XC Virgin: Five Things I Learned This Season

BIrkie Finish

A mass of racers ran with skis and poles in hand to the starting line. I clipped my boots in and secured pole straps — time to race. “Three! Two! One! Go!” … the loudspeakers blared out, and I was skiing away in the frenzied pack.

It was my first American Birkebeiner, a cap to my first season as a Nordic skier. Having never cross-country skied in my life, I set a goal last fall to learn to ski and finish the Birke before the snow melted in my front yard.

At 51KM, the hilly Wisconsin race is a feat for even the most advanced skier. With just 13 weeks from my first day on skis to the start line, I relied on experts and patient friends to get me up to speed. Here are a few tips I picked up along the way.

Fischer RCR Skate Ski

Don’t Skimp On Gear: As a newbie, I wanted my ski equipment to preform well during a long-distance race but without completely blowing my budget. The RCR Skate Ski ($300) from Fischer walked that line. I’m clearly no expert, but the skis felt light and fast even when blowing through crusty old snow on the track.

I paired these skis with the Fischer RC7 Skate My Style boots ($210), which are women’s-specific boots designed for entry-level racers to experienced athletes. They fit me well, staying comfortable and secure for untold training and race miles on snow.

Fischer RC7 Skate My Style boots

Finally, the Swix Team TBS Carbon poles ($201) are a light but strong carbon-based pole that can withstand ski edges and impact during mass starts (and my training falls).

Swix Team TBS Carbon poles

Buddy Up: Minneapolis, my hometown, is a Nordic ski mecca, and I immediately immersed myself in the local knowledge. One of my first outings was with pro skier and Birkebeiner winner Matt Liebsch. We met at a cross-country trail early in the season and he gave me some pointers to get me started. Liebsch provided technique tips as I skied but (more importantly) motivation and enthusiasm as I got into the new sport. I also skied regularly with a group of friends who kept me amped on the XC scene.

Matt Liebsch

You Will Crash & Burn: A valuable lesson to getting comfortable on skis? Learn how to fall! The idea scared me at first, but after a couple tumbles I learned how to correct my balance and stay upright on technical terrain. Or when I did crash I was ready for it and knew what to expect upon impact with the snow.

Ski Varying Terrain: From below-zero days to sunshine, I got out on my skis nearly every weekend from October until February. With different weather comes different snow — I learned to ski on slick, icy trails, soft and squishy snow on the warmer days, and everything else in between.

Birkie Start

Dress Right: A key to dressing right for a ski marathon is finding clothes that are moisture-wicking yet warm enough that you don’t freeze in cold temps. Minnesota-based Podiumwear has this formula dialed, creating ski suits with the help of world champion skier Jessie Diggins.

For the Birkie, I raced in Podiumwear’s Silver Level Race Suit ($80 top, $80 bottom). I felt like a pro as soon as I put it on. The soft and slightly thick material provided just the right amount of warmth and wind resistance that I needed to keep warm and dry all day. It fit so well that I almost felt like I was wearing nothing.

Jump Full In: Learning to ski made this winter one of my most memorable. Nordic skiing has a fun, fit, enthusiastic culture that’s contagious to be around. I can’t wait to get on my skis again.

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