Cross Country Skiing: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

downhill cross country skiing

Cross country skiing is a type of skiing where you rely on your own locomotion to ski through the snow. It is practiced both as a recreational activity and also for sport. Learning how to do it can be a challenging process, but with the right planning and teaching, you can catch on fast.

There are several types of this form of skiing and various techniques you can apply to maximize your experience and give you better control. Although the equipment used is the same, they vary in weight and design depending on the skating technique used. Read on to find out more about the basics involved with this type of skiing.

Equipment you need For Cross Country Skiing

The main equipment you will need for this type of skiing will include skis, boots, poles, and bindings. They vary based on:

  • The terrain
  • The skiing technique
  • And whether it is for competition or recreational use

The skis used in are usually narrower and lighter in weight. The base is designed to be waxed and to minimize friction. There are three main types of skis, which include classic skis, skate skis, and backcountry skis.

Ski boots, on the other hand, get attached to the ski at the toe. Based on use, the boots can be heavy and supportive or lightweight for improved performance.

The poles are necessary for balance and propelling you forward. They are made from carbon fiber, fiberglass, or aluminum, and therefore they vary in performance parameters, cost, and weight. The baskets (cones at the end of poles designed to prevent the pole from sinking deep in the snow) they host also vary in size.

Basic movements

downhill cross country skiing

Gliding – if you can walk using skis, then this will be easy for you. Make a step and shift your weight to the front ski and compress its kick zone. The kick zone is the area at the front and under your boots that grips the snow. Next, pull the ski back, and you will find yourself moving forward. Keep shifting this movement from one foot to the other.

Steep trails – for steep paths, form an outward v shape with your ski and try walking up the steep climb. Plant your pole behind your boot to help propel you forward.

Using your arms – your arms should maintain a pendulum-like motion as you ski so that you quickly plant and remove the poles as you move. Hold your poles mid-shaft (at the middle) and practice your balance while using them to prevent falling down.


There are two basic propulsion techniques used. They include skate skiing and classic skiing. When performing the skate skiing technique, you imitate ice skating in that you alternate on the skiing slides as you ski on firm snow surfaces, usually at an angle from each other.

Application of wax under the ski helps you gain traction and ski forward as you move through tracked or virgin snow while classic skiing.

You will use poles with baskets for propulsion in both cases. The techniques are used based on the terrain, and the hardness of the snow.

Skate skiing

downhill cross country skiing

This is typically done on snow surfaces that are firm and smooth. You push alternating skis away from each other at an angle that helps propel you forward through the snow. Skate skiing involves the coordinated use of your upper body and skiing poles for momentum.

As you move along, you may need to switch between single and double pole plants to control your strides, widen your angle, or increase the frequency of your strides for faster velocity.

Classic skiing

downhill cross country skiing

This style is used often on trails that have been prepared in advance. However, it is also a reliable technique to use when skiing through terrains that have no prepared tracks.

Here you push one ski forward as the other remains stationary, thus forcing you forward. You will be switching between gliding and striding motions as you alternate from one foot to another.

If you are going to perform the diagonal stride variant, you will need to plant your poles in an alternating manner on the opposite side of the foot you are using for your forward stride. When tackling gentle descents, you will have to use double poling for propulsion.

The physics behind skiing

When learning how to ski, there are certain principles of physics that you need to take into account.

Gravity – Gravity helps hold us to the ground an advantage that you, as a skier, can use to maintain balance and remain afoot during the exercise.

Friction – This force is produced as you ski through the snow, and it can work to your advantage or hinder your progress based on the terrain. If you are moving on a level surface, then friction helps you maintain grip and push forward. For downward skiing, the less the friction, the better since you will move at a higher speed.

Velocity – It’s usually determined by your stride length and frequency. The length of your stride, however, affects speed more than your strides.

Drag – This is the resistance you face from the air as you move. You can minimize drag by crouching to make yourself smaller or controlling your movements with your arms and legs.

Mass – The bigger you are, the more you weigh and the more friction and drag you will experience during skiing. To reduce the effects, wax your skis properly.


Whether you want to learn cross country skiing for sporting reasons or for leisure purposes, the above information will help you prepare adequately for the task.

When buying the equipment, remember to make sure you get the relevant gear based on the techniques you will use, terrain, and application. Safety should also be a priority, so wear the right clothes and have a pair of gloves to protect your hands.

It will take time before you finally become an expert in the field, but with dedication and continuous practice, you will become a pro.

See the video below for more information on classic cross country skiing:

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