The ancient grandfather of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, is alive, healthy, and more popular than at any time in his 4,000-year history.

True, no longer do sturdy Vikings lash their fur boots to 10-foot - long slabs of wood with upturned points to travel snowy stretches of the winter countryside. Today, their descendants, like good cross-country skiers everywhere, don the proper clothing, slip their feet into low-cut special shoes that fasten by the tip into a binding that allows the heel to move up and down freely, and traverse hill and glade. And, even as they do in Idaho’s snow-clad mountains, or across New York City’s Central Park when it’s adrift in white, cross-country skiers enjoy the glory days of winter.

There’s one significant difference between cross-country - or, as it’s sometimes spelled, x-country - skiing and the alpine kind. Work! In alpine skiing, there’s a lift to carry you to the summit. Gravity pulls you down. In cross-country, you do it yourself. You propel yourself on the flats. You push your way uphill.

But cross-country has some attractive advantages over alpine. The equipment is simpler, easier to learn to use, and far less expensive than the complex boots and bindings the alpine enthusiast wears. Crosscountry devotees can ski all they want through the virgin snows without paying a penny for enjoying park, woodland, or prairie. However, the enthusiast quickly learns that skiing maintained trails at ski resorts is an easier and more pleasurable way to enjoy the sport than plowing through deep snow, even as his fellow alpine skier knows it’s more pleasurable to ride a lift to the summit than to hike up with his skis on his back. And for those who forsake the woods for the groomed runs there is, of course, a fee.

Increasingly, alpine ski areas are adding kilometers of trails (in x - country skiing you travel kilometers, not miles) groomed for the two basic styles of cross-country skiing - touring and skating. For touring, a grooming machine smoothes two parallel tracks. Cross-country skiers merely ski in the tracks. The skating trail is a groomed, wide lane for cross-country
skiers who ski as though they were ice skating. The ski-skating system was developed by cross-country racers in Europe. It’s more difficult to learn than the touring technique but, quite naturally, skating is the style used today in cross-country racing.

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