Those who have attempted downhill skiing know it: Trying new sports in the winter can be a little scary.

High speeds, ice, the difficulty of breaking and the possibility of running into trees can deter beginners from attempting downhill, sometimes called alpine, skiing.

The actual activity isn’t the only scary thing: Access to equipment, warm clothes and a pass to a resort usually end up costing hundreds of dollars.

Steve Kugath, a BYU-Idaho professor in the Recreation Management program, presents an alternative to the fears associated with alpine skiing.

Herriman State Park is one of many cross-country skiing options for Rexburg residents.

Herriman State Park is one of many cross-country skiing options for Rexburg residents. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Kugath teaches a cross-country skiing class where students learn to become intermediate skiers and leaders with good management skills.

Throughout the semester, the class skis at locations like the Teton Lakes golf course, Herriman State Park, Mesa Falls and areas around the Grand Teton.

Kugath and his class outlined these basic tips for beginner skiers.

Getting started

Cross-country skiing classes aren’t an option or a desire for everyone. According to Kugath, for those wanting to get started, you can’t really beat BYU-I’s Outdoor Activities events.

Every Saturday, weather permitting, Campus Recreation takes a registered group of students to a cross-country skiing location. For $10, students get skis, poles, boots, transportation, instruction and a pass to the trail.

“​Plus ​you’re ​doing ​with ​people ​that ​have ​similar ​interests,” Kugath said. “​And ​it’s ​just ​kind ​of ​a ​fun ​day ​to ​get ​to ​know ​the ​people ​in ​the ​group ​and ​ski around. ​So ​for ​a ​lot ​of ​activities, ​Outdoor ​Activities ​is ​really ​an ​awesome ​gateway.”

Friends who ski together…

The main advice from the class was to find a fun group of people to go with. Having a good group makes the experience more enjoyable and safer.

Kugath especially suggests going with people who won’t go off on their own.

“Those who are patient enough to give you tips and stay with you as you figure it out will be the best ones to ski with,” Kugath said.

Actually getting into the skis

The employees at the Outdoor Resource Center, which offers equipment rentals, are ready to help find the correct size of pole, ski and boot.

The lever on the ski turns 90 degrees to unlock. Skier then the boot into the binding and turn the lever back to lock in the boot.

The lever on the ski turns 90 degrees to unlock. Skier then the boot into the binding and turn the lever back to lock in the boot. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Once skiers are on the trail, they can put on their boots and skis. The boots have a little hook near the toes. Skiers hook it onto the little latch near the middle of the ski and push down with their toes.

Boots attach at the toes so that skiers can gain momentum.

Boots attach at the toes so that skiers can gain momentum. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

After rotating, turn the clip 90 degrees so the boots lock into the ski.

Boots have bars beneath the toes that allow them to attach to the skis.

Boots have bars beneath the toes that allow them to attach to the skis. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Step, glide, step, glide

The motion of skiing might feel a little awkward at first, according to Kugath.

“The best thing to do is start without using your poles and just take little steps,” Kugath said.

Kugath recommends that once you get used to the weight of the skis on your feet, start letting the momentum of your steps push you forward

The step, glide motion allows for the use of poles.

The step, glide motion allows skiers to gain momentum.

The step, glide motion allows skiers to gain momentum. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Conventionally, one pole is used at a time. The right and left foot alternate with the right and left poles.

“Your poles shouldn’t stick out in front of you,” Kugath said.

Instead, Kugath recommends that skiers keep their elbows bent and their poles pointing behind behind them.

This is the basic motion of cross-country skiing.

Going downhill

Skiers shouldn’t encounter too many hills on the easiest trails, Kugath said, but knowing how to navigate them is important.

Skiers can keep their knees bent and their poles off the ground when they go down a hill. This will help to absorb the bumps of the trail, Kugath said

A well-groomed path should keep skiers going in the right direction.

How do you brake in these things?

Braking while going downhill is near impossible, which is why skiers should try to stay on more hill-free trails when they’re first starting.

Skiers who end up finding a hill that’s bigger than they’re ready for have a couple of options.

The first option is called a wedge. To wedge, skiers step out of the cross-country tracks and onto the rest of the groomed trail.

To wedge, skiers turn their feet inward and put their weight on the inside of their skis and feet.

The second option for more confident brakers is to half-wedge. Keep one ski in the track and lift one out onto the path. Use the ski out of the tracks to wedge.

Skiers attempting to go down a hill slower can take one ski out of the track to break.

Skiers attempting to go down a hill slower can take one ski out of the track to break. Photo credit: Briona McGregor

Those who wish to take off their skis and walk down the hill should be mindful of other skiers and avoid trampling the groomed trail.

Taking the fall

Skiers in Kugath’s class had their fair share of falls while going down hills or crossing particularly slippery sections of the trail.

As Kugath said, “(You’re) developing greater confidence in your ability to learn from day one.”

According to the class, falling while you’re cross-country skiing is less risky than falling while you’re downhill skiing. The good news is that every time you fall you’ll get better at getting up.

Skiers who fall can always take off their skis, stand up and then put their skis back on again.

Another option is to get up without taking the skis off.

Skiers can shift so that their skis are parallel to the trail so that when they get up they don’t slide down the hill.

It will be easier for skiers to stand up by rolling onto their side and positioning their skis so that they are parallel to one another.

What goes down must go up

Skiers use the Herringbone method to make their way up a hill.

Skiers use the Herringbone method to make their way up a hill. Photo credit: Outdoor Activities

Getting up hills can be just as challenging as going down hills.

When skiers approach a hill they can step out of the tracks onto the trail and use one of these methods recommended by Kugath to climb up the slope.

The first is to walk sideways. Skiers are much less likely to slip if their skis aren’t parallel to the slope.

The second is called the Herringbone. This is done by pointing toes and skis outward and shifting weight onto the inside of the feet, carefully keeping the skis from crossing.

The key to both of these strategies is to take little steps. If done too fast or too far all at once, skiers may find themselves slipping and sliding back to where they started.

Be patient with yourself

Above all, believe that this is something you can do, said Kugath’s class, it’s not as difficult as they thought it would be. It takes time for any of this to feel natural, so be patient.

“This is something you can do,” Kugath said.

A big thanks to Steve Kugath and his Tuesday cross-country skiing class: Kylee Chamberlain, Alex Parker, Tessa Brownell, Anna Franckum, Logan Frost, Kendall Carr, Emma Baker, Jenna Hancock and Seth Gohnert.