What is Cross-Country Skiing?

What is Cross-Country Skiing

If alpine skiing enjoys strong notoriety, cross-country skiing remains a little more unknown and mysterious in the eyes of some. So what is cross-country skiing, and what are the differences between the different techniques of this discipline, the classic alternative step technique and the skating style? Read on and find out the answers to all these questions!

What is Cross-Country Skiing?

Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy snow-covered landscapes, whatever your level of the sport. On or off-piste, on hilly terrain, or not, young and old alike will find cross-country skiing fun and complete sporting activity in the great outdoors!

The oldest skiing discipline, cross-country skiing, has been able to renew itself with the seasons, thanks to the evolution of equipment and practices. More and more people are interested in this authentic, ecological and sporting practice, which is becoming more and more trendy. This solitary activity allows the skier, also called cross-country skier, to evolve on flat or hilly terrain through sumptuous winter landscapes. However, like many sliding sports, cross-country skiing has its share of risks and injuries and, therefore, must be practiced with certain precautions.

Cross-country skiing is practiced in many resorts. Some are relatively popular for this discipline, notably Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Bear Valley Adventure Corporation or Snow Mountain Ranch, but this is not an exhaustive list.

The Origins of Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing was born in the Nordic countries in antiquity and is the oldest discipline of skiing. What was a mode of travel initially has become a fun and sporting discipline driven by competitions. It appeared in the Olympic event for the first time at the Chamonix Olympics in 1924. Since then, this mode of skiing has been experiencing a revolution with the development of free practice (skating) and the evolution of equipment to become a popular practice.

Where to Practice Cross-Country Skiing?

Cross-country skiing is practiced mainly in Nordic resorts, smaller and lower in altitude than alpine ski resorts.

There are no ski lifts in the Nordic areas. In cross-country skiing, your body is the engine to go up the slopes. The trails are groomed specifically for the practice of this practice. They are easily identifiable with their two parallel rails located at the ends of the tracks to allow classic cross-country skiers to slide their feet parallel in and also off-piste on more or less hilly terrain. The difficulty of the slopes is distinguished by colored signage, from green, the easiest, to black, the most difficult, passing through blue and red as in alpine skiing.

The Two Styles of Cross-Country Skiing

To fully understand the benefits associated with cross-country skiing, it is essential to mention the two styles of this practice: the classic style and the skate style. The choice of practicing one technique over another will determine the equipment, the choice of terrain, the intensity of the effort and the type of injuries possible for the cross-country skier.

Classic Style

The classic style is a technique that is at the origin of what is called cross-country skiing. It is practiced on groomed slopes or off-piste. The cross-country skiers then move their skis from front to back as if they want to walk on snow. The body is placed forward to facilitate propulsion, and the skis always remain parallel. Relatively close to walking, this technique is practiced thanks to skis equipped with an anti-recoil system which makes it possible to advance by alternating and sliding first one ski, then the other in marked lines and groomed for this purpose. It is the best and easy-to-access style for beginners. By increasing the pace, this technique will also satisfy the most athletic skiers.

The Skate Style

The skate style allows the skier to gain more speed. The skiers move like skaters and propel themselves by pushing their skis outwards. This technique appeared a little later, in the 1970s. It is also called “freestyle” or “no skaters”. Indeed, the movement will be closer to the one you perform when you rollerblade or ice skate, except that you do it with skis. The tracks on which you practice this discipline is groomed. The skate style requires a little more arduous and advanced learning than the Classic style.

The Rules of Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a free practice: no ski lifts, a material that favors freedom of movement. You can practice it wherever you want, as long as you have snow, the right equipment, and you respect the safety rules.

However, everyone has their space on the slopes that all must respect: the tracks for classic skiing on the right, the groomed part for skating on the left. And as on the road, the trails are marked out to go in one direction, and you cannot drive in the wrong direction!

A certain courtesy is also in order: when a fast skier arrives behind, you move aside to let them pass. Conversely, if you want to overtake someone and the track is narrow, or the skier is struggling to climb, you have to be patient before overtaking them and take the opportunity to admire the landscape.

Adapted and Well-Prepared Equipment

Alternative cross-country skiing, skating, Nordic cruising or backcountry, each discipline has its equipment to adapt to snow and terrain conditions and maximum pleasure!

Your equipment must be well adjusted (poles, bindings, boots), and your skis well waxed for the preparation. The waxing will differ depending on the snow conditions and the weather to avoid too much sticking or slipping. The Maxiglide XC Quick Wax is an ideal wax for all Nordic cross-country skis that improves sliding and eliminates snow from skis. You can find it online or in stores.

