Cross Country Skiing | Ridestore Magazine

We all know and love alpine skiing. The mountains, the lifts, the wind in your… er… helmet vents. But what about when you want to slow things down, see some more of the beautiful countryside? As in, not in a blur as it whooshes past.

There are lots of reasons to take up cross-country skiing, and if you’re here, you’re already entertaining the idea. Beyond the laid-back sense of adventure it offers, it’s great to improve fitness, quiet the mind and reduce stress, as well as learn a new skill and meet some wonderful people.

Photo credit: Anna Holm -

While alpine ski runs are limited to wherever there’s a slope that’s accessible by ski lifts, cross-country ski trails often meander outside the limits of the gravity-fed resort, exploring plains, forests, lakes, valleys, and even mountain peaks. Ranging from short jaunts around the city limits to far-out expeditions, cross-country skiing will feel like another world from alpine, and it’ll be one that you’ll wonder why you didn’t explore earlier.

So, without further delay, let’s jump in to our ultimate beginners guide, and get you out on the snow. Ready for an adventure? Let’s go!

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What is cross country skiing?

Cross country skiing is one of the oldest winter sports in the world. While many claim that ‘skiing’ dates back thousands of years to when farmers or nomads would use lengths of wood to traverse snowy landscapes in order not to sink, when it comes to cross-country skiing, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration.

The origins of cross-country skiing as a sport can be traced back to the 18th century when the Norweigan military organised events to test and train their troops to be able to operate militarily while on skiis. From here, in the nordic countries, the sport evolved into the bi-athalon (skiing and shooting), and then eventually just into skiing. 

Photo credit: Anna Holm -

The difference between nordic skiing and cross-country skiing, two terms you may have heard, is a murky one. Cross-country skiing is often attributed to the type of skiing that takes place on groomed trails with parallel tracks to keep your skis in. It’s the most beginner friendly and is what you’ll likely try first. Nordic skiing is a much broader term which encompasses both cross-country skiing on those groomed pistes (but often free of the tracks) as well as off-piste skiing.

Nordic skiing is usually the encompassing term in this sport. So, all cross-country skiing is technically nordic skiing, but not all nordic skiing is cross-country skiing, get it? No, us neither. But hey, all we know is that it’s fun, it’s exercise, and we like it, whether we’re on groomers or not!

Cross country skiing equipment

When it comes to the equipment you need, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if you have downhill or alpine ski kit, you’re all set. Unfortunately, like most sports, there’s a specialised set of kit you’ll need to get started. So let’s dig into it!

Cross country skis

As you might have imagined, the snow-covered world being as big it is, and the cross-country scene being as diverse as it is, there’s not just one type of ski. There are three main types of ski, and then a variety of variants within those types. The main difference between cross country skis and alpine skis is that cross-country skis are made to be grippy — to find traction on snow, to help move you forward. Whereas alpine or downhill skis are the opposite, to help you slide on the white stuff.

Photo credit: Daniel Zangerl - TVB Pitztal, Tirol Werbung

Classic cross country skis

The most versatile and varied type of ski, a classic cross country ski is relatively long and is either coated with a tacky wax or a ‘fish scale’ bottom pattern to provide excellent grip when pushing forward, but reduced drag when sliding. With a range of cambers and sidecut depths, these skis are likely what you’ll get if you rent a pair. They’re best suited to on-piste skiing and tracked skiing. But what if you want to go a little more specialised?

Skate skis

If you feel the need for speed, then skate skis are what you’ll want to go for. These are much more responsive and agile due to their shorter, and narrower profile. When you watch pros do it on pencil-thin skis, this is what they’re using. They’re almost completely devoid of a sidecut for maximum response and to make getting on edge easier, and they also have a flatter camber, too, and a stiffer flex to deal with the extra power you’re putting down.

