and events venue near Kutna Hora. He grew up in Australia with Czech roots and has called the Czech Republic home for the last 12 years.

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