A XC Skier’s Guide or How to Understand A Misunderstood Sport

Oct 16, 2020 | Cross Country Skiing


To Ski The Ski You Must Talk The Talk…

Here is our version of a Cross Country Skier’s Phrasebook. Half of Cross Country Skiing is knowing the terms, the nomenclature. The other half of cross country skiing is actually being on your cross country skis on snow and skiing! Cross Country Skiing can be many things to many different people. The very cool thing about XC skiing is you can make it whatever form you believe it to be!

Let’s begin.

Cross Country Skiing Styles
Cross Country Skiing, Nordic, XC: These are three blanket terms that encompass all forms of XC skiing. Skate, freestyle, classic, light touring, striding, backcountry touring and backcountry turning.


Skate or Freestyle Skiing – Similar to ice skating (but completely different) this form of XC skiing is done on a groomed cross country trail normally at a touring Center. You skate by putting one ski on an inside edge, push off to the side, and ski onto the other flat gliding ski in a “V” motion. Skate poles are almost as tall as you are (up to your nose or so).

Classic Skiing or Striding – The Classic Stride is the beginning of all skiing since the beginning of history. “Classic” or “Striding” usually means skiing on a groomed parallel track at a Nordic Center. The motion is similar to walking but adding the gliding component. The skis are parallel to one another as you move from your kick ski to your glide ski. Classic ski poles measure up to about mid-shoulder.


Backcountry XC Skiing – Backcountry skiing can be light touring, backcountry touring and backcountry turning. Typically all of these skis have metal edges. The big difference is width of ski and strength of boot. Lighter narrower skis are ideal for distance and mileage. This skier may be skiing around hills rather than up and down them. The boots are lightweight with an external ankle cuff.

Mid fat xc skis offer increased floatation, stability and turn-ability. This skier may or may not be looking to make turns on their tour. However, they sure could make some turns if the possibility arises. Match this mid fat ski with a NNN backcountry boot with more support and strength through the sole of the boot. The ankle cuff will be beefed-up, as well. All this adds up for more downhill control while maintaining nice tour-ability.

Backcountry Turning – This skier tends to ski to a hill and make turns. Turning could be telemark or parallel turns. These skis tend to be the widest skis that XC manufacturers offer. The boots will offer the most strength for the greatest downhill control. This skier will use either NNN BC soled or leather 75mm soled boots. (Not hardshell tele or alpine touring boots. That’s another whole kettle of ski wax!).


Cross Country Ski Binding Systems

Salomon ProLink, Fischer & Rossignol Turnamic, Alpina & Madshus Rotteffella Excelerator, NNN Touring, NNN BC, Three Pin, Three Pin Cable – XC boot and binding systems. Ay yai yai! XC nomenclature! Prolink, Turnamic, and NNN Excelerator skate and classic boot soles will all work in each others binding systems. But not all binding systems will work on each others skis. Got it? Call or write with questions. My head hurts from just writing those two sentences….

NNN Light Touring and NNN BC are not the same thing. The bars on the boots soles are not the same gauge or width. Know your NNN system!


How To Kick and How To Glide

No Wax Skis, Fish Scale Skis, Crown Skis, Positrack, Intelligrip Skis – These are the names of several different no wax patterns on the market today. Guess what? No wax skis still require ski wax! At a minimum use a liquid or paste rub-on surface wax. These waxes will keep the ski bases gliding nice and prevent the “no wax” pattern underneath the foot from icing up in certain snow conditions.

Crown, Positrack, and Intelligrip are different names for the cut pattern that allows you to kick and glide without the use of kick wax. These are very convenient skis because you do not need to kick wax your skis. You don’t have to watch the thermometer or pay attention to snow conditions.

Kick Wax & Glide Wax & Klister – With waxable classic or backcountry skis these are the tools of the trade. Apply kick wax and glide wax for the ultimate kicking and gliding experience. When your skis are gliding and kicking on a wonderful cold winter day there is nothing that feels better when it comes to cross country skiing.

Klister on the other hand has a bad rap. When conditions are overly icy or overly wet out comes the very sticky gooey paste that goes everywhere you don’t want it. But keep in mind – with klister you can get your skis to perform at their very best in very difficult snow conditions.

Kick wax, glide wax, and klisters are temperature and snow specific. There is an art to mastering this technique and once you have – the Norwegian ski gods will be smiling on you for the rest of your days…

Skin Skis – A classic ski designed for the track that uses a short skin inlaid into the base of the ski in lieu off a cut no wax pattern. The skin is much shorter than a no wax pattern so it enhances the glide effect of the ski while letting you set your kick equally well. The performance of skin skis fits between a perfectly kick waxed ski and a no wax ski. The skin ski will easily out glide a no wax ski. They kick equally well in all kinds of snow/track conditions.


More Cross Country Knowledge

Quiver – The more Nordic skis you own (and use) the bigger your quiver. Many xc skiers own several skate and classic skis with different flexes, cambers, and lengths for different track and snow conditions. Usually, a Nordic skier will feel a quiver, and pause, as they look over their quiver of skis while selecting their ski of the day.

Crust Skiing – Earlier I mentioned skate skiing is usually done on a groomed track at a touring center. But come Springtime when the snowpack up high has gone through a few melt/freeze cycles a wonderful strong crust develops. You can skate ski anywhere in the backcountry on a cold Spring morning. There are no limits to where you can ski until the day begins to warm and the crust begins to loosen to mush. Timing is everything!

Carbon Fiber – Without Carbon Fiber life itself would be impossible… or at least not as exciting. The more carbon fiber you can afford with your xc skis, boots, or poles the better! With carbon fiber you not only reduce pick up weight and increase strength but you also reduce swing weight. With little to no swing weight from your skis and poles you feel light as a feather. You can ski farther and faster with less effort and you can be one with your Norwegian ski angel. Ready to upgrade to a higher performance ski, boot, or pole with a high carbon fiber content? Youbettcha!

Swing Weight – Especially with skate skis and Nordic poles you will feel swing weight. Transitioning from your kick to glide on skate skis, as you swing that ski forward to become your glide ski, you are feeling swing weight. Or as you have finished pushing back with your poles and bring your pole forward again you are feeling swing weight. Reduced swing weight is energy savings over time and distance. Less swing weight equals more apres skiing and a garnish of aquavit.

Suffering and Post Suffering

Aquavit – The Velvet Hammer. Click this aquavit link to enhance your Nordic quiver.

Suffer & Sufferfest – “I suffered badly.” “It was a sufferfest!” XC skiers will use these terms when their effort exceeds their endurance. Or even on an average day, a xc skier who puts in an solid effort might say they suffered. Honestly, it is a good thing. Working your mind and body on cross country skis feels great. Human self propulsion builds muscle, stamina, courage, a ‘can do’ attitude, and elevates your own self perception of what you can accomplish on and off your skis.

V1, V2, V2 Alternate, Double Pole, Double Pole with Kick, Tuck, Kick-n-Glide, Stride – These are all names of different techniques you use in the different cross country disciplines. If you happen to use all these techniques in a single ski session you may have just participated in a sufferfest. Good on you!