VAIL - The gear is on, you step into your cross-country skis, take a deep breath of fresh, cold mountain air and you're off.This is a sport that fulfills so much, from cardiovascular exercise to enjoying some peace and quiet time. It's one of the reasons Vail Nordic Center co-owner Mia Stockdale loves it so much."I like it because it's not crowded and it's very affordable," Stockdale said. "It's peaceful and it's a great workout."The Vail Nordic Center, which operates on the Vail Golf Course, has 17 kilometers of groomed ski terrain for both classic and skate Nordic skiing. The course is fully covered now, even though snow has been scarce around the valley so far this winter. "We have really good coverage out here right now," Stockdale said. "We don't require a lot of snow to have decent conditions."Because the Vail Nordic Center is heavily shaded throughout most of the winter, the snow stays put and in good condition.Stockdale is coming off one of the busiest holiday weeks ever at the Nordic Center in the course of the six years she and Shane Sluder have been owners. She said business was record-setting last week."The way the mountain was skiing, we saw a lot of people looking for alternatives," Stockdale said. Nordic skiing is something just about anyone can try. You don't need a skiing background to get moving, although one certainly does help. It's a natural movement that requires some balance and stamina. Most cross-country skiers can pick up classic cross-country in just a couple of hours, and the Vail Nordic Center offers group lessons for these beginners every morning at 10:15.Mothers can strap on their baby backpack and cross-country ski, and the sport can be extremely social, too. Friends and family members often cross-country together, getting in both a workout and some quality time together in the process.The Nordic community has been growing in the years since Stockdale and Sluder have owned the Nordic Center. Stockdale has also noticed a big increase in children trying the sport, thanks in part to after-school Nordic programs at Vail Mountain School and Homestake Peak School. The spike in interest from younger generations means the sport's future is bright, Stockdale said. For nonskiers who want to try cross-country skiing, the feeling on the skis might not feel very natural at first, but with a little time that does change. The sport uses the entire body, too, with about 60 to 70 percent of the power coming from the legs and the rest coming from the upper body.Because gliding along the snow isn't helped by gravity as in alpine skiing, you have to propel yourself along on your own. And for those who want to start out small, the Vail Nordic Center has snowshoe trails that are separate from the skiing trails so snowshoers and cross country skiers can safely coexist on the terrain. And with a demo day coming up on Jan. 14, it's a great time to check out a new sport for those who haven't tried it. Stockdale said there will be free lessons and all of the demo gear is free to test out, too."It's a great alternative for people who don't want to alpine ski," Stockdale said. Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.