Friday, 2 September 2011 10:42 AM
If you are looking for a winter holiday with a difference this year, why not try cross country skiing in Europe? The experience is very different from the usual snow sports getaways and will give you the opportunity to see some new places.
Finland, Sweden and Norway all have great cross country skiing regions, while you can also enjoy breaks in picturesque areas of Italy, Switzerland and Austria. And because it is one of the simplest winter activities to master, you'll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounds the tracks.
Those who enjoy walking usually love this type of skiing, as it also allows you to spend hours in the great outdoors without having to worry about injuries from falls or being with big crowds of people. It doesn't even require too much specialist equipment - once you've hired lightweight shoes, poles and skis you will be ready to get started.
The technique is easy to get the hang of, as the gliding stride feels natural and many of the trails have tramlines cut through the snow to help beginners stay on the right track. It should take no more than a couple of lessons to master XC skiing, meaning you can tackle gentle terrain and head both up and down slopes with confidence.
At this point you will be ready to get out into the wilds on some of the trails. As with downhill runs, they are colour coded to indicate difficulty - start with the blue and green ones to ensure they are not too testing.
You will soon discover why so many people across Europe enjoy cross country skiing, as you trek through some beautiful winter landscapes. The trails can be tackled at your own pace, so you will have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and local wildlife. You should also have time to chat with fellow skiers, making it a great social pastime.
There are a wide range of destinations suitable for holidays of this type, with most having a selection of high-quality accommodation available, despite being in the midst of a wintry wilderness.
Cross country skiing in Finland is a good choice for beginners, as there are 300 km of trails to suit all ability levels close to the picturesque town of Yllas. Located in the province of Lapland, this resort is a perfect destination for a winter activity holiday – and not just because snow is guaranteed.
As well as a wide selection of trails, Yllas boasts ski schools with English-speaking instructors and family-run hotels serving up traditional local cuisine. And if you fancy a day off from skiing during your break, there are facilities for dog sledding, reindeer safaris and snowshoeing.
Norway is another excellent option, as there are a host of destinations with high-quality XC skiing on offer. Sjusjøen, located close to Winter Olympics host city Lillehammer, has some world class trails that will take you to frozen lakes and through vast forests. Gala, in the heart of Peer Gynt country, and the Hardangervidda region town of Geilo are good locations if you wish to try both downhill and cross country skiing during your break.
It is also well worth investigating what Austria and Switzerland have to offer, as there are a number of peaceful Alpine villages that make perfect bases for a cross country skiing getaway - all a world away from the noisy resorts favoured by the downhill crowd.