Cross-country skiing

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Cross-country skiing
Trip to Skorafjell 1.jpg
Cross-country skiers in western Norway.
Nicknames Cross-country, XC skiing
Type Back country (classical or skate-style), in-track classical, or groomed-trail skate-style
Equipment Skis, poles and boots.
Olympic 1924

Cross-country skiing is the original and most basic means of traveling on skis over snow-covered terrain. It is widely practiced as a sport, however some use it as a means of transportation. Variants of cross-country skiing are adapted to a range of terrain which spans unimproved, sometimes mountainous terrain to groomed courses that are designed for the sport. Two basic techniques apply: "classic" and "skate skiing." The classic technique relies on a wax or texture on the ski bottom under the foot for traction on the snow to allow the skier to slide the other ski forward in virgin or tracked snow. With the skate skiing technique a skier slides on alternating skis on a firm snow surface at an angle from each other in a manner similar to ice skating. Both techniques employ poles with baskets that allow the arms to participate in the propulsion. Specialized equipment is adapted to each technique and each type of terrain. It is practiced in regions with snow-covered landscapes, including Northern Europe, Canada, Russia and Alaska.[1]

Cross-country is one of the Nordic skiing sports, which include ski jumping, Nordic combined (cross-country skiing and ski jumping), biathlon (cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship)[1] and ski-orienteering (which includes map navigation along snow trails and tracks). Modern cross-country skiing most closely resembles the original form of skiing from which all skiing disciplines evolved, including alpine skiing, ski jumping and telemark skiing.


Main article: History of skiing
Depiction of loyal retainers carrying Prince Haakon IV of Norway to safety on skis during the winter of 1206.

The word ski comes from the Old Norse word "skíð" which means stick of wood or ski.[2] Skiing started as a technique for traveling cross-country over snow on skis, starting almost five millennia ago with beginnings in Scandinavia. It may have been practised as early as 600 BCE in Daxing'anling, in what is now China.[3] Early historical evidence includes Procopius' (around CE 550) description of Sami people as skrithiphinoi translated as "ski running samis".[4] Birkely argues that the Sami people have practiced skiing for more than 6000 years, evidenced by the very old Sami word čuoigat for skiing.[5] Egil Skallagrimsson's 950 CE saga describes King Haakon the Good's practice of sending his tax collectors out on skis.[6] The Gulating law (1274) stated that "No moose shall be disturbed by skiers on private land."[4] Cross-country skiing evolved from a utilitarian means of transportation to being a world-wide recreational activity and sport, which branched out into other forms of skiing starting in the mid-1800s.[7] Early skiers used one long pole or spear in addition to the skis. The first depiction of a skier with two ski poles dates to 1741.[8]


Start of a German Reichswehr military training patrol team in the Giant Mountains, 1932.

Ski warfare, the use of ski-equipped troops in war, is first recorded by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus in the 13th century, who were reportedly able to cover is comparable to that of light cavalry.[9] The garrison in Trondheim used skis at least from 1675, and the Danish-Norwegian army included specialized skiing battalions from 1747 – details of military ski exercises from 1767 are on record.[10] Skis were used in military exercises in 1747.[11] In 1799 French traveller Jacques de la Tocnaye recorded his visit to Norway in his travel diary:[12] Norwegian immigrants used skis ("Norwegian snowshoes") in the US midwest from around 1836. Norwegian immigrant "Snowshoe Thompson" transported mail by skiing across the Sierra Nevada between California and Nevada from 1856.[4] In 1888 Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen and his team crossed the Greenland icecap on skis. Norwegian workers on the Buenos Aires - Valparaiso railway line introduced skiing in South America around 1890.[4] In 1910 Roald Amundsen used skis on his South Pole Expedition. In 1902 the Norwegian consul in Kobe imported ski equipment and introduced skiing to the Japanese, motivated by the death of Japanese soldiers during snow storm.[4]


Cross-country ski competition in Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

According to the International Olympic Committee, the Norwegian army began competing on skis among units in the 18th century and the sport became more widely adopted in the mid 19th century. Norway was the site of the first race on record is 1842. The first Holmenkollen Ski Festival occurred in 1892; events combined jumping and cross-country skiing. Cross country racing became a separate event in 1901. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, Nordic countries have excelled at the sport. A timeline of cross-country skiing at the Winter Olympics chronicles the evolution of competitive events:[13][14]

  • 1924: Cross-country skiing debuts.
  • 1952.: Women’s Nordic skiing debuts
  • 1956: men’s 30km and the women’s 3x5km added.
  • 1964: Women’s 5km added.
  • 1984: Women’s 20km added.
  • 1988: Men’s and women's pursuits introduced.
  • 2002: Appearance of sprint and mass start events in Salt Lake City.


