This past week I got to experience the very different experiences of alpine downhill skiing and Nordic cross-country skiing; and sometimes on the same day. Cross-country skiing can divide people into a group that loves it or hates it. Which one are you?

So, the kids are on spring break and we headed out to Vail, Colorado this week.

Beautiful Gore Range Mountains

Kai and I try to take the kids skiing when we can as it is something that we love and want them to know how to do.

It can be hard when you live in Washington, DC, and go to school and work. Getting to snow from there is an investment in time and money.

As a family of six with our children’s ages ranging from 10 to 16 years old, downhill skiing is one of the few family activities where we can all have fun together. It’s one of my favorite things to do with the kids, and the love seems to be shared. We usually get an eye-roll and some whining out of family hikes and the occasional family tennis game, but luckily, that does not happen with skiing!

The balance for me on this trip was how to get family ski time AND train for Norway. With spring and summer coming, I will only have a few more chances to cross-country ski before I head to Norway next February for the trek.

Just outside our door at Golden Peak in Vail are beautifully groomed cross-country trails running 8km to East Vail. The Vail Nordic Center is in the middle of those beautiful trails. The Gore Range Mountains sit as a saddle at the end of Vail Valley.

It’s probably my favorite view in the world.

Since I was a child, I have relished seeing blue moons, blood moons, and harvest moons rise above those dramatic peaks. Vail Valley and the surrounding White River National Forest has a lot to do with why I love nature and the outdoors.

To give my body another day to adjust to the altitude before the lung crushing cross-country training at 9,000 feet, I spend the first day downhill skiing.

For late spring skiing, this season is among the best I can remember for depth and quality of snow on the mountain. Vail is at its warm, blue-bird-day-best!

Kai and I have a blast bombing down runs with our good friends Jill and Burton, while our kids warm up their ski legs in ski school.

Family Ski Day
With my Girls

Kai learning to cross-country ski!

The next day, I cross-country.

Whoa, what a difference. Whereas downhill skiing is the adrenaline rush, fast moving, wind in your hair Ferrari experience, cross-country is slow moving, rhythmic, and purposeful. Cross-country tests your lungs where downhill burns your quads (and shins!). Cross-country is peaceful and tranquil. Downhill can be jarring as you manage merging ski runs and avoid getting run over by skidding snow boarders.

There were so many show-boaters on Vail Mountain this year, many skiing totally out of control.

Have they always been here? I am just getting old? I actually followed a teenager to the side and yelled at him. Yep, I’m “that” mom.

After doing both styles of skiing, I am struck by how completely different each experience is.

About the only things they have in common are that you have skis on your feet, poles in your hands, and you have to be on snow!

I love each, but at this point in my life, cross-country is giving me more.

Which do you prefer? Having done each back to back for 8 days, cross-country, at the pace I was training at, is far more exhausting for the body.

Its difficulty sneaks up on you.

You become sweaty fairly quickly, shed layers, need water and huff and puff with a heart rate easily in your Zone 3. (Try a Polar Heart Rate strap which you can buy on Amazon and download the app. It takes your training to another level by providing helpful info on your workout.)

Technique wise with cross-country, your legs are loose, but then the kick and glide action requires an explosive, strong action forward. This really works the quad and abductor muscles. You are balanced on one leg with each kick/glide and so your core is working to keep you upright and stable. At the same time, the backs of your arms and shoulder muscles are working to push you forward with the poles.

It is a total body work out.

I did 16.5km in 2 hours today. The first day of training with my coach Dan Weiland a couple of months ago, we did 10km in 2 hours. I’m happy with that improvement. I’m also wiped out afterwards.

Laying in the snow after 16.5 fast km

So, which are you?

The experiences are quite different between downhill and cross-country.

Are you a fast and furious thrill seeker, or a slow and grinding endurance type?

Right now, for me, I’m in a slow, grind-it-out, cross-country mood.

Give it try a next time you are near a trail and rental options. Kai learned to cross-country ski yesterday and he said he loves it! I’m glad he will be out there with me in the future.