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Home » Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski: An Intro For Beginners

Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski: An Intro For Beginners

If You’re New To Cross Country (XC) Skiing, Chances Are You’ll Start With The Classic Style. Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski Isn’t Easy, But These Tips Will Help!

Read This Guide Before You Set Out On Your First Cross Country Ski Adventure, Courtesy Of Self-Propelled Sports.

Top 4 Tips For Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski

  1. Research your local ‘nordic center’ to help you locate gear rentals, trail maps and experts to speak with about getting started in the sport.
  2. Equip yourself with properly fitting cross country ski boots. It’s important to note that they must be compatible with the type of binding you intend to ski on. (More on binding and boot compatibility is addressed in another article).
  3. Determine the appropriate length of skis and poles for classic cross country skiing and secure rental gear (note that skate style cross country gear has different sizing ski and pole lengths for the same skier vs. sizing for classic style xc skiing).
  4. Wear the right clothing, which is generally much lighter than for other types of skiing.

For those looking for an exciting and refreshing new way to experience the great outdoors this winter, cross country skiing is a perfect choice. The best way to get started is by spending some time learning the basics of the sport.

What Beginners Need To Know To Get Started With Classic Cross Country Skiing

To get started in XC Skiing (in the classic style), the first step will be to locate an area where you plan to ski.

If you’re new to the sport, you may not realize that there are two distinct styles of Cross Country Skiing. Each style comes with its own equipment.

Classic Cross Country Skiing vs. Skate Skiing

What most people think of (consisting of a kick-and-glide motion, while pushing back with one pole at a time, in a somewhat walking-like pattern) is the Classic style of xc skiing. In this case, there is a set of machine-groomed tracks that your skis fit into along the side of the trail.

Skate-Skiing, on the other hand, is a more complicated and flowing motion. You can imagine it being similar to the pattern of an inline skater’s motion; alternating from gliding on one ski and then the other while rhythmically double-poling with your arms to propel you forward. This style of skiing takes place along the wider, flat portion of the trail (outside of the classic style ski tracks).

Classic Cross Country Skiing Technique

Proper movement in Classic Cross Country Skiing is called ‘striding’, and you will also hear this classic ski motion referred to as the ‘diagonal stride’.

Here is a nice, basic demonstration of the ideal Classic style stride, for reference.

Where to get started as a new XC skier?

As a beginner, it is certainly recommended that you start out on a groomed trails, as setting out to ski in the back country requires much more expertise and experience. The backcountry is also far more dangerous for beginners, who may not be aware of (or prepared for) things like avalanche risk.

Beginner-level XC Skiers would be well advised to research area trails, which are often centered around a local ‘Nordic Center’. Nordic Centers will vary, but many have gear available to rent (or purchase). They will also generally serve as a place to meet, gather, rent gear, and purchase area trail passes (if required).

Some (but not all) Nordic facilities also offer food and drink; most offering at least some basic grab-and-go options like energy bars, etc.

At the very least, you can expect to find a community of skiers there. Experienced skiers are a great resource, and can recommend the best trails (usually loops) that are best suited for beginners.

Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski

How To Select Proper Gear For Classic Cross Country Skiing

Now that you know some of the basic terminology to use when selecting the right gear, you’ll want to select the right length of skis and poles to use. This will be determined primarily by a skier’s height.

Both Classic and Skate skiing styles are considered forms of Cross Country skiing, and because the gear will vary, it’s important to distinguish which style of gear you’re looking for.

Rule Of Thumb: Selecting What Length Of Classic Cross Country Skis Is Best

Cross Country Ski lengths are in centimeters, so the first step in finding the right length is to determine your height in terms of centimeters.

Using your height in cm, you can then add roughly 15-20cm to determine the proper range of classic cross country ski length that’s ideal for your size.

As an example, for a 6′ tall skier, that’s 182.88cm. Once you add 15-20 cm to their height, you end with a range of 197.88-202.88cm being the ideal ski length.

Rule Of Thumb: Selecting What Length Of Classic Cross Country Ski Poles Is Best

As a general rule, Nordic ski poles for the classic style should come up at least to the skier’s armpit, and can be as long as shoulder-height (but no longer).

To measure, you simply stand the poles straight up-and-down in front of you, and the place where the strap comes out of the top of the pole is the length location to consider for sizing.

Selecting Classic Cross Country Ski Boots

Modern classic xc ski boots will generally be compatible with a NNN binding. You may also find that boots come in a ‘3-pin’ style.

As long as you’re renting the boots and skis together, you won’t have to worry about this aspect of nuance. This becomes much more important (and confusing) when you’re looking at gear for purchase online.

Assuming you’ve selected a boot that’s compatible with the ski binding you’ll be using, the main thing is to ensure a proper boot fit. You’ll want a lightweight, moisture wicking sock for the job; and the boots should fit snugly to avoid friction and blisters during the continuous motion that’s required for striding.

It’s always wise to bring additional layers (in case of changing weather), as well as snacks, water, as well as personal items like sunscreen and chapstick. Like many outdoor sports, it may be worthwhile to invest in a lightweight, athletic backpack to carry while you ski. We have a few models we like, and cover in another article.

Selecting The Right Clothing For Cross Country Skiing

For someone who has never been Cross Country skiing, (or has only been downhill skiing), it may come as a surprise that the best clothing for XC skiing is relatively lightweight and non-technical. Sure, you may need a shell-type jacket or insulated vest on the coldest of days. But in general, the clothing required is far less technical than you might expect.

Much like running outdoors, you can approach it as though you’re dressing for weather that’s warmer that the thermometer suggests. Because it is a physically demanding activity, you’ll be working hard, you’ll get your heart-rate up, and your body will stay warmer than you might expect.

Unlike the typical insulated snow pants typical for downhill skiing and snowboarding, the most typical pants for cross country skiing are actually athletic tights.

Similarly, you’ll need relatively light layers on top as well. You’ll want a breathable and moisture wicking base layer, but you can choose a relatively lightweight top over that, so long as your outer layer is reasonably wind-proof. Apart from very cold temperatures (or adverse conditions like high wind or heavy snowfall), that is likely all you need.

You’ll want to have a winter hat / beanie, or a warm headband to protect your ears. You’ll also need a pair of wind-proof and warm gloves, which are not bulky. Most typical winter gloves are much thicker than is ideal for cross country skiing, because you want to be able to get your hands easily in and out of your pole straps. Having Nordic-ski specific gloves can make a big difference, so keep that in mind as a possible bit of gear that could be worth purchasing to keep you comfortable.

Finally, you’ll typically see nordic skiers in simple athletic sunglasses, for protection of the glare off the snow vs. any sort of goggle or more specific eyewear.

You can find more details about suggested attire for XC skiing in some of our other articles, but hope this helps give you a good idea of what to plan for if you’re just starting out.

The Essential Attire When Learning How To Classic Cross Country Ski Should Include:

  • A pair of athletic tights
  • A breathable, moisture-wicking base layer top, and a lightweight outer layer that gives a bit of wind protection
  • A thin pair of moisture-wicking socks
  • A thin pair of warm gloves that provide wind protection (nordic specific gloves are best)
  • A winter hat or headband to protect your ears
  • A pair of athletic sunglasses

Now that you’re familiar with the basics, as well as how to locate advice for the trails and gear best suited for beginners, you’ll be ready to hit the trails and give this incredible sport a try!

Cross country skiing can be a fun and healthy activity for people of all ages and skill levels, giving outdoor enthusiasts an opportunity to exercise in beautiful winter settings. We hope you enjoy it!

Additional Cross Country Skiing Articles:

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