Backcountry skis

Often called touring skis, these skis are made for traversing on powder or unpacked snow. They have a wider tip to help with float, and even more grip than a standard ski to make sure you can always keep moving, even in deep snow. With a pronounced sidecut, too, they focus on providing control in difficult conditions.

Cross country ski bindings

As with the skis, the bindings vary, too. Luckily enough, the bindings match the skis, so there’s not too much to remember!

Photo credit: Martin Lugger - TVB Osttirol, Tirol Werbung

Classic XC ski bindings

The Classic Cross Country or ‘XC’ ski binding utilises a New Nordic Norm or NIS system that clamps to the toe-bar of your ski boot, as well as to the two ridges in the sole of compatible boots. This is a commonly used binding today, but you may also encounter SNS Profil bindings which clamp the toe-bar, too, but also have a central ridge to interface with on compatible boots. There’s also an SNS Pilot system, which has the toe-bar and two other contract points on the sole.

Not really too much to think about here unless you’re buying boots and bindings yourself. If you’re renting, they’ll take care of everything. Neither system is especially superior, and both work well. But the NNN/NIS setup is most common. 

Skate ski bindings

Skate ski bindings are pretty versatile and usually features the NNN/NIS or SNS Profil system. Some newer bindings have the SNS Pilot system, which some feel is more suited to skating as it offers better lateral stability that makes skate skiing easier.

Backcountry ski bindings

Backcountry ski bindings often features the New Nordic Norm Backcountry, or NNN BC, binding. Very similar to the NNN/NIS bindings we mentioned above, the BC variant is slightly wider, and may also come with an automatic release, which can be very handy if you get your ski stuck in deep snow and can’t reach the release with your hands/poles.

Cross country ski boots

Much like the skis and bindings, depending on your level and your intention, you’ll want to choose a specific kind of boot for skiing. But fear not, because, again, they’ve made it rather simple and categorised them in the same way. 

Photo credit: Philipp Reiter - Tirol Werbung

Classic XC ski boots

Classic XC Ski boots are definitely the most comfortable option. They offer a good amount of flex to help beginners and more casual skiers move freely on groomed snow. They’re designed to make getting up onto your toes easier, which reduces fatigue and stress. They’re warm, cushioned, and designed for a long day of walking.

Skate ski boot

Skate Ski boots are much stiffer and offer a more supportive ankle construction than traditional XC boots. They often come with an internal cuff, and separate support system, too, which accommodates the greater force and strain that comes with this type of skiing. They provide better response and control for maximum power transfer, but do sacrifice comfort to achieve this.

Backcountry ski boot

Nordic touring boots or backcountry ski boots are even stiffer than skate boots. They need to be highly supportive in order to deal with the traverses and tresses of off-piste skiing. They tend to be the heaviest and thickest boots, too, protecting the foot not only from unnatural strains, but also from the snow and the cold. Definitely a specialised tool, they’ll hold back anyone who is not tackling steep terrain and deep snow.

Cross country ski poles

Ski poles are a very important part of XC skiing, and are useful for helping move you forwards, keep your balance, and propel you up hills, too! You’ll be lost without them, so make sure you get a pair!

Photo credit: Philipp Reiter - Tirol Werbung

Sizing and length

Different types of skiing require different lengths of pole. For classic XC skiing poles, put your arm out directly in front of you. The distance from your hand to the floor is the size you need.

For racing, or for those looking to push the pace a little, a longer pole works better to help lengthen your stride.

When it comes to backcountry, a telescopic or extendable pole can be really useful. You’ll find yourself needing your poles to help get back upright if you fall, and being able to lengthen them out can be ideal in these situations! They can also double as probes, too, so well worth considering if you want to explore some untracked wilderness.


When it comes to choosing what your poles are made from, you have two options — aluminium, and carbon fibre. An aluminium pole will be light and super durable. Most fibreglass poles have been phased out in favour of sturdier aluminium, which dents instead of cracking. 

