Our First Time Trying Cross Country Nordic Skiing in the Swiss Alps – Engelberg, Switzerland
Visiting the Alps in January 2023 was a bit different from previous years due to the unseasonably warm season – there was little to no snow for all the typical winter wonderland activities the Alps are known for. While we wanted to ski in the Swiss Alps, that was just not in the cards for us this trip.
Desperate to try a winter sport while in Engelberg, we settled on the one activity that was open and in our experience level – cross country / Nordic skiing. When researching, there are two types of skis that one can use – classic and skate. The classic is done in the groves of the snow in a parallel and shuffle motion whereas the skate is done outside the groves is a skating motion (similar to ice skating). After reading a few accounts and reviews, we opted for the classic style skates. We studied this tutorial that was particularly helpful in outlining the how-to’s of cross country skiing.
We rented our equipment from Intersport, which was the closest to the cross country ski course. The skis are surprising light, the poles are surprising long, and the shoes are surprisingly comfortable – all positive things so far! The rentals cost 30 CHF which was not a steep investment if we were terrible at cross country skiing.
The short walk with our gear was more enjoyable than lugging ski equipment and trying to walk in ski shoes so we already felt that this was a win. The course is open and free of use with the Engelberg Guest Card (which is given to anyone staying in Engelberg). And with that, we put the skis on and started gliding.
While it felt clunky at first, once you got a few glides it and figured out where to center yourself, it was actually not too difficult to pick up. I certainly think I felt cooler than I looked doing it but I was definitely moving faster than walking so I believe that is a win.
We did several laps around the first area before the rain really started to kick in – we were hoping for snow but it just continued to pour and we were soaked. Deciding to take a break, we took ourselves inside the Sporting Park and sit in the bistro hoping for the rain to either stop or turn to snow. We ordered a snitzel to buy time at the table while watching downhill skiing on the TV. Each time I looked at the radar, it got worse. This storm stretched across all of Europe! It was wild to see it on a map – places that feel so far from home are not far from Switzerland – the middle of Europe.
Somehow we relaxed here for two hours and the rain did not stop but occasionally switched the snow. We decided to give it one more try out of the cross country course. As we strapped the skis back on, the rain turned to snow. While it did not save us from becoming completely wet, it was more enjoyable to ski in the snow. We tried the medium course and the hard course to keep wondering around, tackling the smallest baby hills and skipping the big ones. At points where it was icy, I just walked my skis onto the grass.
Overall, we really enjoyed cross country / Nordic skiing! This ended up being a great activity for the terrible weather day (just need everything to dry in time for our departure tomorrow). I liked that this did not require a ton of technique, that it was low impact on the knees, and you can chose to make it as difficult or simple as you want. It also gives you a great workout and you cover a lot of ground once you get the hang of gliding. We also saw people of all ages and fitness participating so it feels like a great option for anyone interested.
I would definitely seek this out again in the future!