Classic vs Skate Skiing: What is the Difference?

Beginners often get confused regarding what type of cross-country skiing should they start with – classic or skate skiing. So, the question is: What is the difference between classic and skate cross-country skiing?

While both are branches of cross-country skiing, classic skiing is the older skiing technique that uses diagonal strides to mimic walking. Skate skiing is more similar to ice skating, thus faster than classic. Classic skiing can be done on a wide range of snowy surfaces, but skate skiing requires specially groomed tracks, as well as its own set of equipment.

Now let’s explore both styles of cross-country skiing in more detail.

Classic vs Skate Cross-Country Skiing

In cross-country skiing, there are two main different styles – the traditional XC skiing known as Classic skiing and the Skate skiing normally known as Skating. Choose the one you want to start with – generally, beginners go for the classic skiing style as a foundation.

Whatever you choose, stick to it until you learn how to do it well. Skiing coaches believe you should stick to learning one of these skiing styles as a beginner – the last thing you want is to get confused in the early stages.

Classic Cross-Country Skiing

Although it depends upon person to person (or skier to skier, in this case!) the Classic XC skiing technique is generally considered the easiest of the two to grasp and master. Its positioning is based on the diagonal-step system.

This style of skiing is best suited for those planning to ski only on groomed tracks and trails. The technique employed for classic cross-country skiing is quite akin to walking and can be described as a natural locomotion, only on a pair of skis this time.

An important aspect of classic style nordic skiing is by applying those short kicks that are meant to press your “kick zone” right into the snow. It is this kicking process back and forth that enables the skier to move and glide ahead on the trail.

Classic cross-country skiing does not put too much pressure on your cardio, unlike many other kinds of skiing. It is still a good idea to have a healthy and active foundation – make sure you have a good level of fitness.

cross country skier classic

Skate Cross-Country Skiing

On the other hand, fitness level is very important when it comes to the freestyle skating style of cross-country skiing. If you are thrill-seeker and get your kicks from speed and pace, then this is definitely your style.

Although the skating technique could be a bit harder than the classic technique especially for beginners, it gives the skier more pace and you enjoy a better speed once you learn it. You will also notice that once you know how to skate skiing properly, inclined terrain and steep slopes get much easier to ski on.

Being familiar with inline skating helps a lot. Also, skating tracks do not provide as much guidance as you would expect from a classic cross-country trails. It is for this reason that this skating style is also labeled as ‘free technique’ or free style.

Skate style skiers rely on the v-style technique that essentially means that the pace is created by pressing the ski edge on one side, and into the snow, and then applying force. During this process, the skier is transferring its weight on the other ski and that is how you are meant to glide.

The glide is what makes you go forward with much greater speed, and makes for a thrilling experience. If you can use a decent technique and some lightweight equipment on yourself, you can expect to go as fast as 19 miles/hour. These attributes can also assist you in making maneuvers in the steeper or uphill sections of the trails, and also make those sharp turns much easier.

Moreover, the skis generally need multiple technical layers of both the grip. You will also need glide wax for certain temperatures, snow conditions and humidity levels.


Equipment Differences Between Skate and Classic Skiing

Except for some types of ski boots that can be used in both skate and classic skiing, you cannot use the same gear for these two skiing methods. Classic skis are longer, and they generally have a wider tip than skate skis.

Types of Cross-Country Skis

The base of a classic ski is divided into different zones: a kick zone (also known as the grip zone) which is in the middle, and the gliding zones that are at the tail and tip of the classic ski. The skate ski, on the other hand, has only one glide zone that goes from the tip of the ski towards the base of its tail.

This classic style is one of the most popular forms, and sometimes that popularity is reflective of the fact that the gear for it is very easy to find. You do not need to spend a fortune on the skis, boots and binding combos, as they are all fairly simply designed and generally economical. Moreover, the skis in particular are usually wax-less with little or no maintenance effort on part of the skier on a long term basis.

Skate style skiing has more technical aspects and its equipment can be expensive too. So before you make all that investment and raise all those expectations, always ensure that this is exactly the kind of skiing you want to be doing day in day out.

Skate Ski Boots vs Classic Boots

The skate boots have a rigid outsole unlike the classic ski boots that have a softer outsole. The boots have a high cuff to keep your ankle in position, whereas the classic boots have lower cuffs that are normally loose in the ankle region to help the skier with the movement ranges.

However, you can find some versatile boots that can be used in both styles of cross-country skiing.

Skate Ski Poles vs Classic Ski Poles: Is There a Difference?

Your skate ski poles should generally reach the same height as your nose/ ears, whereas your classic poles should be around your shoulder length. The skate poles are 10 to 15 cm longer than their classic counterparts.

cross-country skiing classic vs skate

Skate Skiing vs Classic Skiing FAQ

Can You Skate Ski with Classic Cross-Country Skis?

Although it is possible to stake ski using classic cross-country skis, it is difficult to maneuver and find ankle support. Your classic pole length will also not support your skate skiing style, making it not fun, if not extremely difficult, to skate.

Do Skate Skis Have Metal Edges?

No, skate skis do not have metal edges as they are done on groomed tracks. Since classic skiers do most of their skiing on ungroomed terrains, the classic cross-country skis often come equipped with metal edges for descending and traversing.

Closing Thoughts

Classic and skate skiing may both belong to the same cross-country skiing family, yet they are very different in terms of skiing techniques and gear.

No matter what nordic skiing style you choose, you will love it for sure!