The other option if carbon fibre, which are stiffer again, as well as lighter. However, they’re more expensive, and more fragile, too. They’ll crack and snap rather than bending and denting like aluminium, so tend to be favoured by the more experienced crowd.

What to wear for cross country skiing

So you think you know how to dress for cross-country skiing? Weirdly, so did I. You’ve been skiing, you’ve got the gear, right? Uh, no, actually. I was just as surprised as you might be to find out that basically everything I owned equipment-wise wasn’t actually well suited to cross-country skiing.

That’s because of one simple reason — exertion. If you thought regular skiing was tough on the body, you’re in for a bit of re-education. Cross-country skiing is often regarded as one of the most physically demanding sports you can do, and that’s because it’s a full-body experience, the terrain is tough and often working against you, you’re layered up and carrying a pack, the air is freezing, and your, of course, working with one of the slipperiest surfaces around. 

When it comes to cross country skiing, the main thing you need to think about is heat and moisture management. With downhill or recreational skiing, you can go all day with just a cup of coffee to keep you on your toes, you can wear big puffy jackets, and you can go for snuggly materials like wool and cotton. But with cross-country skiing, things are a whole lot different.

So, let’s dig in, shall we, and see what kinds of things you’ll need to wear, and why.

Photo credit: Chris Walch - TVB Pitztal, Tirol Werbung

Base layers for cross country skiing

Base layers are an essential part of any winter-sports wardrobe and cross-country skiing is no different. But, when it comes to base layers for this sport, we’re not going for all out warmth. Materials like cotton and wool especially, will be soft against the skin when it’s cold out, and will help to lock heat in, but they’ll also absorb and trap moisture.

Natural fibres are great for a more relaxed cold-weather day, but when it comes to cross-country skiing, you want synthetic materials. Polyester will likely be your go-to, and for good reason. Polyester is highly breathable and moisture wicking, two essential properties for what we need. But we can go one step further here, and look specifically for sports-centric baselayers.

These more ‘technical’ garments as they’re often called will be blended materials — polyester and spandex, nylon, elastane… the list goes on. You’ll also need to check out what kind of fabric weight they are, and what they’re designed for. For example, a plain polyester base-layer from a generic brand may be the right material, but probably not what we’re after! 

More technical base layers will often be made with a tighter inner weave, or with a smoother surface to reduce friction during exercise. Having something like spandex or elastane built-in will also allow the garments to stretch and move with you, further reducing the amount of friction generated.

Simply, we don’t want base layers to trap heat here, but rather manage and release it, along with the moisture exuded through your skin. Having a highly breathable and moisture wicking base layer is key for cross country skiing, and you’ll be all the better for it!

Photo credit: Chris Walch - TVB Pitztal, Tirol Werbung

Mid layers for cross-country skiing

When it comes to midlayers, the story is much the same. But cross-country skiing in May in Italy is going to be a lot different from cross-country skiing in Lapland in January. So when we’re talking midlayers, you’re going to have to assess the situation at hand.

Fleece is excellent generally because it has the best of both worlds. Generally lightweight for its bulk, fleece is great at trapping air, and as such is a wonderful insulator. It’s also made from polyester, so is moisture-wicking and breathable, too. Something we’ve already covered.

But beyond fleeces, what else can you check out? Depending on conditions, softshells can be a good choice as they can double as outerwear, too, providing it’s not snowing too hard! However, more than material, we like to talk about construction and design first.

For us, a zip-through is the key thing to go for. Being able to unzip your midlayer for extra ventilation on those steep climbs, and then zipping back up on the descents and flats can be a life-saver.

Pants for cross country skiing

You’ve got a few choices, really. You can either go for a pair of ski pants, a pair of softshell style pants which are lighter, more breathable, and stretchier than ski pants, or if you’re really keen, you can get some cross country-specific pants. These tend to be thinner, tighter, and more technical, to allow for better freedom of movement.

