PROVO — Utah offers some of the best downhill skiing in the country, but if you are looking for even more of a workout, a couple of outdoor enthusiasts suggest trying cross-country skiing.
Some say the Sundance Nordic Center up Provo Canyon is the resort’s best-kept secret — well, until now.
“I feel like I'm addicted to this,” Tanya Jackson said. “This is just something I need to do every day!”
Jackson and Aspen Dalton escape to the Nordic Center most winter days. They're expert skate skiers, which is one type of cross-country skiing.
Jackson grew up in Russia and says winter sports were part of her everyday lifestyle growing up since it was always so cold outside.
“You can come up here, ski for an hour and have your workout done, and it's gorgeous,” Jackson said. “I am not a gym person so I have to get my workout outside, and it’s good for my mental health too. It’s very calming.”
Dalton said skate skiing is different from alpine skiing because it requires a skier to use their own momentum across well-groomed trails, rather than getting a ride to the top of the mountain.
"You don't have lifts that take you to the top. You have to take yourself there, which is a pro and con for some people,” she said.
Cross-country skis are narrower and lighter than traditional downhill skis. Jackson and Dalton use taller poles without metal edges or a waxed bottom for skate skiing. Skate ski boots are smaller and less bulky than alpine ski boots, and only clip in on the front of the ski.
Jackson compared the muscle movement used in skate skiing to ice skating or rollerblading.
Aspen admits it's a lot of work. "I will say that Nordic skiing always kicks my butt," she said laughing.
Jackson agrees that she uses pretty much every muscle in her body when she is skate skiing. "I'm in better shape in the winter than I am in the summer,” she said.
Intermountain Healthcare's Libba Shannonhouse, an exercise therapist at the Salt Lake LiVe Well Center, shared with KSL three health reasons you should give skate skiing a try this winter
1. A full-body workout
First, skate skiing is a full-body workout involving every muscle group.
"You're using the arms, you're using the legs. There is a significant amount of muscle mass being used at once,” she explained. “Really, there's nothing you're not using.”
Shannonhouse said it's a technical sport demanding strength, balance and agility.
2. An aerobic sport
Skate skiing is much more aerobic sport than downhill skiing, Shannonhouse said, since skiers use their own momentum to climb to the top. She also said skate skiing is a much more aerobic sport than classic downhill skiing.
She explained that VO2 max, which measures how efficiently the body uses oxygen, is often high among Nordic skiers.
"It's about how much oxygen your body can deliver to the working muscles, and how much muscles can pull out of the blood to utilize,” she explained
"You max out your heart rate cross-country skiing,” Jackson said. “So if you're not afraid of a little rush and burn, this is the sport for you.”
Shannonhouse said Nordic skiing can be a great way for runners and bikers to cross-train in the winter.
"The body has to learn something new and adapt,” she explained. “And it's different stresses, so you're giving the body a break from the sport you did spring, summer (and) fall.”
However, Jackson said if someone isn’t ready for an intense workout, they can control their own tempo on the track.
“You can really pace yourself; if you want to go a little slower, you can go slower,” she said.
3. Outside exercise
Finally, skate skiing is an excellent way to exercise outside of the gym or house during the winter. Jackson said she'd choose exercising outdoors over the gym any day. “It's my passion, I love this,” she said.
Dalton agrees. "Both on a spiritual, mental, physical level and emotional, I feel like I’m always happier outside," she said.
She said she thrives off what she calls vitamin N, or "vitamin nature" and said she often feels like she is flying when skiing.
“You're a little closer to nature. You don't have the lifts. You don't have the crowds,” she said. “It really often feels like it's just you and the mountain and that's a really special feeling.”
Shannonhouse encourages people who like to jog or hike in the mountains to give skate skiing a try. She urges people to make sure they’re using gear that fits them really well and recommends starting with a lesson in a clinic.
Typically a day pass to a Nordic center is cheaper than a day pass on the slopes.