Down­hill ski­ing or snow­board­ing is as pop­u­lar as it gets, as are most of the slopes dur­ing blue-bird days. If you’re inter­est­ed in a sport that’s a lit­tle less crowd­ed and a lot less expen­sive, con­sid­er cross-coun­try ski­ing. Here are five rea­sons you should give it a shot:

Cross-Country Skiing is the Most Accessible Winter Sport Ever

It’s near­ly free
If you own a pair of cross-coun­try skis, poles, and boots, this win­ter activ­i­ty actu­al­ly is free after the ini­tial gear expense. If you don’t, it’s about as close as it gets. Unlike down­hill ski­ing, it doesn’t require a lift tick­et, which can be a big expense for just a few hours of pow­der. Rent­ing the cross-coun­try set-up is usu­al­ly inex­pen­sive. The cost varies based on where you are and where you get the gear. At an inde­pen­dent retail store in down­town Hood Riv­er, Ore­gon, for exam­ple, a cross-coun­try ski/boot/pole rental will cost you only $20 for the entire day.

There’s a low risk of injury
Cross-coun­try ski­ing is low impact, low speed and, there­fore, low­er risk than many of its coun­ter­parts. Accord­ing to a web­site called, “At the 2011 ISSS meet­ing, Dr Jan Roky­ta pre­sent­ed data on 2295 XC ski­ing injuries that occurred between 2003 and 2010. The over­all injury rate was 0.1/1000 XC ski­ing days com­pared to 1.0/1000 for alpine ski­ing. Males and females were injured in equal pro­por­tions although injured males tend­ed to be slight­ly old­er (aver­age age 42.5 yrs com­pared to 35.5yrs). The low­er extrem­i­ty was the com­mon­est area of injury and falls account­ed for about 85% of all injuries. About 8% of events were due to ski­er exhaus­tion and frac­tures made up about 25% of all injuries.”

Dogs (and kids) are welcome
Any sport that not only allows — but encour­ages — the com­pa­ny of the canine and young adult kind is imme­di­ate­ly more acces­si­ble to the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. Cross-coun­try ski­ing can be done at any pace, so dogs and kids can eas­i­ly be a part of the fun. Many peo­ple allow their dogs to run with them while they cross-coun­try ski much like they would do on a hike in the sum­mer­time. And most kids will wel­come the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get out and glide through the snow any day of the week.

It’s a great work­out — or an easy adventure
One of the best aspects of cross-coun­try ski­ing is the choice you get when you head out for the day; you can make it a seri­ous work­out or a walk in the park. Accord­ing to the Mayo Clin­ic, a 160-pound per­son will burn 496 calo­ries in just one hour of cross-coun­try ski­ing, where­as the same per­son would burn just 314 calo­ries down­hill ski­ing for the same dura­tion of time. If you’re less inter­est­ed in aer­o­bic exer­cise, you’ll still be strength­en­ing many of the mus­cles in your body — includ­ing your glutes, core, back, chest shoul­ders arms and legs — while enjoy­ing the scenery at a slow­er pace.

It’s a great workout -- or an easy adventure

You don’t need fan­cy gear to do it
You will need to lay­er up mean­ing you’ll need a base­lay­er, a mid­lay­er (wool shirt, a sweater or fleece jack­et) and some kind of jack­et. Once you get going on your Nordic Skis, you’ll heat up fast. Add gloves, a hat and a bot­tom lay­er that’s breath­able, as well as thick socks and a pair of sun­glass­es — and you’re set.

While you can cer­tain­ly invest in some tech­ni­cal gear, this is a win­ter activ­i­ty where you can real­ly get away with being pret­ty minimalist.