Learn to Cross Country Ski – Top Tips for Beginners

When it comes to getting started with cross-country skiing, everyone has a different angle to it. It varies from person to person how quickly one absorbs the variety of techniques, or how long does it take to get into proper shape. For one, it is up to your enthusiasm and endurance, both on a physical and mental level. If you have the right attitude and practice well, you may learn to Nordic ski in no time.

How long it takes for you to take on cross-country skiing primarily depends upon yourself. There are a number of factors that may determine the length of your learning curve include your fitness level, the style (classic cross country skiing or skate skiing) that you would want to go for, getting the right equipment (which means renting or purchasing skis, boots, etc.), and whether you are starting out with a professional instructor to guide you through. However, we can safely say that the basic cross-country skiing techniques can be learned in a matter of hours.

Is Cross-Country Skiing Hard?

Cross-country skiing is definitely harder than alpine skiing as moving forward on flat ground or uphill ski trails requires a lot more energy, stamina, and speed – making it one of the best cardio workouts among winter sports. On the other hand, learning to cross-country ski is easy and simple enough to start exploring the ski tracks right away.

Cross-Country Ski 101: Tips for a Steep Learning Curve

It is no hidden fact that cross-country skiing keeps you physically and mentally fit, and is a great way to connect with nature. If you have absolutely no idea on how to get started, but are planning to give it a try, there can be no better time to start learning a new sport than now!

Although you may have seen children as young as 3 years old sliding down on slopes with their skis on along with their parents, you can easily learn it really fast even as an adult. It’s not like ballet. In fact, many seniors decide to learn to cross-country ski at ages 50-60 and find it an activity easy to learn. With a reasonable level of fitness, five times 4 hours of instructed cross-country skiing will get you to a basic to intermediate level from where you can confidently get out to green and blue trails by yourself.

Here are the key factors that may determine the duration of you successfully acquiring the basics of cross-country skiing:

1. Pick One – Classic Cross-Country Skiing Vs Skate Skiing

As beginners you may come across two styles of cross-country skiing: the classic (also known as diagonal stride) and skating style.

Many trainers believe that the easiest style to first get acquanted with your cross-country skis is the traditional style known as classic cross-country skiing. Here your skis remain parallel and point in a straight direction. Classic skiing is almost as if you were walking or running on skis, therefore as a beginner, most professional ski instructors would tell you to start learning how to classic ski first, since its more natural and closer to our everyday motions.

However, if you start out with diagonal stride (that is classic skiing) you should stay with it. Most professionals agree on that the worst thing is if you change your mind in the middle of the learning process. Get acquanted with the differences between the two styles of cross-country skiing, then choose one!

As for skate skiing (also known as the freestyle cross-country skiing), it is generally considered the harder of the two. The motions of skate skiers resemble more of ice skating, therefore its pace is much faster compared to classic cross-country skiing. Controlling your speed, especially on downhills, and even stopping has much more significance. To skate ski, you need to have high reserves of energy, and generally a level of fitness and endurance.

2. Keep Yourself Fit and Healthy

Although Nordic skiing is a great way to keep you fit and active, it is important for you to be in shape to hit the slopes. If you feel that just putting on the ski gear makes you breathe heavily, you need to make your body physically active to enjoy long hours of training. The last thing you want is to not being able to enjoy skiing only because you are out of breath in the first few minutes.
Learn Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing can be challenging if you are low endurance, but it could also be a huge source of inspiration for you to get in shape and see what your body can do and places it can take you to! XC skiers have the highest Vo2 max values, while they also burn thousands of calories with only a few hours of skiing. Find the right motivation for taking on such a life-changing sport. Nordic skiing will naturally lead you to a nordic lifestyle, including not only a healthy amount of exercise even in winter, but to a healthy diet too. There are tons of ski conditioning exercises for you to get started, we have also compiled a list of our favorite workouts.

3. Choose the Right Ski Area

Whether you have learned the sport from a personal trainer, a ski school or via the internet by yourself, you will always start at flatter surfaces. As a beginner, it is a good idea to aim for terrains that have no significant elevation gains or drops. Several ski areas have trails and loops designed specifically for beginners. These are not only shorter and easier trails, but they are purpose built for making you practice and repeat the basics techniques you should acquire for higher difficulty trails. Also, you don’t hinder other, faster skiers while you are practicing the basics. Then once you get the hang of it, you can go for longer trails to challenge yourself.

Another reason why you should not start out practicing in your backyard is that most nordic ski centers have trails that are groomed for both classic and skate styles. And not for the sake of being pretty. Groomed tracks can even help your technique by guiding your skis on the way. For your clarity, groomed trails are rated green (easy), blue (intermediate level) or Black (hard).

