So You Want To Cross Country Ski? Let Us Count The Ways...

So You Want To Cross Country Ski? Let Us Count The Ways…

Two Cross Country skiers make their way through a snowy meadow

How To Choose Your Cross Country Ski Style...

One of the many conversations we have at Ski Haus begins with a customer saying, “I want to cross country ski this winter.” Now the fun begins. We reply with what kind of cross country skiing do you want to do? Skate, classic, light touring, backcountry touring, backcountry with turns, groomed trails, wild snow, any or all of the above?

Who knew there are so many options? Well, to hopefully move the conversation along here is a list of the many ways you can cross country ski.


To skate ski you have to be on a groomed wide track. The skate motion appears to be like ice skating but there are subtle differences, to be sure. Skate skis are designed for glide only. The gliding motion from one ski to the other is in a V style motion. Speed can be a premium with skate skiing but you don’t have to ski fast to enjoy the skate style.


Classic skiing is a diagonal or parallel stride in the groomed narrow two track. Striding or classic skiing requires some kind of “kick” with either kick wax on the base of the ski, a fish-scale pattern, or skins to create a push off from the kick ski to create glide onto the other ski.

This style of skiing is most similar to walking only we’re adding the gliding effect of being on skis. The subtle motion of setting “kick” with classic skiing brings the skis to an almost imperceptible stop of the ski before shifting your weight onto the other ski for glide.

Light Touring

Light Touring are skis that can fit into a groomed classic track at a touring center. This cross country ski is also wide enough to be used on a backcountry trail that has already been skied in. The skis are a bit wider than a designed track ski. The caveat is knowing how this extra width affects the performance of the equipment in and out of the track.

These skis may or may not have metal edges. It will ski slower at a track and not glide as far as a narrower designed classic ski. This is one of the trade-offs. When you ski this ski on an existing backcountry trail it may not feel as stable as a designed wider BC ski either. These are the other trade-offs. The good news is you have one set of gear to ski in two completely different environments.

In a backcountry setting a light touring ski should be skied on a trail that has already been set. The terrain should be mellow and more predictable, as well. This skier isn’t asking too much from their equipment as far as floatation in deep snow or turning control on steeper downhills.
A skier skiing up an existing trail on light touring skis

Backcountry Cross Country

BC cross country skis are wide. They do not fit into a classic track at a touring center. They are designed for wild, non-groomed, unpredictable, backcountry snow conditions. They typically have full length metal edges and depending on your preference lots of sidecut for making turns (or not).

This skier is looking to get away from everything and everybody. They may or may not follow an existing trail. Often, they will break their own trail through deep snow to find some hills to make turns on.

Backcountry xc skiers have a choice of ski widths, also. The breakdown is between skis that favor touring and distance, a 50/50 ski that tours nicely and has added sidecut to increase downhill control and turnability, or a ski that has max width and sidecut to seek turns each time you ski the backcountry.
Walton Peak is a backcountry skiing paradise

I’ll qualify this skier with more description. Cross country backcountry skiers are using either NNN BC or 75mm leather 3 pin boots. They are not using hardshell telemark or alpine touring boots. That is another category of skier all together.

All cross country skiers listed above are enjoying lighter weight equipment versus hardshell tele boots and alpine touring equipment that can restrict the fluid motion of striding or touring on skis. Freedom of movement is what we’re after and we can attain it with any of the gear listed above.

To become a cross country skier all you have to do is figure out how you imagine yourself xc skiing… It is easy to match the equipment to those images you have in your head of skating, striding, touring, or turning. And all this begins with a conversation with your neighborly Steamboat Springs Ski Haus employee!

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