The differences between cross-country skiing, Nordic skiing and skishoeing


October 13, 2023


Facebook Email
Difference between nordic ski & cross country ski

Would you like to get your heart rate up for a few hours as you ski the trails in your local park, or maybe introduce the kids to the joys of gliding in the winter snow? Then cross-country skiing is perfect for you. If you’d rather explore the winding trails of the Laurentides after a good snowfall, or ski from one refuge to the next in the heart of the Gaspésie mountains, you will love Nordic skiing. Unless you’d prefer to go down snow-covered hills on ski-shoes? These three winter sports are quite similar, but they differ in terms of equipment and place. Let’s take a closer look.

In this article, you will discover the differences between cross-country skiing, Nordic skiing and ski-shoeing:

  1. What is cross-country skiing?
  2. What is Nordic skiing?
  3. What is ski-shoeing?

What is cross-country skiing?

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a winter sport of Nordic origin that was once a means of moving efficiently and quickly over snow. In the last century, it has become a recreational and competitive activity, and it now offers two styles of practice: classical and skating step. Both are practised on groomed trails – with two parallel grooves for the classical style – in cross-country ski centres usually located in wooded areas, golf courses, or snow-covered fields. Cross-country skiing is a very accessible and enjoyable sport, and it’s also suitable for young children.

Discover some of the top cross-country ski destinations in Quebec and Ontario in our blog article.


Cross-country skis, whether for classical style or skating step, are generally very thin and streamlined, with a honeycomb or carbon core for performance and lightness on groomed snow. Their size depends on the skier’s skill level (shorter for beginners) and weight. The coating on the underside of the shovel either requires waxing (with different ski waxes depending on the outside temperatures) or has a so-called fish-scale pattern to prevent sliding backwards on steeper terrain. Boots and bindings are also different for classical and skating cross-country skis.
If you’re thinking of taking up cross-country skiing, read our article to learn how to find the right pair of skis for your needs.

What is Nordic skiing?

Nordic Ski

Nordic skiing often designates another type of cross-country skiing, practised on ungroomed and unmarked trails, and sometimes off-piste. Also known as backcountry ski touring, this winter sport should ideally be called Nordic ski touring, as the term “Nordic skiing” more generally refers to all Nordic snow sports, including cross-country skiing. Nordic skiing can also be confused with alpine touring and ski-mountaineering, in which skins are used to ascend steep slopes before skiing down in powder snow.
Nordic ski touring doesn’t involve trail grooming and can thus be practised on hiking trails (where permitted) if they are relatively wide and not too steep, or off-piste in snow-covered glades with minimal drops. Some routes in the Laurentides, Charlevoix and Gaspésie offer multi-day stays where you move from one refuge to another.


Nordic touring skis are generally wider than cross-country skis and offer a bigger flotation surface. The width you choose will depend on the type of terrain you intend to explore. While fresh powder requires wider skis, a narrower option will be more helpful in hard snow and icy conditions. When in doubt, opt for a versatile model that works relatively well on any terrain you might come across. Your skis will also have less camber than regular cross-country skis, as Nordic ski touring is less focused on speed and performance and, therefore, requires less propulsion. Nordic touring skis are also equipped with metal edges on each side to bite into the ice and increase stability in turns, especially downhill. They have a “fish-scale” surface or sometimes an integrated climbing skin. Removable climbing skins can also be added along the entire length for extra grip on steep inclines.

Read our comprehensive guide for help on how to pick the right Nordic skiing gear.

What is ski-shoeing?


Ski-shoeing, sometimes called Hok skiing, is a hybrid of alpine ski touring and snowshoeing. It is a relatively recent sport and does not belong to the cross-country skiing family, but it can be practised in the same kinds of places as Nordic skiing (ungroomed trails or off-piste). Ski-shoes are very easy to use, and the motion for going forward is identical to the pushing movement used in classical-style cross-country skiing. The advantage of ski-shoeing is that it offers controlled gliding sensations on the downhill runs.


Ski-shoes are shorter and much wider than cross-country skis. They are made for glades and floating on powdery snow. The bindings – which consist of a hinged plate and straps – are designed to accommodate all types of hiking boots, just like a snowshoe, making this sport very accessible and easy for beginners. They feature a locking mechanism to secure the boot to the ski in downhill mode, then release it and free the heel in walking mode. Finally, short climbing skins are built into the tip of the shovel to facilitate movement in the snow and limit speed on descents.

To see the different models of ski-shoes available, check out our selection available online and in SAIL stores.


What are the different types of cross-country skis?

What is Nordic skiing?

Can I use my cross-country ski equipment for Nordic ski touring?


Facebook Email

You might also like