4. Get Familiar with the Cross-Country Ski Gear

You should know what you are getting into when you decide to take on cross-country skiing – both physically and financially. You will need to buy cross-country skis, poles, boots, and bindings. If you want to just try the sport to see if it is for you for all the coming winter seasons to enjoy, it is a good idea to go to a cross-country ski center and rent your ski gear from there.

If you have made up your mind to pursue cross-country skiing, you can always buy your ski equipment – there is nothing better than personalized and hygienic equipment that you do not have to share with others or return when the trip is over. Important note, that cross-country ski gear costs significantly less than alpine equipment and sportswear.

It is a good idea to not over-invest in your ski gear when you are starting out. Go for the basic quality and pricing, and once you develop a bond with this beautiful sport, you can pamper yourself with your ideal brand of ski equipment.

5. Pick Your Clothes Properly

As it is commonly said in winter sports, there is no bad weather, but bad clothing! Layer up so you can have a sense of warmth and breathability without feeling suffocated. If you feel warmer than you would like to, you can always remove a layer of clothing.

It is advised to go for a base layer followed by a middle layer (mid-layer), and an external layer to protect you from wind, water, and snow.

You can always add more layers if you feel cold, or add a windbreaker when conditions get too windy. It is best to always go prepared as the last thing you want is to cut your day short only because you were not wearing the proper ski clothes.

6. Learn, Practice, Have Fun, Keep Going

You should always learn from an expert or pro cross-country skier. Skiing may sound like a light and a straightforward thing, but it involves several techniques that you need to apply depending on the situation, and in the appropriate sequence. You also need to make sure that you have the right body posture and to execute your steps. You will also need to change your strategies when you are skiing uphill as compared to when you are skiing downhill, or when you want to glide on flat terrain.

The first time it’s very important to learn the basic techniques properly, since those initial lessons will determine the way you ski in the future. For this reason, taking cross-country ski classes is a great idea to see how you are progressing and what areas you need to work on. Once you get to know with the basics, you should keep on practicing.

A common mistake from beginners is that after a few classes they take matter in their own hands and keep doing it as they feel. However, xc skiing being a heavy full-body workout, you should keep on practicing the sport itself as well as doing exercises when you can’t ski to keep yourself fit. There are several machines and sports gear that use the same motions and techniques as cross-country skiing even in summer (e.g. roller skiing).

Once you started cross-country skiing, you should keep up doing it in some form all year, since it will get only harder when winter returns, and your muscles all forgot about what they were doing on those skis.

Transition from Downhill Skiing

If you have done alpine (downhill) skiing before and want to try cross-country skiing, the good news is that you already have some advantage. You are familiar with the slopes and climatic conditions, and some of the basic techniques like balancing yourself and moving forward. You may already know how to snowplow, use your edges, and skate downhill. The main differences many skiers notice when transitioning from downhill to cross-country skiing are:

  • You may find edging a bit challenging as most of the cross-country skis do not have metal edges.
  • You will find the skis comparatively narrower and hence harder to balance on.
  • When you move forward uphill or on flat terrain, you need to exert more power. In downhill style, you primarily have to only make turns, while cross-country skiers essentially perform a full-body workout.
  • Cross-country skiing is a fitness exercise in itself, therefore make sure to dress up accordingly. Thick, extra warm jackets might prove too much for a cross-country skier during heats.

XC Skiing is a different sport than alpine skiing, but if you already know how to do the latter well, you will be able to make your transition rather quickly.
Cross-Country Skiing
If you are concerned about the cost of purchasing cross-country ski gear, there is some good news for you. XCS gear is considerably less expensive than that of alpine skiing. Also, you can rent out in the initial days to see how this new sport feels like. If you enjoyed downhill style, you will love what cross-country skiing has to offer.


Cross-country skiing is considered the easiest to learn as a beginner. For this reason, whether you want to learn skiing from scratch as an adult, or want your whole family (including children) to learn and enjoy this sport – cross-country skiing is as much fun for adults as it is for younger kids. Like with all kinds of sports, you need the right gear and must become proficient in the basic techniques correctly in order to enjoy cross-country skiing for years to come. Transitioning from alpine skiing is also a great idea as it will not only expand your skillset, but you will also be able to get the hang of the sport and enjoy a different branch of skiing.

The time it takes for you to get to know cross-country skiing can vary from person to person. And once you have learned how to do XC skiing, it will take some practice for you to master this sport. But with love and determination, and the right kind of gear and techniques, you can easily conquer those snowy surfaces and slopes in a matter of no time. If you think the winter season can be boring, think about cross-country skiing, and you will be anxiously waiting for the next winter all year long – that, we promise!