X-Country Skis

Lisa Marie Mercer
cross-country skier

X-country skis are used in cross-country, otherwise known as Nordic skiing. They have a number of factors that distinguish them from downhill or alpine skis.

The Difference between Cross-Country and Downhill Skis

In contrast to alpine skis, which have the entire foot attached to the bindings, cross country skis are only attached at the toes. The heels are kept free, which enables the skier to climb hills, if needed. This points to an obvious difference between the two sports. While downhill skiers have the luxury of a chairlift or gondola, Nordic skiers "earn their turns" by climbing up the hills. As such, x-country skis are lighter, and provide more freedom of movement than downhill skis. The ski's lightweight design means that it's easier to stay in constant motion. Therefore, cross country skiing is considered to be a better aerobic exercise than downhill.

The Different Styles of Cross Country Skiing

There are two different styles of Nordic skiing; classic, or diagonal and skating or freestyle. While telemarking is sometimes considered to be a sub-category of classic skiing, some people consider it to be a category in its own right. Telemarkers usually ski the backcountry. As one would expect, each style of Nordic skiing has its own, technique-specific ski.

Classic Style Cross-Country Skiing

The classic style of cross-country skiing is usually performed on specially groomed trails. This technique has four basic skills:

  • The Herringbone: The herringbone technique is used for climbing steep hills. Skis are placed in a "v" position, which keeps them from sliding backwards. The herringbone is the inverse of the wedge, which is used in downhill skiing.
  • The Diagonal Stride: The diagonal stride can be described as an exaggerated running motion. Skis are kept parallel, and a gliding movement accompanies each stride.
  • Double Pole: The double pole movement requires the skier to plant both poles in front of the skis as a means of creating forward momentum. It is used on relatively flat terrain.
  • The Double Pole with a Kick: This movement requires the skier to plant both poles in front of the skis, while kicking one leg forward. This technique is used on steeper terrain.

Classic x-country skis are characterized by their distinct camber, which is an arch at the center. This arch is weighted, thereby providing increased traction. The flex of a classic Nordic ski will determine its ability to grip the snow. While stiff-flexed skis are best for groomed tracks, those who venture off-piste usually prefer a more flexible ski.

Some classic-style Nordic skis have scales in the middle of the base. These skis do not require waxing. As such, they are called waxless skis. These skis are popular with beginners and occasional skiers. In contrast, waxable x-country skis will need periodic waxing with a substance called kick wax. Although they require more maintenance, intermediate and advanced skiers usually prefer the waxable models.

Skating Style Cross-Country Skiing

Skate-style Nordic skiing bears a close resemblance to ice skating. In this technique, the skier pushes one ski outward, while keeping the inner edge against the snow. Using fluid transitional movements, the skate-style Nordic skier transfers his or her weight from one ski to the other. The ski is taken off the ground with each forward stride. Cross-country skate skis are shorter and lighter than classic skis. Since the technique requires maximum push-off power, these skis have only a minimal sidecut. Although they are often wider at the waist than classic skis, the overall ski is somewhat narrower. Additionally, skating skis are stiff-flexed, and have less camber than classic skis.

How To Choose X-Country Skis

If you wish to purchase cross-country skis, your choice will depend on:

  • Your preferred technique
  • Your level of skill
  • Your preferred terrain

As in any form of athletic equipment, it's always best to demo a few models before committing to a purchase.

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X-Country Skis