When my family suddenly made a joint decision to take up cross-country skiing none of us really knew anything more about the sport than that we could do it 50 yards from our Upper West Side Manhattan brownstone in nearby Riverside Park, which stretches for miles along the Hudson River. Aha. Now we could whip out of the house and be skiing in five minutes.

The switch from downhill to cross-country was not without its quota of slips and falls, but my two daughters caught on more quickly than my wife or myself. We began under the tutelage of a friend who had once - years before - been an ardent cross-country addict.

Lining us up one brisk Sunday morning when the sun glistened off the snow, he had us put on our skis at the top of a small incline.

“It’s easy. Just coast down and when you stop, we’ll talk about techniques.”

Easy? Quite confusing. These weren’t alpine skis, and we found within one minute that they didn’t behave like them.

As though we were sensible never-evers on the mountain, we began by learning how to glide forward. Our mentor had us walk slowly, leisurely, sort of half pushing ourselves with our elongated poles. Ah, more like it. The walking turned into a slightly gliding step.

We were fortunate in the amazing number of cross-country skiers in the park. Like the experienced x-country skiers they all seemed to be, they followed someone else’s tracks. We did the same. Within the hour we were all doing a sort of forward glide step. Push. Glide. Push. Glide. The glide became longer. The push on the poles firmer. Our steps longer. Our glides longer.

After learning the step-push-glide sequence, we practiced the doublepole push. Simple. Keeping both feet together, we pushed vigorously backward with both poles simultaneously, at the same time leaning slightly forward.

Wearing nonwax skis with fish-scale bottoms, it was relatively easy to walk-step up gentle inclines.

Next, we practiced two techniques that every alpine skier must also learn. The first was sidestepping up a hill, keeping our skis at a right angle to the fall line and climbing up sideways. This was followed by the herringbone: spreading the ski tips far apart, keeping the tails close together, and walking straight up the slope.

For both sidestepping and the herringbone it was essential to use the poles for pushing and control.

End day one. Glorious.

Within a few hours we’d gone from total beginners to slightly experienced novices, discovering as we did so why cross-country skiing has attracted millions.

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