An Activity Adapted to Your Desires and Abilities

On piste or off-piste, as in alpine skiing, adapting your outing to snow conditions, the weather and your level of practice remain the best way to enjoy it in complete safety. Not to mention a small snack and a drink to stay in shape throughout the day. Professional support remains the best guarantee of successful cross-country skiing, especially far from the slopes.

The Color of the Cross-Country Ski Trails

As in alpine skiing, the color of the slopes will indicate the level of difficulty that you are ready to face according to your level. As a reminder: green corresponds to the easiest slope, followed by blue, then red indicating a difficult slope, the black slopes being reserved for the most experienced. Choose the one that corresponds to your level before you start.

The Benefits of Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is practiced from 7 to 77 years old but still requires a minimum of physical preparation. Sports, such as cycling, walking and running, can be helpful in preparation for cross-country skiing. Like all endurance sports, your health and body will thank you: you will work your heart and muscles by practicing skating or the classic style while taking a good breath of fresh air.

Considered one of the best endurance sports, it can help improve the cardiovascular system and promote blood circulation. Using the whole body for propulsion (including the upper limbs) would increase the cardiorespiratory endurance of the skiers of this discipline. In addition, it can also be suitable for people with vascular problems.

Remember to start slowly to respect a warm-up time before increasing the pace. Also, take something to hydrate and snack on if you feel tired and hungry. Cereal bars or dried fruits will then be welcome.

It is important to note that cross-country skiing involves less impact on the body than other sports of the same intensity, such as running. This activity is also an excellent alternative for racing enthusiasts who wish to maintain their activity level during the winter or adopt a similar activity.

Finally, the regular practice of cross-country skiing improves bone density.

Cross-Country Skiing, is it for You?

Cross-country skiing is a sport accessible to all, suitable for all ages and all physical conditions. If the basics are quickly learned, especially in classic cross-country skiing, we advise you to take a few lessons to master the movement and have even more fun. Once the basics have been acquired, you can quickly practice in complete freedom.

The different techniques and modes of practice correspond to other profiles.

Ride More

Do you want to relax in the heart of nature, practicing a sport similar to walking, which allows different levels of effort? The ride mode, which is practiced in traditional cross-country skiing, is suitable for beginners and quiet skiers, thanks to its soft side and accessibility to all. Under these conditions, cross-country skiing is the ideal sport to practice with family, friends or quite simply in harmony with yourself.

Sports Mode

Do you have a taste for effort and are looking for sensations of gliding and speed? Already a sportsman or the one searching for progressive fitness, cross-country skiing in more technical mode is ideal for you. It allows work on the cardiovascular system, muscles, psychomotor skills and coordination. After a few lessons, you can opt for classic cross-country skiing or skating to work on the technique as needed.

Specific Equipment for Cross-Country Skiing

The choice of equipment will depend on your practice of cross-country skiing: classic or skating.


Cross-country skis are long, light and narrow. They are fitted with a binding that leaves the heel free on the ascent or the descent.

For the Classic style, the skis are equipped with a grip zone (scales, skins or waxing) located in the middle of the sole of the ski so as not to retreat on climbs. The skis are shorter than conventional skis for skating style, and their sole does not have a retention zone. It is entirely smooth and needs to be waxed regularly for better glide.

Some of the best equipment you can find include the Fischer Rottefella BCX Auto Step Cross Country Bindings that are reliable and easy-to-use equipment to handle a variety of conditions. Another must-have for any Nordic skier is a set of ski straps that protect your skis and their base wax before and after skiing. For this, Mt Sun Gear XC – Cross Ski Straps is an ideal choice.

The Shoes

Cross-country ski boots are light and comfortable. In classic style, the shoes should have a medium upper and a flexible sole to benefit from good foot unrolling, which allows efficient propulsion. In skating style, the boots used have a higher upper and a collar at the ankle to support it better.

The Alpina BC-1550 Nordic cross-country ski boots for use with NNN-BC bindings are great with a double tongue system and a high collar for optimal protection during skating. Another good option for advanced skiers is the Fischer Unisex – Xc Control Cross-Country Adult Ski Shoe with high ankle support for maximum comfort and safety when you’re out in the snow.


Cross-country ski poles play the role of pushing, supporting and balancing. There are no specific poles for classic cross-country skiing or skating, as for skis and boots.

On the other hand, the choice of the size of the sticks differs according to the practice. For classic technique, the ideal pole size is 153 cm, while it should be 162 cm for skating.

Our Final Thoughts

We hope this article has answered the question, what is cross-country skiing? Now that you know everything about cross-country skiing, its benefits, styles, the right equipment, do not hesitate any longer, and try the classic or the skating styles, on the slopes or off-piste and tell us about your experience! Also, do not forget to share this information with your skier friends!

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