Three people cross country skiing

Cross-country skiing in St. Moritz

Gabriella Le Breton discovers the ultimate mindful winter workout in one of the world’s best cross-country ski destinations, St. Moritz

Glide left. Glide right. Inhale. Glide left. Glide right. Exhale. Marvel at the pristine winter landscape surrounding you as your breath swirls up into the crisp air. It’s no wonder that the esteemed healthcare practice, education and research institution Mayo Clinic claims that the physicality and meditative nature of cross-country skiing increases mental ability, lifts the mood and helps one sleep better. Slicing through pristine snow-topped forests, dipping in and out of soft winter sunshine to the steady rhythm and sound of your breath – cross-country skiing truly is a complete sport.

The history of cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is believed to date back over five millennia in Scandinavia, where locals used long wooden sticks (skíð in Old Norse) to propel themselves across the snow that blanketed much of the region each winter. Known alternatively as Nordic skiing, X-C skiing and langlauf (its German name), there are two key forms of cross-country skiing: classic and skate. Classic cross-country, generally held to be the easier method to learn, sees skiers propel themselves forward using a striding motion whereas skating uses a side-to-side technique. Both practices use long, narrow skis (generally no more than 60mm or 2.36 inches wide); soft boots that come just above the ankle and attach to the ski with a binding at the toe; and long ski poles (up to the chin for classic skiers), used to help drive the skier forward. They are typically enjoyed on prepared trails that weave along picturesque valleys and open mountain plateaus, with tracks for classic skiers running either side of a groomed trail for skaters.

Where to cross-country ski in St. Moritz

As Curdin Perl, a Swiss Olympic cross-country skier and Engadin local, explains: “One of the main reasons that I became a cross-country skier was the pureness of the sport. Cross-country skiing is the most complete movement you can do. You need to engage every part of your body; it feels so dynamic.” The dynamism of the sport does indeed require the use and co-ordination of every major muscle group and consistent cardiovascular exertion (it’s said that one hour of cross-country skiing burns a waist-trimming 1,000 calories) yet it also has very low impact on joints and carries a lower risk of trauma than downhill skiing.

Perl has climbed to the 3,900-metre (12,795 feet) summit of Piz Palü, a dramatic peak towering above St. Moritz’s Diavolezza ski area, on his cross-country skis and skied back down on them but we would advise you to explore the resort’s 230 kilometres (143 miles) of dedicated trails instead. These all lie within easy reach of Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and range from gentle, sun-drenched routes across the frozen lakes of Silsersee, Silvaplanersee and Champfèrersee and around the high-altitude Alp Bondo circuit atop the Bernina Pass to the undulating Palüd Lungia trail that winds between St. Moritz and Silvaplana/Surlej. For a truly magical experience, skiers can use the light of the moon (and a head torch) to follow a number of enchanting night-time trails in St. Moritz, Pontresina and Zernez.

When he’s not summiting peaks on his skinny skis, Perl hits his favourite local trail, the ‘Traumloipe’ (dream trail), which winds through the woods from Celerina to Pontresina, and races the world’s slowest express train, the Bernina Express, up Diavolezza. Experienced cross-country skiers will also want to follow in the footsteps of Perl and thousands of other skiers, who tackle the legendary 42-kilometre-long (26 miles) Engadin Ski Marathon route, which passes over lakes, through forests and down challenging descents from Maloja to S-chanf.

Of course, this wouldn’t be the Alps without plenty of cosy, fire-warmed mountain huts dotted along the ski trails, inviting you in for a restorative hot chocolate or hearty rösti. And it wouldn’t be a Badrutt’s Palace Hotel holiday without a well-deserved après-ski massage and hot tub soak in the Palace Wellness Spa.

As novices looking to master their cross-country ski technique will discover, the expert instructors of the Swiss Ski School St. Moritz are already well-versed in health protocols and will help you discover this exciting sport in safety. For a truly mindful experience and full body workout, blend cross-country skiing and yoga with the school’s pro cross-country skier and yoga guru, Ursina Badilatti, to leave you feeling fit, healthy and ready to face the world.

Cross-country skiing tips

Ursina Badilatti, former Swiss national cross-country skier and technical director of cross-country skiing at the Swiss Ski School St. Moritz, suggests trying the following routes:

  • Celerina Beginners – the circular track in Celerina, just seven minutes’ drive from Badrutt’s Palace, is ideal for beginners. Easy and picturesque, it runs along the Flaz river and past the San Gian church, catching the sun from early in the morning.
  • Peaceful Pontresina – the Pontresina-Morteratsch trail leads from Pontresina onto a beautiful plain, through the glacial Morteratsch valley and into the Bernina mountains. Suitable for beginner and advanced skiers, it delivers sweeping views and leads up to the Morteratsch glacier.
  • Double Fun – blend cross-country skiing and yoga with Ursina for the ultimate body and mind workout. A morning yoga session improves balance, builds core strength, opens up hips and shoulders and draws awareness to breathing in perfect preparation for cross-country skiing. Badrutt’s Palace guests can join group classes or enjoy private tuition with Ursina upon request (Swiss Ski School St. Moritz).

What you need to get started

One of the pleasures of starting a new sport is buying equipment for it. In reality, regular skiers will already have many of the key items of clothing required for cross-country skiing: breathable base layers, a lightweight midlayer and a shell jacket. More specific items to cross-country skiing include soft shell trousers, lightweight gloves and a breathable hat. If you’re looking for high-performance ski wear that is also stylish, head to the Fusalp boutique in St. Moritz’s Palace Galerie.

Finally, renting cross-country equipment puts the best available kit at your disposal, and the option to change it should you wish. Visit Ski Service Corvatsch for the best selection of cross-country skis, boots and poles for adults and children.

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