When it comes to ski pants, the question of what kind of skiing you’ll be doing is one you’ll need to answer. More beginner-focused skiing on groomed pistes should pose no trouble. But more involved or strenuous skiing may prove a little warm and demanding for your ski pants. No matter, because there are other options.

Photo credit: Anna Hållams -

Softshells can be a good choice for your ski pants. Many these days are 10k waterproof, and are more breathable and moisture wicking than hard shelled pants. And a lot of them also come with built-in stretch. A polyester-elastane/spandex blend is a strong all-rounder choice for cross-country skiing, especially if you’re starting off, and offers the sort of mobility and performance you’ll need for a day of schlepping around the mountains.

The third choice are the cross country-specific ski pants. These stretchy, snug pants offer the best mobility and heat regulation. They’ll keep you cool if you’re working up a sweat, but can get pretty chilly if you’re taking things at a more leisurely pace. Which might be a dealbreaker. Still, the only choice for those chasing records or operating at a pro level, where function needs to outweigh form at all costs. These pants are usually made from a polyester and spandex mix, and are probably the most comfortable option for those who want to really pursue this sport.

Jackets for cross country skiing

When it comes to cross country ski jackets, the story is much the same. A technical shell with high breathability is going to be what you want to go for here. Insulation will only serve to weigh you down and make you sweat, and sweating, while great for cooling you down on a hot day, is the worst thing when you’re cross-country skiing.

Water conducts heat away around 50 times faster than air. But in cold conditions, it can make your extremities very cold, and restrict blood flow. Lack of blood flowing to the legs and arms is going to be a major problem when you’re cross-country skiing, because, you know, you use them a lot.

So when we say technical shell, we mean a shell. No lining, no insulation. Something that’s going to be wind and waterproof, but that’s super lightweight and supple. Oh, and definitely one that zips up, too. Don’t go cross-country skiing in an anorak. Trust us, you’ll regret it.

Ski gloves, hats and masks

When it comes to gloves — and we’re sure you’re starting to see a pattern forming here — thinner is better, and soft shell is best. The issue with waterproof gloves is that they sometimes contain a sealed PU membrane — code for plastic — which makes your hands sweaty in normal circumstances. You actually lose a lot of heat through your hands, as well as moisture, weirdly. So anything that’s insulated, lined, had a membrane, or anything like that, will likely give you moist hands.

We covered how heat is conducted away more quickly in the presence of moisture above and when it comes to your hands and your fingers, this is amplified due to the blood vessels contained, the lack of soft tissues and muscles, and the sheer amount of surface area they have for their relative size. Which means any ‘warm and waterproof’ glove is going to work against you, make your hands wet, and then make them cold, in that order.

Photo credit: Philipp Reiter - Tirol Werbung

But a highly breathable softshell glove or even a thin fleece glove will allow that moisture to be wicked away instead of contained. You won’t spend a lot of time with your hands in the snow (hopefully), so waterproofing isn’t really an issue.

When it comes to hats, a beanie can be a good option, but will generally be too warm. Often made from acrylic or wool, they’re designed to lock heat in, not let it out. Much like your hands, your head lets out a lot of heat, and having a hat designed to deal with that is key.

You can find cross-country skiing-specific gear and hats, but the key thing is getting something that keeps the wind off your head in order to maintain and manage body heat, but also lets moisture and excess warmth out. Polyester is a good go-to material for these sorts of hats — but even though they may feel a little thin, usually they’re nice and fleecey to keep the ears warm!

And then finally, we come to masks! Most people don’t ski with masks on because they stifle breathing and that’s a big issue when you’re doing this sport. If you find yourself out in bad weather, though, make sure your mask has good ventilation! Many performance-specific masks come with air-holes or perforations to ease breathing, so make sure you get something suitable before heading out in difficult conditions.

Accessories for cross-country skiing

Three vital things we’d always recommend grabbing for your cross-country wardrobe are a good backpack with a hydration bladder, a pair of long gaiters, and some good glasses or goggles, too!

