The Most Miserable-Looking Olympic Event That I’d Probably Try Once

I’m so tired of the cold and snow this time of the year that it’s surprising to me that I’m at all interested in watching the Olympics. But the fact that it only comes around once every four years always wins, and I’ve been a dedicated and committed Olympics fan this year. (Also rooting for Bob Costas’ eye recovery; Jenn and I have both had our fair share of eye infections so we have deep sympathy for him while giggling about it. Bob: We feel your pain! Or not-pain. Eye infections go both ways!)

I’ve loved watching figure skating, even though I fail epically at identifying jumps, no matter how hard I try. I even studied this gif guide to figure skating jumps and am sad to report it did not help even a little bit. I’ve loved the snowboarding events; I’ve loved the downhill skiing events. I love the intensity and suspense of speed skating. And, of course, I’ve  loved all the back stories and commercials that make me cry. (Those commercials this year that go backwards in time? Tear!)

But there is one event that I watch utterly dumbfounded. Nope, it’s not luge or bobsled or skeleton. It’s not even ski jumping or curling. It’s any of the cross-country skiing events.


Cross-country skiing doesn’t even look fun. Credit: TRAILSOURCE.COM, Flickr

I love to ski. And as someone who skis (occasionally), I’ve gone through the beginner trials and tribulations of learning to ski on beginner hills and easy greens. The problem when you’re just learning to ski — and when you’re skiing flatter hills — is that occasionally you hit a stretch of flat mountain without enough speed to get to the next downhill portion. This can happen on lots of slopes actually, or near the bottom of a mountain — you’ll be indecisive about which lift you’re hitting next, lose momentum and then have to pull and walk yourself wherever you’re going. If you’ve ever had to get your ski-bunny self 100 yards to another location without momentum, you know what I’m talking about. It takes every bit of energy you’ve got to “cross-country ski” your butt there. Granted, my technique is horrible, and cross-country skiiers have different skis and way better form, but I have had that ever-so-small glimpse into what it must be like to ski uphill and to ski flat surfaces. It is beyond hard, and as far as endurance events go, these cross-country distance events have to be up there in terms of difficulty. In fact, you know how those cross-country pros collapse when they cross the finish line? It says a lot about a sport when your body can’t even manage to stay upright after finishing a race!

I’m sure I’ll always prefer to ski down a mountain; even with gravity and momentum on your side, skiing is a crazy workout. But I’d probably give cross-country skiing a shot if given the opportunity. I’d love to see how much of a difference the right skis make — and I’d love confirmation that cross-country skiing has got to be the toughest winter event out there!

Does your jaw drop when you watch those skiiers do distance? Were you rooting for Bob’s big comeback, too? —Erin

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  1. Martina says:

    I actually went downhill skiing for the first time the other day and I was thinking the same thing. I’ve always wanted to try cross country, but it was much harder than I thought it would be to ski on the flat portions! Apparently it is supposed to be one of the most difficult endurance sports though.

  2. Shelly says:

    As a native of Massachusetts, my parents had me on x-country skiis at the age of 5. It was cheap way to get out of the house and hit the trails for some exercise. Yes, it’s hard work. But, it’s a great low-impact workout and my knees thank me every winter for giving them a break from running! Add some workout tunes and you’re burning 500+ calories and are one with nature.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I have said for a long while that I’d love to try cross country skiing. If I enjoy running long distances, this seems like the snow equivalent, but possibly less stressful on the joints. I live in Southern CA so it’s potentially feasible that with a drive to the mountains I could do this, but I really think maybe I need to jet off to some heavy snow destination before I really try it. You know, just so in case I hate it I can kick up my feet at the lodge afterwards and enjoy the life.

  4. Missy says:

    I grew up cross-country skiing. I was never very good, but it was a beautiful way to enjoy winter weather. And learning to downhill ski as an adult was much easier since I was used to long sticks on my feet.

  5. Jaclyn says:

    I LOVE cross-country skiing. I used to go all the time as a kid but fell off the habit when I moved down south as an adult. I’ve just recently moved back up north and am trying to get my husband on board. Yes, it’s a tough workout, but it’s a LOT of fun and a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy being out in nature all winter long. (And cross-country skiing on actual cross-country skis is MUCH easier than trying to get across the flats on downhill skis. Having the ability to pick your heel up makes all the difference, I promise.) You should definitely give it a try – I think you’d have a blast! Plus, Pippa Middleton is a cross-country skier!

  6. Jennifer says:

    🙂 Hardest sport ever.

  7. Kat says:

    As a kid in Russia,, I was plonked into a pair of skis (which in Russia is just assumed to be cross country skis) before I could really walk unassisted. Same for skates. I lived in New England for many years and went cross-country skiing every chance I got.

    I mostly skate because I don’t like dealing with grip wax and because I like the power and speed of skating. It’s an intense workout. At the end of the season my back was always bigger because I gained muscle and my body fat was always at its lowest because it’s very tough to eat enough to maintain bodyfat when you’re skiing as much as 40KM per day. I was also the most fit at the end of the season.

    For me, sliding down mountains in idiot proof Alpine skills is kind of boring. I did it for years, but I finally decided that it wasn’t attractive enough for me. I love the heart-pounding climbs of cross country skiing and the peace and beauty of a trail in the woods. I think people do it for lots of reasons, including getting out in the cold and not being cold or because they live in a part of the country where it snows all the time and it’s the obvious winter activity since they can often do it right out of their door. I love asking my body for more than it wants to give. I love feeling sweaty when it’s really cold outside. I love knowing that I just skied UP a mountain and I love the quiet peace of a snow-covered forest when I take a break. Plus, the people who engage in the sport are really nice. It’s a small club, more akin to distance runners than the high-speed adrenaline junkie culture of Alpine skiing.

  8. Kat says:


    I moved waaaay South a few years ago. I missed skiing so much that I bought a pair of roller skis. They’re actually awesome (feels very similar to snow but no frozen extremities!). Plus, it’ll keep you in shape for when you do hit the snow. It’s one of those sports that’s difficult to stay in shape for without sport-specific training. Besides, who doesn’t want a full-body workout that torches calories at a dizzying rate?

  9. Ryan says:

    Oh come on, cross country skiing is awesome! Classic style can be nice and slow if you desire and analogous to walking. Whereas the skate style – that one sees in the Olympics – can be one heck of a workout. Either way, it’s a ton of fun!