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How to cross-country ski


January 22, 2024


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How to cross-country skiing

If you’re a beginner and feeling uncertain about how to cross-country ski, but would like to learn more about this amazing sport, we can help you get started! Here, we take you through all the basics, including balance, braking, and controlling turns (in both classical and skating styles), not forgetting equipment and clothing, which are key to a better first experience. Follow the guide!

In this article, you will discover the basic techniques for getting started:

  1. Getting to know your equipment
  2. How to develop your balance
  3. How to use cross-country ski poles
  4. How to stay in control when braking
  5. How to climb hills
  6. How to turn when going downhill
  7. How to dress for cross-country skiing

Getting to know your equipment

cross country skiing equipment

As with alpine skiing, the basic equipment required for cross-country skiing consists of a pair of skis and two poles. However, cross-country skis are longer and narrower than alpine skis, and the poles are also longer. Skis have either a waxed base (in which case they need to be hot-waxed depending on the outside temperature to ensure a good grip on the snow) or a scaled (waxless) base, which prevents them from sliding backwards when going up hills. Some Nordic skis are also equipped with climbing skins for steep ascents.

Those used to relatively wide alpine skis can feel unbalanced on narrower cross-country skis. That’s why, as a beginner, it’s important to start by developing your balance.

If you would like to know more about the difference between cross-country skiing, Nordic skiing and ski-shoeing, take a look at our blog article on the subject.

How to develop your balance

work your balance for cross country skiing

Cross-country skiing is all about balance. Unlike alpine skiing, cross-country skiing rarely involves having both feet on the ground at the same time; you’re constantly alternating between pushing with one leg and the other to move forward. The only time you need both legs for support is when you’re going downhill.
Due to their long and narrow design, which helps to ensure lightness and speed, cross-country skis also have a narrow support surface. If you’re a beginner, get used to the narrower shape of the skis first by doing a few laps on a flat, open area. Exaggerate your pushing movement on one foot, then the other, trying to keep your balance on one leg for as long as possible.
Cross-country ski instructors recommend doing this drill without poles at first to learn how to move the legs properly and avoid getting used to relying too much on the upper body. Once you’re comfortable, you can try it with poles.

Check out our blog article to read about our favourite cross-country ski destinations in Quebec and Ontario.

How to use cross-country ski poles

how to use cross-country ski poles

Poles are essential for maintaining your balance when cross-country skiing. Think of them as an extension of your body: instead of having two supports (your legs), you now have four.
The use of poles is different in classical style and skating step. In classical style, you alternate between pole planting with your right arm and your left arm – in coordination with the opposite leg. In skating step, however, you must plant both poles at the same time, in front of your body, to create propulsion.
When going downhill, you want to keep your poles lifted and positioned horizontally on either side of your hips. The goal is to adopt the most aerodynamic position possible.

Equipment, tips, maintenance – this comprehensive guide tells you everything you need to know to get started with cross-country skiing.

How to stay in control when braking

how to cross-country skiing & braking

Even though cross-country skiing is generally slower than alpine skiing, mastering braking remains essential for feeling in control and safe on the slopes.
The snowplow (or “wedge”) technique – bringing the two front ends of your skis together to form a “V” shape – is ideal for both classical style and skating step. For this braking technique to be effective, it’s very important to bend the knees slightly to lower your centre of gravity and avoid shifting your body weight too far forward or backward.
In classical style, if the incline is not too steep, you can also keep one ski in the tracks – i.e., parallel to the trail – and take the other one out slightly, adjusting its angle to brake and control your speed. Basically, instead of creating a “V” shape with your skis, you form a number 1 shape.

If you’re thinking of getting equipped for cross-country skiing, learn how to choose the right pair of skis for your needs in this article.

How to climb hills

How to climb hills

Sooner or later, you will come across a hill, even if it’s a small one. When that happens, the momentum of your gliding skis may not be enough to carry you to the top. You’ll need to rely on the power of your legs to climb it. To do this, use the herringbone – or “duck walk” – technique, which involves bringing the back ends of your skis together and pushing off one leg at a time. Shift your weight towards the inside edge of your skis to ensure they grip the snow and prevent backward sliding. You shouldn’t slide backward if your waxing is adapted to the outside temperature or if the scales on your skis are working properly.

Here are five simple steps to help you learn how to wax your cross-country skis easily.

How to turn when going downhill

How to turn when going downhill

Cross-country ski trails do not usually have significant hairpin bends, but it’s still crucial to have a good turning technique. Most of the time, all you have to do is stop pushing on your legs, keep both skis on the ground, parallel to each other in the tracks, and then adopt the “egg” position, i.e., crouching with your knees bent, arms close to your body and buttocks pushed back. This posture will give you the stability and control you need for making turns. From there, all you have to do is let gravity do its thing.

If the incline is steep and you’re going faster than you’d like, you can use the “1” shape technique to slow down.

How to dress for cross-country skiing

How to dress for cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is one of the most heart-pumping sports there is, particularly when using the skating step, which requires a lot of pushing effort. That’s why you should never dress too warmly when cross-country skiing. Opting for waterproof-breathable technical clothing is your best bet to prevent sweating and feeling cold during stops.

Here is a list of essentials to wear when cross-country skiing:

  • Base layer (long-sleeved sweater and leggings in breathable material)
  • Technical socks suited for cross-country skiing (breathable, seamless and cushioned at friction points)
  • Wind-breaking jacket and pants
  • Neck warmer
  • Light tuque
  • Sunglasses
  • Technical gloves
  • Cross-country ski boots
  • Cross-country ski poles
  • Cross-country skis

Read our complete guide to know what to wear for cross-country skiing.


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