You’ll be huffing and puffing from the get go with cross-country skiing, but it’s a wonderfully challenging and liberating sport. The most important thing you can do out there, though, is hydrate! The cold air may make it feel like you’re not losing much moisture, but don’t be deceived. You’ll be burning off so much water that without a good hydration pack (and room to store some energy-rich snacks), you’ll be feeling weak and dried out in no time. A hydration pack lets you top up without stopping, which means you can keep warmer, keep your muscles moving and your heartrate up, and more importantly, not lose precious time!

Photo credit: Anna Öhlund -

When it comes to gaiters, you’ll want to go for ones that come up to just below the knee ideally. If you’re in ski pants, this isn’t essential, but for those in softshell trousers, gaiters will keep snow from soaking your hems, and will let you ski more comfortably for longer! Lots of companies produce ski-specific gaiters, so shop around for something that matches your needs. Depending on whether you’re following groomed tracks or heading into deeper snow, the length and style you need may vary, but either way this is definitely a piece of kit you’ll need to add to your wardrobe eventually.

And now, finally, glasses. There’s nothing quite like setting off on a bluebird day for a good ski. But you probably don’t want to be wearing hefty, sweaty goggles to do it. Fear not, however, as glasses are the best option here anyway! Personally, we like polarised glasses as they offer the best UV protection and glare reduction. 

When it comes to shape and brand, that’s up to you! But bear in mind that chunky glasses may make your face hot and encourage sweating, so glasses which utilise the arm-and-pad construction to sit on the nose might keep you cooler.

As always, you can opt for nordic-skiing glasses, specially made glasses that are designed for the sport. These are the best option, but a lot of the time, like specialised gear, can cost a pretty penny and won’t do much more than the generic version. Do your research and then decide what suits you!

Safety and precautions

Much like with all winter sports, cross country skiing can be breathtaking (in more ways than one), but it also requires some forethought, some planning, and some safety precautions! We’ve put together a quick list of equipment and checks that you should undertake before heading out on any adventure.

Photo credit: Anna Öhlund -

Equipment list


A day pack differs from a rucksack only subtly, but in a special way. A day pack is designed for sports activities, and often comes with hip and chest traps, is hydration bladder compatible, may have hooks or loops on the outside to help you carry extra gear. And often is more weather-resistant than a standard bag. We always recommend getting a good pack if you’re heading out for a day in the mountains, to help protect your gear and keep you safe.

Snacks & hydration

Snacks and hydration are top of our equipment list because they’re so important. You’ll burn a lot of water and energy when you’re cross-country skiing so loading up on your favourite, calorific snacks — chocolate, energy bars, nuts, fruits, sandwiches, croissants, etc — is a good idea. We’d always recommend having a hydration bladder with you for all your activities as it’s just a great way to keep hydrated. But sports drinks loaded with electrolytes are great, too. 

First aid kit

A basic first aid kit with blister plasters and regular plasters, support sleeves, etc, can be a really good thing to carry. Nothing worse than being five kilometres into your tour and realising you have a blister forming. Yikes.

Sun protection

Getting sunstroke or sunburn in the mountains is no joke! Be careful, screen up!

Trail / area map

Knowing your route is essential. But also, knowing how to get off it and back to safety when the need arises is also important. Maybe even more so. Navigating snowy terrain can be tough, and it’s not uncommon to take a wrong turn. Always carry a paper map, just in case your phone is without signal. Better safe than sorry!

Survival kit

A basic survival kit will have a whistle, light, foil blanket, survival bag… These are just some great things to carry with you just in case. Don’t worry, these packs are often really small, so they aren’t heavy or cumbersome.

Phone / two way radio

Who goes anywhere without their phone anymore? Well, keep that in mind. Make sure your phone is charged and more importantly, that it has signal. There are lots of dead-spots in the mountains, so be sure that you can always call for help if you need to. A two-way radio can be a really great thing to throw in your pack, too. They’re inexpensive, but invaluable when you need them!

