A Guide to XC Skiing Overseas

Tired of long, hot Australian summers?  How about going cross country skiing in the northern hemisphere winter instead.     Europe, North America and Japan all offer countless resorts where cross country is catered for. In order to visit many areas it is pretty much a "plan it yourself" exercise and there are pitfalls as many areas advertising cross country trails only have the snow in the brochures and little on the ground or limited trails on the local golf course. This page is written by XC skiers who have been to the areas to give you some ideas and help you get the best skiing experience possible. One advantage in Canada is that everyone speaks English and the XC trails are not crowded so the skiing experience is much like home. Do not be put off by European or Japanese languages as one can get by with a dictionary and sign language and English is becoming a more common language in these countries. 

Mid year is a good time to make accommodation and airline bookings giving you a greater choice. Location of accommodation is important and most XC resorts have accommodation available that is almost “on snow”. With the help of the internet it is even possible to make confirmed plans at short notice.

Your search engine makes it easy to get addresses for tourist offices overseas and the internet has a wealth of information on resorts, snow cams and XC snow reports.

WHEN TO GO 

A few resorts have skiing from November to April. Mid January is a good time to get away as cheaper airfares start then and reliable snow is usual until the end of February. A minimum of one week in an area is recommended. After two weeks in one area it is good to have a change of location for variety and by skiing in three areas over four or five weeks there is a good chance of getting perfect conditions in one or more places.

TRAVEL TO DISTANT LANDS

Jet lag should not be a great problem on the outward leg or to and from Japan. When flying to Europe skip a meal on the second leg and try to eat and sleep according to destination time. Avoid too much, or any alcohol, drink plenty of fluids, take half an aspirin, unless it disagrees with you, to help prevent DVT, exercise at the refuelling point and move around the aircraft. Take ear plugs and an eye mask and avoid sleeping tablets. After arriving in Europe or North America in the morning, you will usually have a few more hours travel to get to your destination. A change of underwear and socks freshens you up for this first day that will be tiring, but eat at local mealtimes, avoid alcohol and have an early night. Lack of energy caused by skiing at higher altitudes can be helped by a few days high altitude exercise in the Snowy Mountains a couple of weeks before departure and the 24 hours spent at 3,000 metres air pressure in the aircraft helps condition the body to lower oxygen levels. In Europe and North America energy levels will be reduced so take it easy for the first few day's skiing and do not expect to have normal endurance for the first week.

Jet lag on the return trip is worse but who cares after a great holiday.

Travel insurance is essential. Most European pharmacists can speak English and advise on minor health matters or refer you to a suitable doctor. Some credit cards offer travel insurance and emergency assistance contacts for any sort of problem. Carry personal medication, travel details etc in hand luggage as baggage can go astray.

TRAVEL IN OTHER COUNTRIES

The local tourist office can always advise on how to get to any resort or town. Do not assume that if it was possible in 2001 that services and arrangements will be the same in 2002 as airports may be redeveloped and extended, train & bus services may be rescheduled or cancelled, bus stops moved and so on. Public transport in Europe is easy to access with train stations at major airports. In Canada and USA, where there is a smaller population, bus and taxi services only are available and much less frequent. Train and airline services can be determined on the internet if you can understand the language.

SNOW

There is no guarantee of good snow overseas. Snow conditions vary from nothing, a few centimetres with corn stubble and stones showing through, ice and slush. Temperatures may be so low that glide wax used in Australian snow works like a grip wax. It is often said that waxing is easy overseas where one wax lasts all day but this is not true and wax requirements can change within a few kilometres or through the day particularly when temperatures fluctuate above zero. Pick the right resort and time and it would be rare not to get conditions between zero and minus 10 and plenty of fresh snowfalls and such conditions have to be skied to be believed. Many resorts do not get a lot of snow and a foot of packed snow in early January may have to last the season with subsequent falls giving say 20cm of dry light snow that packs down to almost nothing.

