Ski Your Way To A Stronger Body This Winter

When the chilly weather hits, it's easy to transition from the outdoor running track to the indoor treadmill. Comfortable temperatures and easy access to workout equipment may keep your gym membership active year-round, but have you ever considered getting your cardio in with winter activities? Check out the benefits of cross-country skiing and learn how to incorporate it into your winter workout.

Benefits of Cross-Country Skiing
It's a no-brainer that cross-country skiing is healthy for you. After all, it's a cardio activity, and research shows that cardio workouts and physical activity can help boost overall cardiovascular health as well as reduce mortality rates. But just how healthy is it for you? You may be surprised to learn that research suggests that it's one of the best workouts.

As The Globe and Mail reports, research has linked cross-country skiing with better health. In fact, when compared to other life-long endurance athletes, cross-country skiers are about 40 percent more fit. They also rank in categories for the lowest mortality risk.

The reason for this could be attributed to the fact that cross-country skiing provides a full-body workout. While running, for instance, you're working out your legs without working your upper body much. Cross-country skiing is different. You're putting your entire body into the movements, including your arms.

Plus, cross-country skiing provides a natural form of interval training, which is a technique that's been shown to have incredible health benefits. For example, you may "sprint" up a hill on skis, which will boost your heart rate, but you'll also get a cool-down period on your way back down the hill.

Related: How Outdoor Athletes Stay Fit Through Winter

How to Get Started Cross-Country Skiing
Does this sound like an activity you could easily fall in love with? Then here's what you need to know about getting involved with the sport.

Purchase the Right Equipment
Obviously you'll need to have skis if you plan on cross-country skiing, but if it's your first time, you may not realize that you need specific skis. Don't go out and purchase downhill (Alpine) skis. Instead of your boots attaching to the skis at both the heel and toe, cross-country (Nordic) skis only attach at the ball of your foot, allowing your heel to move freely as you cross difficult terrain.

You may find rentals available at ski resorts and areas with cross-country trails. Otherwise, purchase your own pair of skis and boots if you plan to ski often. Talk to the rental provider or retailer about the type of skiing you're doing, and they should be able to fit you with an appropriate pair. Keep in mind that different styles of cross-country skiing require different types of skis. For example, you'll want wider skis for deep snow, and you'll want to focus on comfort for long-distance ski touring. If you're skate skiing, which is ideal for races or quick trips, you'll want more efficient skis that are short and light.

In addition to this equipment, you'll also need poles to propel yourself along and clothes to keep you warm. Consider purchasing apparel designed specifically for winter workouts so your clothing is both well-insulating and breathable.

Related: 5 Tips for First Time Cross-Country Skiers

Prepare Your Body
Cross-country skiing is a tough sport if you're not in shape. Don't wait for the snow to hit to prepare your body! Go running or biking to build up a bit of strength and endurance. Don't forget to hit the weights to work out your upper body. You're going to be grateful you did.

If you're strapping on the skis once the season is already in full-swing, take it easy. You don't want to ski tens of miles on your first trip out or you'll only come home too sore to ski tomorrow.

Take a Class
If you're an inexperienced skier, it may be worth it to take a skiing class at a local resort or adventure sports retailer. However, if you have experience downhill skiing, you may be able to get the hang of cross-country skiing without an instructor, depending on how you learn.

Where to Go
Numerous beautiful trails run all throughout the United States. Check out some of these more popular areas for cross-country skiing. 

♦ Waterville, New Hampshire: One trail worth checking out is the Cascade Brook trail near Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire. Start with a 20-minute climb, and then enjoy level terrain before heading back down along several switchbacks.

♦ Snowmass, Colorado: Head to the Snowmass/Aspen, Colorado area, where you can glide across 60 miles of trails. You'll find trails appropriate for both beginner- and expert-level skiers.

♦ Soldier Hollow, Utah: If you're one for racing and going fast, Soldier Hollow is a great place to start, and since it was the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, you can ski along Olympic courses.

♦ Lone Mountain Ranch, Montana: "Home to the biggest skiing in America," Lone Mountain Ranch boasts accommodations and facilities for both Alpine and Nordic skiers. Enjoy over 50 miles of trails, and even choose a guided tour if you'd rather not brave the rails alone. Exploration of this Yellowstone-based resort is likely to take you past bison and geysers. You can also take a heated coach tour if you want to give your skis a break.

♦ Methow Valley, Washington: Known as one of the largest areas for Nordic skiing, the Methow Valley offers over 120 miles of trails. Plus, you'll find numerous lodging options ideal for skiers, such as Sun Mountain Lodge. Here, you can also partake in snowshoeing and sleigh riding adventures.

♦ Maplelag, Minnesota: Maplelag resort in Callaway, Minnesota serves up a friendly atmosphere. This family-owned resort is a popular cross-country ski destination offering over 40 miles of well-groomed trails. When you're tuckered out, enjoy ice fishing, ice skating, sledding, and other fun winter activities.

If you love the snow and want to do your body good, then cross-country skiing is a great sport to get into. Where will your first cross-country ski adventure take you?

Related: 12 Top Cross-Country Ski Destinations Around the World​