How to Get Started
Cross Country Skiing
Cross country skiing definitions
What is cross country skiing?
Types of cross country skiing
Classic – The choice of most beginners, classic is the style of skiing most people think of when they hear “cross country skiing,” and uses a straight-line parallel stride to move forward.
Skate – A more challenging form of cross country skiing, the skate style uses a motion similar to speed skating to propel the skier forward, which creates much faster speeds than classic skiing.
What you need for cross country skiing
What equipment do you need to go cross country skiing?
There are four factors that determine the right cross country ski for you: height, weight, skiing style (classic or skate), and ability level. You’ll find that skis for beginners are designed for easier turning at slower speeds.
To find the perfect ski for you, talk to your local retailer—or better yet, your local rental shop so you can try before you buy.
Boots and bindings: Because boots and bindings work as a system, it’s important to make sure your boots clip into the bindings you have. For beginners, we’d recommend a soft, waterproof boot that will keep your feet comfortable and, most importantly, dry. Again, talk to your local retailer or rental shop to find the perfect boots and bindings for you.
Poles: Because you’ll need them to both maintain balance and help push you forward, poles are an essential part of cross country skiing. For length, the general rule of thumb is poles that fit under the armpit for classic skiing, and just a bit longer than that for skate skiing.
In addition to your cross country skiing gear, you’ll also need some other basics for safety and comfort. Remember, there may not be a lodge nearby like there is when downhill skiing.
What do you wear when cross country skiing?
The main difference between cross country and downhill skiing is that cross country skiing is a much more aerobic sport. Generally speaking, gravity is not helping to propel you forward—it’s pure exertion on your part. Even gentle terrain for beginners can be quite the outdoor workout. Because of that, you can quickly overheat if you’re not wearing breathable clothing. And if your sweat has nowhere to go, your clothing will get wet and stay wet, leaving you wet, cold, and miserable.
Another thing to consider is that you’re likely to experience a range of temperatures and weather conditions—from clear and cold to sunny and mild to snow and wind, sometimes all in the same day. In other words, you need to be prepared for anything. And the best way to do that, clothing-wise, is by layering.
Knowing how to layer for cold weather will go a long way in helping you fully enjoy your day. Layers not only help you stay warm, they offer options by allowing you to adjust to both the conditions and your activity level.
The three components of proper layering are:
Midlayer: A thicker middle layer that provides insulation to keep you warm. This middle layer typically consists of a warm fleece or puffy jacket. Of the three components, this is the insulating layer that provides the majority of your warmth. For strenuous activities like cross country skiing, it’s essential that this layer also be breathable to prevent overheating.
Outer shell: A thin outer layer that goes on the outside to offer weather protection. This outermost layer, typically some sort of shell, protects you from rain, wind, snow, and other elements. Its job is to keep the underneath layers dry, so it’s best to look for a shell that is both fully waterproof as well as breathable to keep you dry inside and out. In milder conditions, this layer might be kept in your pack, but it’s a good idea to always have it with you.
While your footwear will consist of cross country ski boots for much of the day, you will need a good pair of warm socks, as well as winter boots to wear to and from the ski area. And to take full advantage of being up in the snow, it’s a good idea to choose boots that are up for some winter hiking, should you decide to do some exploring on foot.
In addition to what you’ll wear while skiing, don’t forget to pack some warm dry clothes to change into after the skis come off at the end of the day. Get some winter gloves or mittens to keep your hands and fingers warm during and after skiing. And don’t forget extra dry socks!
How do you get in shape for cross country skiing?
For experienced skiers, training for cross country skiing isn’t that different from how you’d prepare for downhill ski season.
At any level, whatever you can do to improve your overall strength and fitness is a great option, especially if done in cold weather. Winter hiking, trail running, and even snowshoeing are all great ways to get in cross country skiing shape and get yourself acclimated to cold-weather exertion.
Common cross country skiing questions
Is cross country skiing hard?
Is cross country skiing safe?
As with any outdoor winter sport, cross country skiing exposes you to cold temperatures for long periods of time, which can be dangerous if you’re unprepared or underdressed. But that’s why wearing high-quality winter jackets and snow pants is important.
Minimizing risks really comes down to common sense and good preparation, so you can focus on having a great time while enjoying the winter scenery
What are some tips for your first time cross country skiing?
Start slowly – While cross country skiing isn’t the toughest sport to pick up, it may be a little challenging your first couple of times out. Just don’t expect to be an expert from the start and you’re sure to enjoy yourself.
Don’t overdo it – Without the help of downhill slopes, cross country skiing engages muscles you don’t regularly use. So start with a one- or two-hour outing rather than an all-day trek. Your body will thank you.
Rent before you buy – Instead of buying your cross country skiing gear, consider renting it for the first few times. It’s a good way to find the gear that works best for you, and gives you time to make sure you enjoy the sport before investing heavily in it.
Consider a lesson – Avoid the frustration of trying to learn on your own by taking a lesson from an expert ski instructor. It’s a modest investment that can greatly improve your enjoyment of the sport.
Wear layers – No activity is fun if you’re cold and wet. So make sure to follow our guidelines on layering to stay warm, dry, and comfortable, no matter the conditions or how hard you’re working.