It would be easy to complain about winter in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Snow causes many problems -- poor visibility, slippery sidewalks, bad roads, and plenty of car crashes. But it also provides the foundation for cross-country skiing, a sport enjoyed by thousands of regional residents on hundreds of miles of groomed and ungroomed trails.

“I think it is a sport that has something for everyone in it,” said Heather Nagel, a physical therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System Cannon Falls, Lake City and Red Wing, who teaches cross-country skiing in Red Wing. “Whether you are shuffling along through some unbroken snow, or flying down the racetrack feeling the speed, it offers so many different connections.”

The sport features two basic forms -- traditional skiing and skate skiing. Traditional uses a gliding motion that is similar to walking or jogging, while skate skiing, as its name suggests, uses a side-to-side motion more like ice skating. Traditional skiing works well on the grooves set into a groomed trail, but also works well on ungroomed fields or trails, while skate skiing needs a compressed base like those on groomed trails.

“If you are someone that just wants to get outside, and you are not necessarily around a groomed trail, traditional skiing would work well,” Nagel said. “Traditional is incredible because it is a beautiful sport. I love nothing more than to find deep set tracks where you just glide along.”

There are many groomed cross-country ski areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin and information about them can be found on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, Wisconsin DNR website, Explore Minnesota website. and Wisconsin Trail Guide. People living close to groomed ski trails have more options.

“If you are the kind of person that is competitive, and you like speed, skate skiing is going to be your choice,” Nagel said. “There is nothing like flying down a hill and racing around the corners. There are different techniques which work like gearing on a bike. You try to put it all together. It’s a thinking, logical thing.”

Each version requires different skis, boots, and poles, so Nagel suggests that someone interested in learning to cross-country ski might want to rent equipment and try a few kinds of boots and skis before buying. She noted that there are many ski stores in the Twin Cities and Rochester that can help beginners choose the right equipment.

“There are ski swaps where you can get used equipment,” Nagel said. “The trouble with that is that you have to know what you are looking for.”

There are also many ski clubs where beginners can get advice on equipment and help learning to ski. Nagel said she welcomes volunteers to come to help with her ski lessons and the volunteers can listen in and learn as she teaches students.

“The ski community are kind people,” she said. “If you talk to them and ask them questions, they will go out of their way to help you.”

Nagel is convinced that cross-country skiing is an excellent sport. It offers good cardio-vascular training, and gets people out and active during the winter months.

“When you are out in fresh snow in the back country, it is amazing,” Nagel said. "It is good for your body. It gives you time to reflect.”

She strongly recommends cross=country skiing to parents who are looking for an activity for their children.

“The Red Wing Nordic kids are the kindest, nicest, kids,” Nagel said. “I tell parents, if you want your kids in with a bunch or really nice kids, this is a great sport.”