Spare gloves / socks

If you get an issue with your boots or skis, or you’re out there for a long time, you may find your gloves get wet and cold. Similarly, on a long trek, you’ll sweat into your socks. Having the ability to swap them out for dry, warm ones when that happens is a god send. It’s likely you won’t need to change them, but if you do, you’ll be glad you thought ahead!


Photo credit: Fredrik Schlyter -

Weather & avalanche risk

Make sure to check the weather before you head out! In the mountains, it’s not uncommon to have a bluebird morning and a white-out afternoon. Similarly, check the avalanche risk in your area. It’s just good common sense, especially if you’re going off-piste.


Plan your route before you leave. Calculate times, and prepare accordingly. And always know your way back!


Go through your pack to make sure you have everything you need before setting out.

Contact / frequency list

Make sure to save the numbers for emergency services, mountain rescue, and your hotel/apartment, too. If you get into any trouble, having those contacts is essential. Even if you don’t have signal, you’ll be able to dial emergency numbers and they can locate you via GPS. And if you carry a two-way radio, make sure to have the emergency frequency dialled in (or written down at least), so you can reach out if need be.


Do you feel healthy? Cross-country skiing is a strenuous sport. Making sure you’re feeling good will only make sure you have a better time. Load up on fluids and food before you go out. Stretch, and make sure you’re not too sore from previous activities. Cramp is no joke!

Tell someone where you are going

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to inform people of where you’re going and when you’re likely to be back. It could be the rental shop, the front desk at the hotel, or even friends/family. And make sure they have your contact details, too. That way, if you’re not back by the time you said, they can try to reach you, just in case! It’s a handy way to add another layer of security and peace of mind to your adventure!

Cross country skiing etiquette

Etiquette is a big part of cross-country skiing, and there are a few rules that everyone should bear in mind! We’re all out here to have fun, and being a good person is a big part of that.

Photo credit: Anna Öhlund -

Respect other skiers

Ability ranges vary widely, as does the pace at which people ski. You’ll often find that you’ll have both serious and novice skiers on the same trails, and being mindful of that is a good way to get into the sport. Be nice to others when you’re out there, help someone in need, and stop for a chat! XC skiing has a strong and friendly community that you’ll be welcomed into with open poles if you give a little back.

Respect the trails

Trails are worked hard on, and are much easier to maintain if you respect them. Don’t litter, don’t damage anything intentionally, and if you see any damage or anything that needs attention (and it’s within your power and capabilities), never be afraid to lend a hand in fixing it. Or, at the very least, tell someone about it to keep the trails in top condition.

Make way for faster skiers

When skiing, you may find that faster skiers come up from behind. If you’re on set tracks, getting out of the way if common courtesy. Or, if you’re skiing freely on a piste, moving to the side to let them pass is good etiquette. They’ll often tell you which side they’re passing on, and giving them plenty of room just perpetuates the good nature of the sport. On your right!

Stop safely

If you need to stop for a breather or snack, do so safely. This means on a straight stretch of piste with good visibility that’s wide enough for skiers to pass freely. Try to get off the piste entirely if you can. But if you can’t, check behind you to make sure you’re not going to cause anyone to crash, and then make your way to a place that doesn’t prohibit anyone else from skiing freely.

Follow the designated direction

Trails go one way. It can be dangerous to go against the grain, so make sure to always follow signs, and ski in the right direction. Skiing the trails backwards not only increases risks of crashing and injury, but can also damage the trails, too. So always keep this in mind when checking out new areas and tracks.

Best exercises for cross country skiing

XC Skiing is a demanding sport, and making sure your physically prepared is a great way to ensure long, happy days on the snow! But, you don’t need an elliptical to get fit. You can do it at home with no equipment. Here are some of our favourite off-season exercises to keep you ready for your next trip!