SKIS

Unless you want to go telemarking leave your touring skis at home and take racing skis or very light touring skis. Nearly all cross country skiing overseas is on groomed trails and your wide touring skis, boots and bindings are too heavy and may not fit in the groomed classic track. There are very few areas overseas where our style of off trail skiing can be done. Generally the terrain is not suitable or when it is the snow is so deep that skins are required or the areas are remote and parties unfamiliar with the area need a guide. In alpine areas avalanche danger is common. Off trail skiing is possible in some areas of USA and Canada but making a track uphill in knee deep powder is slow and tedious. Off piste skiing in powder snow is often possible in resorts.

  Most resorts have a system of well groomed trails three to five metres wide suitable for skating and with one or two classic tracks set at the side. Some resorts provide only classic tracks on many trails and prohibit skating on them. It is recommended that skiers take skating and classic skis for variety and to enable all trails to be skied.

  Waxed classic skis give the best performance once you master waxing. Information on waxing for local conditions can be readily obtained from shops or XC schools. Skis with patterned bases do not always work well on uphill sections where good grip is needed and do not glide as well as waxed skis. In any case skiers should wax for good glide as the quality of the groomed track encourages and enables typical daily distances of from 10 to 50 km.

  Take all necessary skis and equipment with you and check it before you go as it may be difficult to buy or repair what you need at your first stop and there are a few local differences such as; telemark skis or Rotefella bindings and boots are not sold in Austria. Prices generally are about what the equivalent would cost in Australia but the variety of gear and the special deals make sport’s shop browsing worthwhile. A lot of clothing is suitable for Australian use but not available at home and some is superior in design. Buy a sturdy ski bag that will hold two or three pairs of skis and ski boots. Wrap skis to protect them and cover the sharp end of stocks. Most airlines carry sports equipment without charge, irrespective of weight. Strangely the Austrian airline Lauda is the only one known to have imposed a charge for carrying skis. Luggage is easier to manage in a pack but it is advisable to put it in a calico bag on the airline to prevent the straps and buckles getting damaged and do not put anything that can be damaged in the pockets. Travel as light as possible as there is a lot of walking needed around airports and many railway stations have stairs to access platforms. In many cases accommodation will only be a short walk from the station or bus stop thus saving on taxis.

  A compass is useful until you get used to the sun in the south but your Aussie compass will not work so buy a northern hemisphere compass on arrival.

CLOTHING

Although temperatures are lower skiers should take exactly the same clothes as in Australia. Take long johns to wear under ski pants and wear layers on upper body and a vest is useful. In practice there are a few differences. In southern Europe and Canada you will usually encounter no wind or only light winds so wind chill is only a factor when running downhill. Overpants, overgloves, neck warmers, possibly face masks and plenty of layers or down needed if telemarking. It is rare to encounter rain or snow that melts on the clothes except in spring. The sun offers very little radiant warmth in Canada. In southern Europe there is a lot of radiant warmth from the sun even if the temperature is minus 10. An extra layer may be needed early in the morning, or while skiing through shaded areas or if skiing slowly such as when waiting for others. Take a down jacket or warm polatec jacket for lunch stops or for walking home after skiing or when going out at night as the body soon chills in the sub zero temperatures, especially if sweaty. A thermos with a hot drink is always welcome while out on the trails. Accommodation, shops and restaurants and transport are usually well heated so lightweight clothing is all that is needed indoors.

ACCOMMODATION

It is usually cheaper to book your own accommodation rather than buying a package tour but a packaged tour does everything for you except ski and offers guiding and local knowledge. Very few packaged tours cater for cross country skiing.

  In most ski areas it is possible to arrive and get accommodation on the spot and it may be cheaper but may not be as well located as pre-booked accommodation and the "last bed in the town" may be expensive. One advantage of this method is that if snow conditions are not good then a change of location can be made. Keep in mind that local tourist offices may be closed for lunch and for the day at 5pm and all day on Sunday. Weekends or a special holiday may cause a rush of visitors to a town.

  If not pre-booking accommodation it is advisable to at least book the first night in the country and if necessary the last night before returning home. Airline agents such as Flight Service can arrange this if necessary or check on the www.

  Ask or specify if you want single or double beds and there may be difficulty getting single or twin bed rooms. In Europe double beds consist of one bed with two single mattresses side by side with separate doonas.

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