All You Need to Know About Cross Country Skis in 2024

man on cross country skis - your guide to XC ski gear

Cross country skiing is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors while getting a full-body workout in winter. Imagine gliding through breathtaking snowy landscapes and experiencing the thrill of mastering various terrains, all while sweating profusely. Your fitness will soar while having fun at the same time.

Selecting the perfect gear for your skiing adventures can be a daunting task. Let’s go through the process of choosing the best cross country skis and the ideal boots, bindings, and poles to have the best cross country skiing experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Selecting the right cross country skis, boots and bindings is essential for a successful skiing adventure.
  • Consider factors such as body weight, length, width, and sidecut when sizing your skis.
  • Choose materials and construction that suit your skiing style when selecting ski poles to optimize performance.
  • Review our list of the best cross country skis.

Selecting the Right Cross Country Skis

A pair of cross country skis

The first step in your cross country skiing adventure is to pick the appropriate skis. There are three main categories of cross country skis: classic, skate, and backcountry. Each type is designed for specific skiing techniques and conditions, making it essential to understand their differences and select the one that best suits your needs and preferences.

Next, we will explore the unique features of each ski type to aid you in your decision-making process. Understanding the distinction between classic, skate, and backcountry skis is beneficial when choosing a ski that aligns with your skiing style.

Classic Skis

These are designed for striding on groomed trails. They are typically longer than skate skis and feature minimal sidecut, with a width of around 60mm at the widest point.

Skate Skis

On the other hand, skate skis are intended for use on groomed trails, allowing skiers to move like speed skaters on ice. Skate skis are generally shorter than classic skis and range from 41mm to 45mm in width. They boast features such as lightweight construction, low heel-toe camber, and excellent grip in various conditions.

Classic skis are ideal for those who enjoy a more traditional skiing experience, while skate skis cater to skiers who prefer a faster, more dynamic approach to cross country skiing. By choosing the appropriate ski type, you can optimize your performance and enjoyment on the trails.

Backcountry Skis

Backcountry XC skis offer a unique skiing experience, allowing skiers to venture off groomed trails and explore ungroomed terrain. These skis are specifically designed to handle various snow conditions and challenging landscapes. They commonly feature full-length metal edges and are suitable for both on and off-track use.

Taking into account the width and camber is vital when picking backcountry skis. A wider ski (around 65mm to 68mm at the widest point) with metal edges provides better control on icy slopes, while a double camber is essential for achieving an optimal glide on groomed trails. By choosing the right backcountry skis, you’ll be well-equipped to conquer off-track skiing and explore the magnificent winter landscapes.

Sizing Your Cross-Country Skis

two people after they selected the right cross country skis

One of the most critical aspects of selecting the perfect cross-country skis is ensuring that they are the right size. The length and weight of your skis will have a significant impact on your skiing experience, affecting your speed, maneuverability, and control.

Next, we’ll cover the aspects you need to consider when sizing your cross-country skis, such as matching your body weight to ski length and grasping the variations in width and sidecut.

Length and Weight Considerations

The length and weight of your cross-country skis play a crucial role in determining your skiing performance and comfort. Generally, shorter skis are recommended for beginners, as they provide greater control and reduce speed. On the other hand, more experienced skiers typically opt for longer skis, which offer higher speeds and better glide.

Cross-country ski length is not based on the user’s height (The way downhill ski length is determined).

The weight of your skis also matters; heavier skis are more suitable for deep snow and powder, while lighter skis perform better on groomed trails and in racing conditions.

A pair of cross country skis, designed for optimal performance and efficiency in skis cross country

For the perfect blend of traction and gliding, choose skis that can support your weight. The recommended weight range for each ski length can be found on product pages or in manufacturer size charts.

Keep in mind that ski sizing is not standardized between brands, so it’s essential to consult specific size charts and guidelines when choosing your cross-country skis.

Width and Sidecut Variations

Width and sidecut variations refer to the shape of the ski, which affects its performance in different snow conditions and terrains. The width of the ski influences the amount of surface area in contact with the snow, while the sidecut (the ski width narrowing in the middle of the ski) impacts the ski’s turning and handling capabilities.