From a neutral standing position, raise your right knee and begin tilting forward. Push your lifted leg out in front of you and lunge down into it so that your knee is close to your chest. Your back leg should be extended, with the balls of your feet in contact with the ground and your heel raised. Push back up and return your front foot to the neutral position. Repeat with your other leg. Alternate until exhausted. This is lunging!

This exercise is great for your quads and hamstrings, and also engages your core.

Reverse lunge to high knee

Reverse lunging is like regular lunges, except instead of lunging forward, you lunge back. Combining this with a high knee is a great way to simulate an exaggerated XC ski step! From a neutral standing position, bring your right knee up as high as you can in front of you. Then, in one smooth movement, move your raised heel under your buttox and extend out behind you, placing the balls of your feet down when your leg is straight. You should be in the classic ‘lunge position’ now. Then, with your front foot planted, bring your back foot back up, and your knee back to your chest.

Repeat this movement ten or twenty times, then switch legs. This exercise engages the core, buttox, hamstrings, calves, and quads, and is a great way to build muscle, balance, and joint strength if you can get the hang of the movement!

Sit ups

If you don’t know how to do a sit-up, let me tell you! Lie on your back, and place your hands behind your head. Bring your knees up until your feet are flat on the floor a few inches apart. You may need to place them under something (like a sofa), or have someone lean on them. Keep your back straight, and sit… up. Yeah. That’s it.

Lower yourself back down, and repeat until a six-pack emerges. Hint: it could be a while. On the bright side, every one you do builds core strength!

Romanian twists

Adding to your new-found love of sit-ups, the Romanian twist is a great way to hone your balance and build oblique strength perfect for any twisting movements you might do. Which happens a lot when cross-country skiing! To learn the Romanian twist, all you need to do is learn to V-sit. Quite simple, not so easy! 

From a seated position on the floor, keep your back straight, place your legs out in front of you, and then lean back. Using your buttox as a pivot point, keep your legs up in the air, and your back off the ground. Your body should form a V shape. When you find your balance, place your hands together and interlock your fingers. Now reach down and touch the floor with your knuckles six inches outside your right hip. Bring back up in front of you and touch the floor on the other side. This is a Romanian twist.

It can be tricky at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it, and may even want to introduce a weight at some point! If you don’t have a dumb bell, you can use a bag of sugar or flour, a brick, or anything else you can hold in your hands.

Power walking

Weirdly, one of the best exercises you can do for XC skiing is power walking. Cross-country skiing is a great way to burn calories, but it’s basically an extension of a standard walking stride (unless you’re doing the side-to-side racing step).

As such, power walking is a great way to build muscle, cardio vascular endurance, and generally get ready for the winter season. Walk as quickly as you can without jogging, get those hips and arms swinging, and feel those calves burn! Add an incline and a backpack for an extra challenge, and really extend those strides if you can. The more like skiing you can make this, the better you’ll be when you get back on snow.

Best places to go cross country skiing in Sweden & Norway

Idre Fjäll, Sweden


If you’re intent on XC skiing in Sweden, then Idre Fjall should be your first choice. Located within driving distance of both Stockholm and Oslo, it sits near the border, and serves up some wonderful scenery to go with its 80km of dedicated XC trails. Offering the biggest variety of groomed tracks in Sweden, it’s a great resort perfect for trying your hand at cross country skiing, or for pushing your skills as you climb higher into the mountains.

Dundret, Swedish Lapland


Dundret in Swedish Lapland has a great network of cross country trails at the base of the mountain and the top. The most famous trail loops around the entire base. Definitely one to get the legs working! And being so far north, it’s open from October right through to the spring. Ideal for early or late season breaks!

Yllas, Finnish Lapland


Yllas in Finnish Lapland is a winter wonderland. Snow-covered trees, reindeer, northern lights… This picturesque power playground is the perfect place to get to grips with the sport, and is one of the friendliest and prettiest places to ski in all of Scandinavia! A great network of trails make it suited to all levels, too.

