February 4, 2021

Top 10 reasons cross-country skiing is good for you

A person cross country skiing in the classic technique along a tree-lined trail

Randy Clark, exercise laboratory manager and manager of UW Health's Pediatric Fitness Clinic, is an avid cross country skier. He competed in his first Birkebeiner (or Birkie), Wisconsin's legendary cross country ski race, in 1986.

"Over those hours I went from elation and euphoria to fatigue and frustration," he said. "Yet I remained determined to reach my simple goa;" To finish the race. Often my body said 'stop,' but my mind said, 'no.' " 

Crossing the finish line that day is something he'll never forget. It brought a sense of accomplishment that may never be duplicated.  Over the years, he skied it every year he could, moving up from the last wave to the first wave.  Clearly that 1986 experience left Clark with, in his words, "Birkie Fever." However, he said you don't have to be a competitive skier to experience the same health benefits of the sport.

"It is a great way to enjoy winter for people of all ages and abilities," he said. "And, it's one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise, it's easy on the joints, and more importantly, it's fun."

Top 10 reasons to cross-country ski

Clark shares his top 10 reasons cross-country skiing is good for you:

  1. It is widely accepted in the field of exercise physiology as "the best cardiovascular exercise known."

  2. Cross-country skiing uses a large percentage of your muscle mass, and is more efficient and effective than activities using legs alone or arms alone.

  3. The low-impact nature of the activity reduces impact loading on joints; this is particularly important for individuals with arthritis or joint surface defects.

  4. Gliding over uneven surfaces increases your "kinesthetic sense," in other words, your body's ability to perceive its location in space.

  5. The weight shift in ski-skating and the diagonal stride techniques while gliding on snow increases your balance, and balance is critically important in all sports and as we age to prevent falls.

  6. Skiing increases your cardiac output (your heart's ability to pump blood) and increases your oxygen carrying capacity (your body's ability to take in, oxygenate, transport and extract oxygen at the working muscle), or stated another way, increases your cardiovascular fitness.

  7. It improves your visual acuity, which is your ability to sense terrain changes and snow undulations in bright and low-light conditions.

  8. Skiing improves self-esteem and confidence. Enjoying a ski will help you feel healthier, happier and more invigorated due to increased blood flow and heightened senses.

  9. It helps cultivate an appreciation for our surroundings and environment. Quality time on a ski trail in glorious winter conditions helps us all appreciate the natural world we often take for granted.

  10. Skiing with family and friends is a great bonding opportunity, resulting in stronger friendships and relationships; this reduces stress and provides an opportunity to recharge our tired batteries.

According to Clark, Wisconsin has some of the finest cross country ski trails in the country. He encourages everyone to, "get out, have fun and enjoy your Wisconsin winter on cross-country skis." Whether you are a Birkie veteran or a beginner, the benefits are the same.  It’s a wonderful way to enjoy a Wisconsin winter.