What is Cross-Country Skiing?

Cross-country skiing is also commonly known as ski touring, XC skiing or Nordic skiing, and has an established history as an outdoor recreational sport or as a means of transport in the past.

The modern version of this skiing is practiced in a similar fashion to the original form of skiing. Here you can read all about cross country skiing, its styles and the complexity of this sport.

What is Cross Country Skiing?

Cross-country skiing involves skiers using their body movements to glide across snowy terrain, as opposed to relying on ski lifts or similar. Skiers self-propel by striding forward (classic style) or in a side-to-side manner (skate skiing). In this process, they push on the ski poles against the rigid snow, and are aided by their stronger arm muscles.

XC Skiing Styles

There are multiple styles of XC skiing that one can choose from – regardless of whether you are a novice skier or an expert at strapping XC skis. One of the most commonly observed pitfalls amongst skiers is that they do not appreciate the importance of having the right gear and clothing. This can make all the difference between a frustrating outing and a fun-filled trip that guarantees you tons of health benefits. The right gear will help you on the trail by improving your speed, efficiency and overall satisfaction.


Cross country skiing (which is also sometimes referred to as Nordic skiing) is generally practiced on purpose-built trails and tracks. The skis are meant to be designed differently, depending on the style of skiing you are enjoying – classic style XC skiing (the skis will run parallel to each other) or skating style (the skis are used with an angle to form a herringbone pattern). Let us know more about these two broad styles of skiing.

The Classic Style

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 XC 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.

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.

The Skating Technique (Freestyle)

If you are thrill-seeker and get your kicks from speed and pace, then skating method cross country skiing is what you should take up.

Skating trails 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 19miles / 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.

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.

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.

What do you do in Cross Country Skiing?

One of the basics of cross-country technique involves the diagonal stride. You can consider this as a power walk with your arms assisting you in the process. If this is making you tired, you can always drop a level down to actual walking to recover your breath.

Glide: If ski walking is not a big deal for you, add gliding to it. Press forward and shift your weight to the front ski and engage the kick zone as we discussed above.

Use Your Arms: Your pole should be planted with the basket in line your opposite foot and by extending your arm ahead of your shoulder. Swing your arms back and forth like a pendulum, to get moving. A good practicing technique is to hold the poles mid-shaft and only relying on them if you feel out of balance.

Go Uphill: In steeper trails, your kick zone will not be effective. The herringbone pattern can scale you up any level or grade. You can achieve this by forming a V with your skis, and commence walking up the hill, with your pole planted behind your boot.

Why is Cross Country Skiing so Hard?

Cross country skiing can be difficult and more tiring than downhill skiing. You do not get the luxury of sitting on lifts. This is a proper and full body workout that focuses on building your core strength, and for such reason, is meant to be an ideal cardiovascular exercise.

Skiing downhill can be anxiety-provoking and scare the best of skiers. A descent requires balance and technique, where a lot of professionals during cross country world cup fail. Skiers technique, pace and body balance need to be applied in a commensurate manner, and this comes with a lot of practice and spending countless hours in the snow.

Which is Harder Snowshoeing or Cross Country Skiing?

Snowshoeing is an easier activity for beginners and can be learnt more quickly than cross-country skiing.

Snowshoes offer more versatility as they can be used in multiple types of terrain, and you are not confined to groomed trails and tracks like cross country skiing. Skis can get in logs or branches, and that can be a frustrating and painful experience.

Snowshoeing doesn’t require excessive gear and is so simple that it can be practiced even in your backyard or parks. For cross country skiing, you will most likely have to travel a distance, as not all parks or trails are designed for it and may not be smooth enough for it.

Surprisingly, snowshoeing can be more effectively performed in deeper and powdery snow as compared to its cross country counterpart.

Cross country skiing requires more mastery and technical skills than snowshoeing as it is more aerobic and functional.

How Dangerous is Cross Country Skiing?

Cross-country skiing may not be as fast-paced or risky as alpine skiing, but there is always an element of danger when you are involved in an outdoor physical sport.

Going downhill can be challenging and fraught with injury if the technique, pace and body balance is not applied in a commensurate manner.

Dangerous Cross Country Skiing

Ligament injuries are commonly suffered by cross-country skiers. It is for this reason that it is always recommended that you learn the basics with the assistance of a qualified instructor or by taking up skiing courses.

You are exposing your body to possible injuries and discomfort if you do not use the right technique for pushing, gliding or braking. It is equally important to know how to perform an ‘emergency fall’.


So there you have it! You now have the rudimentary knowledge of cross country skiing, and the way in which it can be practiced. This gives you a good idea or indication as to what will be best suited for you. Happy skiing!

Another important piece of advice is to ensure that you consider the skis along with other gear and clothing in totality and collectively. Make a comprehensive list and keep ticking off the items that you have purchased.