Lillehammer, Norway


Lillehammer is a quick jaunt from the big city, but offers an insane 450+km of groomed cross country trails! This central hub for the sport is known throughout Scandinavia, and offers a wide range of terrain to suit all levels. Add in the beauty of the resort and the quality of the accommodation, and it should definitely be at the top of the list for a no-holds-barred all-out XC adventure.

Oslo, Norway


The city of Oslo may not seem like an ideal place to ski, but the city itself is surrounded by endless forest, through which 2,000km of trails wind. Perhaps a little more restrained than some of the mountain resorts on this list, the trails here are no less perfect for a few quick days of skiing, and can be reached within minutes no matter where you’re staying in the city. A large ring of trails makes them very accessible by public transport, too, no matter where you’re situated.

Cross country skiing FAQ's

What is waxing, waxed and waxless, and fishscale?

Waxing is the process of applying a ‘wax’ to the bottom of your skis by way of using heat to melt it into the surface. Wax can be used to reduce friction for improved speed while skiing downhill, while it can also be used to add tackiness or ‘stickiness’ to increase traction. When you’re cross country skiing, grip is needed to help you move along.

Waxed skis rely on a coating on the bottom to provide stickiness, while waxless skis do not. Depending on the type of skiing you’re doing, your technique will change. Tracked skiing will require stickiness to help you move, while racing (on skate skis) requires the foot to turn outwards and the force to move forward is generated by the edge of the ski digging into the snow to move you forward. In these situations, sticky wax would slow you down. So these skis are waxless.

Fish-scale skis have a pronounced pattern which offers maximum grip when pushing in one direction, and reduced grip when moving in the other. This ‘knap’ allows you to generate force when moving forward without slipping, while enjoying a good bit of ‘slide’ after you’ve pushed off.

What is a side cut?

The side cut of a ski refers to the depth that the middle of the skis is cut in from the contact points. The contact points of a ski are the widest points on the tip and tail. If you draw a line from the front contact point to the back, you’ll see that the middle, or ‘waist’, of the ski is narrower. That the edge of the ski curves inwards. The distance between the narrowest point of the waist and the imaginary straight line from contact point to contact point is your ‘side cut depth’. Side cuts are just one facet of a ski that works in tandom with the camber and flex to provide a certain type of ‘response’. Which means the way that the ski reacts when you’re using it.


What is a camber?

If you look at a ski from the side, and place it on a flat surface, you’ll notice that the tip and the tail touch the ground, but that the middle lifts up. The amount of ‘lift’ on the ski is referred to as the camber. The more aggressive (higher) the camber, the more energy it requires to ‘load’ or flatten the ski to the ground. A more aggressive camber will provide more of a ‘bounce’ feeling when you life your foot. This can help to propel you forward on hard packed snow, but may work against you in powder because it doesn’t effectively spread weight. As such, classic cross country skis designed for groomed slopes may have camber, but backcountry skis may not.

What is flex?

The flex of the ski is the amount of energy required to bend it. While skiing, you transfer energy into your skis when you push forward. This often related to camber, as a stiff ski will be harder to flatten if it has camber. However, a soft ski that has no camber will bow (tip and tail move higher than the middle) when you push into it. The flex is designed to allow the ski to become flat when you push forward, giving you maximum edge contact with the snow. The stiffer the ski, the more energy required to flatten it. Different situations require different flex ratings (stiffnesses) depending on the terrain, your technique, and the composition of the snow you’re skiing on.

What is float?

Float simply refers to the way a ski behaves in powder. A wider and longer ski with a wide nose that curves upwards will have a lot more ‘float’. It will naturally push snow underneath the tip as you move to help you stay on top of the soft snow. Narrower and shorter skis will not spread your weight so effectively, and will cause you to sink, making it harder to move in powder.

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