Cross-country ski instructors and centers understandably would like to refute the old saw: ''If you can walk, you can ski cross-country.'' And in truth, taking a cross-country ski lesson makes much sense for rank beginners or for those who want to improve their technique.
Nevertheless, I was recently reminded of how much a beginner can learn in just one hour of well-directed practice on cross-country skis. The reminder came in a new booklet produced by Trak Skis and adapted from ''The New Complete Book of Cross Country Skiing and Telemarking'' by William J. Lederer and Joe Pete Wilson (W.W. Norton & Co., New York: $6.96).
In just 60 minutes a new skier can learn to move with confidence, make step turns and change direction on flat terrain, ski down slight inclines, slow down using a ''snowplow'' technique, and know how to get up after a fall.
Of course, there's a lot more to cross-country skiing than those elemental maneuvers. Still, to be able to do all of the above, even tentatively, in one hour on skis says a lot about how easy it is to learn to cross-country ski.
As any skier might guess, a key instruction in the booklet concerns getting up after a fall. Contrary to the perception of many, I think, beginners often don't mind falling as much as not being able to get up afterward.
Here are a few tips from Lederer and Wilson: Remove your pole straps from your wrists. Lying on your side, get your skis parallel and swing them so that they are across the slope, sliding neither forward nor backward. Brush off loose snow. Bend your knees so that skis are brought closely under the body. The skis' edges should be dug into the snow. Grasping both poles as if they were a single pole, the skier places the poles' points a foot from the knees. One hand grasps just above the baskets; the other hand is placed halfway up the shafts of the poles. The skier should then be able to push up into a sitting position or onto the knees and then into a standing position.