In recent years, a growing contingent of people in the Inland Northwest have embraced snow sports besides downhill skiing – particularly snowshoeing and Nordic (cross-country) skiing. And while we live within easy reach of one of the premier Nordic ski areas in the Northwest, the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park, it can be challenging to figure out how to get you or your family into cross-country skiing.

Step 1: Dress Up

Unlike people who are used to long, intense winters, like Midwesterners or our friends up north in the interior of B.C., a temperature of fifteen or twenty degrees is deemed by many of us to be so extreme that the only option is refuge in a toasty house. Having grown up in a colder climate, I can say that one of the biggest differences between us and more hardy snow people is simple: good warm winter clothing. Once you dress for the conditions, with a good-quality jacket, snow pants, gloves and face covering, there’s no better way to enjoy winter than out on the snow. For Nordic skiing, the key concept is layering: wearing a base layer such as thermal underwear, a warm long-sleeved shirt, and then a jacket that breaks the wind.

Step 2: Gear Up

For the newbie, Nordic ski gear can be a bit intimidating. But a trip to one of the local winter sports stores – Mountain Gear, Fitness Fanatics or REI – will get you all the information and gear you need to start out. Used gear is available through Craigslist, garage sales, or even from friends and neighbors, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for before buying. If you want to give Nordic skiing a try before committing to a purchase, you can also rent gear for the day at the three previously mentioned gear shops. And new this season, rentals will be available at the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park through Fitness Fanatics (details available soon).

Step 3: Head Up

The Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park is easy to access. Take Mt. Spokane Park Drive toward the mountain; about 3.25 miles up from the park gates, you will reach the crest of the road. A sign for the cross-country ski area will point to the right into a large parking lot. Go through the parking lot and continue up the road a few hundred feet to the Cross-Country Ski Park parking lot.

You’ll need a State Parks Sno-Park pass for your car, which is $20 for the day and $80 for the year. Divide that by four skiers and you’re at $5 a day – cheaper than a visit to the gym. Annual passes are available at local winter sports stores and day passes are available in a kiosk at the main Selkirk Lodge at the cross-country ski area. State Parks staff open the lodge and begin grooming December 1, and the season runs through March 31. It’s always wise to check the weather and trail conditions posted daily at spokanenordic.org/grooming.

Step 4: Head Out

Your first time on the snow in those slippery, skinny skis can be a bit intimidating. It won’t take long, though, and you’ll start to get the feel for it. One of the best things about Nordic skiing is that you can be as intense as you want. Some treat it as a high-energy workout – it’s great for off-season triathlon training – but many people prefer a more leisurely pace, enjoying the beautiful views and outdoors; and age isn’t much of a factor as long as you’re comfortable with mild physical activity.

Trond Liaboe and his wife Alison introduced their children, including Oleanna (pictured) to Nordic Skiing several years ago through the Nordic Kids lesson program. Photo: Tom Schaaf

Trond Liaboe and his wife Alison introduced their children, including Oleanna (pictured) to Nordic Skiing several years ago through the Nordic Kids lesson program. Photo: Tom Schaaf

That said, a lesson or two can be really valuable. For adults, Spokane Parks and Recreation has one-day lessons at points throughout the season (learn more at spokaneparks.org), and the Spokane Nordic Ski Association offers single-day or multi-day lessons throughout December. Fitness Fanatics also offers adult lessons throughout the season.

For the kids, Spokane Nordic offers the popular eight-week Nordic Kids program, which runs Saturdays in January and February. Registration will open in mid-November. Learn more at spokanenordic.org/lesson_programs.

Natasha Sharman, who coordinates instructors for the Nordic Kids program, has this piece of advice for parents: To make Nordic skiing attractive to kids, positive attitude and patience are critical. “Be creative, make it fun, have yummy snacks.”

The Spokane Nordic Ski Association website (spokanenordic.org) is a comprehensive source of more detailed information on how to get into Nordic skiing, where to find lessons, and how to get up to the park. If you haven’t tried cross-country skiing, or it’s been a few years, set a goal of hitting the trails at least once this year. And if you’re a die-hard, it’s time to start waxing up! //

Brad Thiessen is Membership and Marketing Director for the Spokane Nordic Ski Association. SNSA is a nonprofit organization that creates, develops and delivers programs and facilities to foster cross-country skiing within the greater Spokane community. SNSA is a partner with Mt. Spokane State Park, Inland Empire Paper Co., and Idaho Department of Lands in operating and maintaining the Mt. Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park.