Tips for first time Cross Country Skiing

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We woke up to a beautiful layer of snow in the town when we popped over for a quick break recently.  Unfortunately though, the visibility was a little low, so as much of a travesty as it sounds we decided not to hit the big mountains but stay on the valley floor.

snow in the car park of Barrats A chamonix
morning snow on the cars in Barrats A’s car park, with Mount Blanc in the Background

We took ourselves back to ski school and booked places on a group nordic skiing lesson. It was very bizarre going back to school, but it was absolutely necessary.  – What seems to be the easy option when you drive past the walking pace skiing on carved out paths as you head up the valley past Bois du Bouchet to Argentiere is in fact rather technical and hard work.

So we rocked up to the ski hire place next to the Masion du Fond (Interpsort) near the ice rink and asked for cross country skis.  Ah, so it seems we have a choice of two: classic and skate, which do we want? Having never done it before we were advised to go for the classic.  It turns out that these are the slightly thicker, lower bridge skis more akin to tele-marking which are best suited to the pre-cut groves on the side of the piste.   When you use them it’s like the motions you go though on a gym ski simulator with arms and legs moving in opposite motion as you lunge forward.

Ok great, so we took our classic skis and comfy boots and were given them for 4 hours.  4 hours? What a rip off, you hire alpine skis by the day, why only a few hours for these, the lesson is 2 hours? Having enjoyed our 2 hour lesson and made good progress managing to get up to the top of the Chamonix piste right the way up to Les Bois we were shattered.  The slower than alpine pace afforded us some lovely views though, as you seem to have so much more time to look up from the slopes in front of you.

View while nordic skiing, Les Bois, Chamonix
Take a moment to reflect and spot the beauty around you

We pootled for a bit after our lesson, but the shop was right we didn’t need them for a full day. This then offered us the opportunity to do something else in the day too so we grabbed the bus up to Argentiere for a lovely lunch in Les Remis, which we’ll tell you about later.

Day two we went back to alpine skiing, but on day three we returned for another cross country ski lesson to find out what those skating skis were all about.  This time we had a private lesson which worked equally as well, and I must say that our ESF guide Bernard was fantastic on both occasions.

For our skating lessons we didn’t cover anywhere near as much ground kilometer wise, but we focused a lot more on the range of techniques needed for skiing.  I’d say that it’s the more difficult technique to master, but once you get it you go faster and probably expend less energy. You look a little like a penguin, like these guys below as you flip your way around and shuffle round corners, but that’s part of the fun.

Nordic skiing Skating style chamonix

After our 2 hour lesson we continued to skate around the Bois du Bochet, but again no more then the extra 2 hours were needed.  In fact we used around an hour having lunch at Le Robinson.  We felt rather inadequate following one particular family in there though as the dad was actually skiing towing his young daughter in a sledge behind him! Wow, very fit. It’s no surprise that nordic skiers tend to be rather slim.

We had great fun trying out this new sport and were grateful to be in Chamonix early enough in the season to have snow in the town.  Les Houches has its piste on the top of the mountain which has got to be great for late season tracks and Easter skiing so we may well be doing it again soon.

In terms of practical tips on doing it here are a couple more things:

  • Don’t wear your salopettes, but running tights or jogging bottoms.
  • You can leave your bags with your extra layers in the Maison du Fond for your return. Toilets and vending machine are there too.
  • On your trip to Chamonix make sure you have your swimming costume (your budgie smuggler types :-)) as your piste ticket entitles you to free us of the swimming pool and sauna on the same day.  This actually means your piste ticket is free if you had intended to go to the sauna anyway.
  • On the days when the full piste isn’t open they even offer you a discount which can work out that they are paying you to do it if you were intending to go to the pool anyway.
  • When you enter the swimming pool, before swiping in get your haman (sauna) band from reception.
  • Book your ski lessons before the day you want to go, ideally at least the morning before, as in low season group lessons might not happen.
  • Even for 4 hours hire its not expensive, 20 Euros per person for boots and skis.

Alle, alle!



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