Every time the Winter Olympics rolls around, cross country skiing is thrust into the global spotlight.
For those budding athletes looking to test the waters in a new sport, it can be intimidating to witness the world-class competitors capable of pushing forward for miles upon miles. In reality, cross country skiing – also sometimes referred to as Nordic skiing – is a sport that’s accessible to people of all aptitudes.
“The great thing about Nordic skiing is that it allows you to engage in a sport that you can do at really any speed that you want to,” said Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area general manager Mike Ritterhouse. “You can be really mellow, or you be really fast and you can scare yourself silly. You can really have your own good time.
“Another thing that makes it great, especially for families, is that a group can go out, and you have different ability levels, different levels of interest in speed, and everybody can still kind of ski together. It’s a great way to ski as a community or to even ski alone.”
Established in 1985 and located in Red River, Enchanted Forest is billed as New Mexico’s premier destination for Nordic skiing thanks in part to 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) of ski trails.
There are other areas that offer the cross country skiing, including Sandia, Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Angel Fire, but Enchanted Forest is one of a kind.
“We’re the only full-service cross country area in the state of New Mexico,” Ritterhouse said. “That means we have a warming hut, we have rental equipment, we can do ski tuning. We have gear people can buy.”
Enchanted Forest’s ski season was delayed nearly two months due to damage suffered from a catastrophic wind event in mid-December that knocked down approximately 3,000 trees across the area’s trails. Through the diligent work of volunteers throughout the state over the course of four weekends, enough trails were cleared so that 50% of the area was able to open on Feb. 4.
“What we have open is all the way open,” Ritterhouse said.
Another aspect of the sport’s appeal is its relative ease of access.
The majority of the equipment involved with cross country skiing is lightweight, from the open-heeled skis to the hiking-style boots to the skis themselves. Outfitting depends on the conditions, but Ritterhouse generally recommends dressing in layers that are easy to shed as exertion increases, especially because one isn’t necessarily skiing in Arctic conditions in New Mexico.
“I’ve had friends who come here from Michigan, from Vermont and they say it’s just so incredible how beautiful the skiing conditions are out here,” Ritterhouse said. “We get great snow, we have sun most days during the winter. It’s just spectacular conditions across the board.”
There are typically two styles of cross country skiing.
The most common is classic, where the skier moves in a linear direction, and then there’s “skating,” which is more difficult because it involves moving in a back-and-forth motion using your poles. Regardless of the technique, it’s a sport in which various fitness levels can succeed.
“If you were to come up to our ski area, maybe 10% of our skiers are what you would consider endurance athletes,” Ritterhouse said. “The rest of them are just regular people who just want to come out and enjoy winter sports at their own speed.”
While it doesn’t require an Olympic strength and conditioning coach to be able to navigate the cross country trails, Ritterhouse does recommend at least one lesson for novices, whether you plan on skiing half a kilometer or a more ambitious distance.
“If you really want to become proficient at it, it’s a sport of 10,000 techniques,” he said. “However, it’s also easy enough that you can rent or buy a set of skis, boots and poles and still enjoy yourself without a lesson.”