Cross-country skiing. What a dumb thing to do when there are chairlifts that take you to the top of a hill so you can enjoy the slide down. And that’s why it’s taken me until this year to try it — a week before the lift system opened in La Clusaz. Had the lifts been open, I would have been on them, and a friend and I were so desperate to go skiing, we thought we’d try this ski de fond thing out. To give the sport a fair review, let’s pretend that downhill skiing doesn’t exist.
Pictured is the reason why downhill skiers get laughed at when trying to cross-country ski. First of all, riding ‘switch’ (backwards) isn’t really possible thanks to the scales on the bottoms of the skis: my friend pictured is actually standing still, with his best switch pose (along with another pose later for ‘off-piste’ which really doesn’t work with skis as thin as slices of bread). Without trying, we both managed to slip backwards on the up slopes so we’ve blown that ‘impossible’ theory out of the water. Also pictured are typical items of downhill skiwear: waterproof, baggy skipants and thick snowboarding mittens. Cross-country skiers sport lycra leggings, thin gloves and bum bags. We did well to leave our jackets at home at least, and to wear sunglasses instead of goggles. Alas, our loud skipants ensured that we didn’t fit in and I could almost hear the aged French men who lapped us cackling to themselves about our appearance and lack of ability.
We chose the easy piste at the top of Les Confins (La Clusaz) to start with, which involved uphill and downhill segments, and although the uphill parts challenged my respiration, the downhill slopes were the hardest. On normal skis, I would have thought them almost flat. On these french fries, the slopes were like massive cliffs. I survived them thanks to a technique as wrong as my outfit: I used my poles to slow me down by poking them in the snow in front of me. My arms ached for three days after all that jolting, but the views and the decent exercise made up for it. Meanwhile, the old French guys lapped us for a second time.
After our first lap (and as the old French guys went past us for a third time), we agreed to stop, in case it got dark before we did another lap. We had all afternoon, but we pretended it was later than it was. We had the photos to prove we’d tried it so we left. The single lap was enjoyable from an exercise perspective, and I’d consider trying it again.
Now, let’s return to the world where downhill skiing does exist. Give me downhill or telemark skis over these weird uncooked spaghetti skis any day! They have no edges and the bindings are fiddly. Even the pros look like they might wobble and fall over at any point. I’ll leave it to them to look unstable while I take my fat skis off-piste at the top of the chairlift.