Some key points to note about width and sidecut variations are:

  • Wider skis offer better floatation in powdery conditions
  • Narrower skis provide better grip on icy slopes
  • The ski’s sidecut affects its maneuverability, allowing for smoother turns and better control in various snow conditions and terrains.

With a clear grasp of the importance of width and sidecut variations, you can pick skis that align with your skiing style and the snow conditions you’re likely to face. This knowledge will enable you to select skis that offer the best performance and enjoyment, regardless of the terrain or snow conditions you face.

Cross-Country Ski Base Options: Waxless vs. Waxable

Cross-country ski bases, also known as XC ski bases, come in two varieties: waxless and waxable. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on your skiing preferences and the snow conditions you’ll encounter.

Next, we’ll examine the features of waxless and waxable ski bases to aid you in making a knowledgeable choice when selecting your cross-country skis.

Waxless Ski Bases

A waxless ski base
Waxless ski bases have a “scaly” pattern for grip

Waxless ski bases are characterized by:

  • Having a built-in pattern or texture that provides grip on the snow
  • Eliminating the need for grip wax
  • Being convenient to use and maintain, as they don’t require the application of grip wax
  • They are more durable than waxable skis, as they are not affected by the elements.
  • Less “glide” than a waxable ski

Waxless ski bases are best suited for less cold and dry environments, where the integrated pattern or texture provides optimal grip on the snow. If you prefer a low-maintenance ski that performs well in these conditions, waxless ski bases could be the ideal choice for you.

Waxable Ski Bases

a man applying wax to his skis

Waxable ski bases, on the other hand, require the application of kick wax for traction and glide wax for improved glide. These bases offer:

  • Enhanced grip and control in multiple snow conditions
  • More resilience than waxless ski bases
  • The ability to be adjusted and maintained to suit various snow types and temperatures
  • Faster than waxless skis
  • The wax base must be maintained regularly

Waxable ski bases are most effective in cold and dry snow conditions, where the appropriate wax can optimize grip and glide. If you don’t mind investing time and effort into waxing your skis and want the versatility to adapt to different snow conditions, waxable ski bases could be the right choice for you.

Finding the Perfect Cross-Country Ski Boots

cross country ski boot
Skate Ski Boot

Selecting the perfect cross-country ski boots is just as important as choosing the right skis. Your boots should not only match your skiing style but also provide comfort and be compatible with your bindings.

Boot Types and Features

Cross-country ski boots can be classified into two main categories: classic and skate. Classic boots are designed for classic skiing and tend to be more rigid and supportive than skate boots. Skate boots, on the other hand, are tailored for skate skiing and are lighter and more flexible than classic boots.

Classic cross country ski boot
Classic Ski Boot

When selecting your cross-country ski boots, consider the type of skiing you’ll be engaging in and the boots’ features that cater to your specific needs. For instance, if you plan to skate ski, look for lightweight and flexible boots that provide optimal power transfer and control.

Conversely, if you prefer classic skiing, opt for boots with enhanced support and rigidity for a more traditional skiing experience.

Boot-Binding Compatibility

A skier checking the compatibility of ski boots and bindings

Ensuring your boot and binding are compatible is key to achieving the best performance and safety in cross-country skiing. Your boots and bindings must be compatible in terms of size, shape, and type to guarantee a secure connection and provide the necessary support for your skiing style.

Make sure to select boots that are compatible with the bindings already on your skis or the bindings you plan to purchase.

When shopping for cross-country ski boots, consider the primary binding/boot systems available:

  • New Nordic Norm (NNN)
  • Salomon Nordic System (SNS).

Make sure to select boots that are compatible with the bindings already on your skis or the bindings you plan to purchase. Compatibility guarantees that your boots and bindings will work together seamlessly, allowing you to focus on enjoying your skiing adventure.

Choosing the Ideal Cross-Country Ski Bindings

Selecting the right cross-country ski bindings is vital for a successful skiing experience. The appropriate bindings create a secure connection between your boot and ski, providing the necessary support and stability.

Let’s explore the range of bindings available and provide advice on picking the perfect bindings, considering your boot type and skiing style.

Binding Types and Compatibility

There are three primary types of cross-country ski bindings:

  1. NNN bindings: the most prevalent and designed for classic skiing
  2. SNS bindings: cater to skate skiing and are more lightweight and flexible than NNN bindings
  3. NNN BC bindings: intended for backcountry skiing and are robust and supportive.

