It finally happened — I went for my first cross-country ski of the season. Monday, I drove to Jackson for my first day of teaching at the touring center. There were already several lessons booked, so I knew I had to get my ski legs on fast.

I took my no-wax classic skis for a spin around the golf course loop. The conditions were variable with tracks and no tracks and grass and gravel to avoid. But, the biggest issue was my coordination.

Where had it gone? I felt like a total klutz! My ski legs were rusty. Toward the end of the loop, I finally got my rhythm back.

Early season, it’s always like that for me. It’s like learning to dance all over again. Even though the classic diagonal movements are similar to walking and running, the addition of sliding changes the equation. There’s much more dynamic movement under feet that are gliding and a need for more balance and control.

My next task was to remember how to skate ski. I had a couple signed up for two skate lessons. I opted to take them up to Prospect Farm, where conditions would be better for skating. We agreed to meet at 10:15 a.m. and combine each of their lessons into one longer lesson.

I hurried to get up there early to get my skate skiing legs under me. Before instructing, I had to get my own moves coordinated. I walked down the hill from the parking lot to the groomed trail and was pleasantly surprised to see a nicely groomed, white trail.

I started my warm-up with no poles, transferring weight from ski to ski and balancing. It was all starting coming back to me. There was still some “muscle memory” left!

When I caught up to the couple, they were practicing, too. We started the lesson with a focus on three key elements to skate skiing — weight transfer, extension/flexion and balance. We practiced each with and without poles, then we combined them while skiing on Boggy Brook.

As other skate skiers passed us, we stopped to observe how they coordinated their movements.

At the end of the lesson, I skied to the end of Boggy Brook, remembering how much I enjoy cross-country skiing. Being outside in winter, gliding over the snow, breathing in the fresh air, exercising my arms, legs and lungs, I felt exhilarated. But it didn’t take long for me to feel tired, too.

I exercise frequently, but my ski stamina isn’t here yet. It’ll take more outings and practice to get in “ski shape.”

That’s what I love about cross-country skiing. It has so many benefits for everyone. Skiers young and old can have a good time and get healthy exercise, even in winter. Why sit around inside, huddled by the fire, when you can be out enjoying the winter wonderland?

If I were to list all the advantages of cross-country skiing, they would fall into these categories: physical, mental, social and spiritual.

Physical Benefits: Cross-country skiing is a full-body, low impact workout. You use leg, arm and core muscles to propel you forward. Classic skiers using the diagonal stride and single pole technique use biceps and triceps to provide power to the poles to move the skis forward. When skiers use the double pole technique for classic or skating, core muscles, pectoralis major, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi are engaged to provide thrust. Other muscles less actively engaged are providing balance and coordination. A study of octogenarian men completed by researchers in Sweden and Indiana’s Ball State University, found lifelong Nordic skiers were “40 percent fitter” than lifelong endurance athletes in their 80s. It’s the full-body workout.

Do you want to burn all those holiday calories? Go cross-country skiing. Bridget Duoos and Anne Rykken in "Teaching Cross Country Skiing" state that “one hour of moderate cross-country skiing can burn approximately 470 calories for a 130 pound person and nearly 700 calories for a 190 pound person.”

We can all burn some calories and tone-up with cross-country skiing. It’s a great way for kids and adults to fight obesity and get healthier.

When you Nordic ski, you also improve your cardiovascular system functioning.

According to Duoos and Ryyken, “because the large numbers of muscles that are working hard when a person is skiing, V.O2max measurements in skiers are very high.”

V.O2 max is the body’s ability to supply oxygen to those working muscles. Regular cross-country skiing increases V.O2 max while it also strengthens the heart as it pumps out more blood with each muscle contraction. Everyone can benefit from getting their heart rates up, breathing more efficiently and building cardiovascular fitness though aerobic exercise.

The bottom line is cross-country skiing helps you get healthier and live longer.

Alex Hutchinson in his article, “The jaw-dropping benefits of cross-country skiing,” reviewed the results of the Sweden and Ball State University study of octogenarian men.

Some of the men were lifelong Nordic skiers, training four to six times a week. The others were healthy men who didn’t do any formal exercise.

“The skiers had approximately twice the cardiovascular and muscular fitness of the untrained group,” according to the study. Hutchinson’s conclusion was, “Good genes can help you live a long life, but if you want to fully enjoy those later years, go skiing.”

Mental Benefits: Cross-country skiing relieves stress. If I’m feeling anxious or out of sorts, I go for a ski. Just getting outside in the fresh air and into the woods helps me relax. It’s what the Health Fitness Revolution article referred to as “therapeutic thinking time.”

As I’m skiing and getting my heart rate up, the release of endorphins lift my mood. The beauty of the scenery and the gliding of my skis take me to another place - a winter wonderland. I rarely come back from a ski in a bad mood.

Social Benefits: Although it’s pleasurable to ski on your own, with your own agenda and pace, it’s also fun to ski with others. Nordic families have great adventures skiing together. As the children get older, they enjoy skiing with friends and fooling around and “jumping off stuff.” Couples explore trails together. Old friends meet up for a social ski and refreshments after. Nordic skiing brings out the smiles and laughter as people of all ages enjoy good exercise in a beautiful environment.

Spiritual Benefits: This time of year, life gets hectic and we forget to pause to appreciate what’s around us. Skiing through woods or across fields takes me out of myself to meditate on the wonders of nature. I stop to hear chickadees or pileated woodpeckers. I look for tracks in the snow and wonder who went there. I feel the cool wind and snow on my face. If I’m quiet enough, I will hear the swish of my skis on snow and the sound of snow falling.

The New Year is almost here. My resolution is to have a happier, healthier year by Nordic skiing more. Come join me.

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