Each binding type has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your skiing style and preferences. When selecting your bindings, consider their compatibility with your boot soles. Bindings compatible with the following boot soles are available:

  • NNN
  • NIS
  • Turnamic
  • ProLink

By understanding the different binding types and their compatibility, you can make an informed decision when selecting the ideal bindings for your skiing style and boot type.

Selecting the Right Bindings

A skier selecting the right bindings

When picking the appropriate cross-country ski bindings, take into account features like adjustable release settings, length, and heel height. These features can enhance your skiing experience by providing a personalized fit and optimal performance.

In addition to these features, consider the type of skiing you’ll be engaging in and the specific demands of that skiing style. For example, if you plan to use metal-edge touring skis, you’ll need bindings with a more robust and resilient construction than those designed for touring and racing. These bindings are wider and not generally suitable for in-track skiing.

If you have any questions, your local ski shop will usually have an expert on staff who can help you before making your decision.

Picking the Perfect Cross-Country Ski Poles

Choosing the perfect cross-country ski poles is essential for a successful skiing adventure. The right poles will enhance your skiing experience, providing optimal support and propulsion. Next, we’ll assist you in selecting the ideal ski poles, considering their materials, construction, and sizing.

cross country skier with cross country ski poles

Pole Materials and Construction

Ski poles are generally made from materials such as:

  • Aluminum: lightweight and resilient, but may be costlier than other materials
  • Graphite: lightweight and robust, though it may be brittle
  • Fiberglass: lightweight and flexible, but may be costlier than other materials
  • Carbon fiber: lightweight and robust, though it may be costly

Each material has its core merits and demerits, making them suitable for different items.

In addition to materials, consider the ski pole’s structure, which is typically composed of:

  • Shaft: The primary structure of the pole, and its material determines the pole’s weight and durability
  • Grip: The area of the pole that the skier holds, usually made of rubber or foam
  • Basket: The part of the pole that assists the skier in pushing off the snow, usually made of plastic or metal.

Pole Length and Sizing

Choosing the right pole length is crucial for optimizing your skiing performance, as it affects your balance, propulsion, and overall comfort. The pole length may need to be adjusted based on your skiing style and terrain.

For skate skiing, poles should come up to your nose or ears. For classic skiing, poles should be shoulder height.

Skate skiing typically requires slightly longer poles than classic skiing, while backcountry skiing may necessitate shorter poles for better control and maneuverability.


Selecting the perfect cross-country skiing equipment is essential for a successful and enjoyable skiing adventure. By understanding the differences between classic, skate, and backcountry skis, as well as the importance of sizing, ski base options, boot types, binding compatibility, and pole materials, you can make sure you are using the right gear.

With the right equipment tailored to your skiing style and preferences, you’ll be well-prepared to conquer the trails and experience the joy of cross-country skiing.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know what size cross-country skis I need?

To determine the size of your cross-country skis, you should add 15 to 20 cm to your height and take into account your weight and skiing ability. Additionally, consulting the manufacturer’s recommendations is a good starting point.

Is there a difference between cross-country skis and downhill skis?

Cross-country skis are only attached at the toe, whereas downhill skis lock the whole boot in place. This difference in equipment results in a distinct learning curve for each sport.

What defines Nordic skiing?

Nordic skiing encompasses any form of skiing where the toe of the ski boot is fixed to the binding, allowing the heel to rise off the ski. This distinguishes it from alpine skiing, where the entire boot is attached to the ski. Nordic skiing includes cross-country skiing and Telemark skiing, and can also encompass competitions such as Nordic combined.

What are the main differences between classic, skate, and backcountry skis?

Classic skis are best suited for groomed trails, skate skis are optimized for the skating motion on groomed trails, and backcountry skis are designed for off-track skiing in ungroomed terrain.

How do I determine the correct ski length and weight for my skiing style and ability?

To determine the correct ski length and weight for your skiing style and ability, take into account your height, weight, and skill level. Shorter skis are recommended for beginners, whereas longer skis are better suited for experienced skiers. Heavier skis provide more stability in deep snow and powder, while lighter skis offer increased maneuverability on groomed trails and racing.

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