Ski touring in untracked terrain.

Recreational cross-country skiing includes ski touring and groomed-trail skiing, typically at resorts or in parklands.

Ski touring[edit]

Ski touring is done off-piste and outside of ski resorts. Tours can often extend over a period of more than one day. Typically, skis, bindings, and boots allow for free movement of the heel to enable a walking pace, as in Nordic, and unlike in Alpine skiing.[15] Ski touring's sub-genre ski mountaineering involves independently navigating and route finding through potential avalanche terrain, and often requires familiarity with meteorology along with skiing skills. Ski touring can also be faster and easier than summer hiking in some terrain allowing for traverses and ascents that would be harder in the summer. Skis can also be used to access backcountry alpine climbing routes when snow is off the technical route, but still covers the hiking trail.In some countries, organizations maintain a network of huts for use by cross-country skiers in wintertime. For example, the Norwegian Trekking Association maintains over 400 huts stretching across hundreds of kilometres of trails which are used by hikers in the summer and by skiers in the winter.[16]

Groomed-trail skiing[edit]

Cross-country ski trails in Thuringia, track-set for classic skiing at the sides and groomed for skate skiing in the center.

Groomed trail skiing occurs at facilities, such as Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort and Gatineau Park, Quebec, where trails are laid out and groomed for both classic and skate-skiing. Such grooming and track setting (for classic technique) requires specialized equipment and techniques that adapt to the condition of the snow. Trail preparation employs snow machines that tow snow compaction, texturing and track-setting devices. Groomers must adapt such equipment to the condition of the snow—crystal structure, temperature, degree of compaction, moisture content, etc. Depending on the initial condition of the snow, grooming may achieve an increase in density for new-fallen snow or a decrease in density for icy or compacted snow. Cross-country ski facilities may incorporate a course design that meets homologation standards for such organizations as the International Olympic Committee, the International Ski Federation or national standards. Standards address course distances, degree of difficulty with maximums in elevation difference and steepness—both up and downhill, plus other factors.[17][18]


Skiers employing step turns, while descending during a 2006 FIS World Cup Cross Country competition in Otepää, Estonia

Competitive cross-country skiing is sanctioned through the International Ski Federation (FIS). The FIS Nordic World Ski Championships have been held in various numbers and types of events since 1925 for men and since 1954 for women. From 1924 to 1939, the World Championships were held every year, including the Winter Olympics. After World War II, the World Championships were held every four years from 1950 to 1982. Since 1985, the World Championships have been held in odd-numbered years.

Notable cross-country ski competitions include the Winter Olympics, the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, and the FIS World Cup events (including the Holmenkollen. Notable ski marathons, include the Vasaloppet in Sweden, Birkebeineren in Norway, the Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland, the American Birkebeiner, the Tour of Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Boreal Loppet, held in Forestville, Quebec, Canada.</ref>

Ski orienteering is a form of cross-country skiing competition that requires navigation in a landscape, making optimal route choices at racing speeds. Standard orienteering maps are used, but with special green overprinting of trails and tracks to indicate their navigability in snow; other symbols indicate whether any roads are snow-covered or clear. Standard skate-skiing equipment is used, along with a map holder attached to the chest. It is one of the four orienteering disciplines recognized by the International Orienteering Federation[19] Upper body strength is especially important because of frequent double poling along narrow snow trails.


Cross-country skiing has two basic propulsion techniques, which apply to different surfaces: classic (undisturbed snow and tracked snow) and skate skiing (firm, smooth snow surfaces). A variety of turns are used, when descending.


César Baena uses classic technique in cross-country ski competition during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2009 in Liberec, Czech Republic.

The classic style is often used on prepared trails (pistes) that have pairs of parallel grooves (tracks) cut into the snow. It is also the most usual technique where no tracks have been prepared. With this technique, each ski is pushed forward from the other stationary ski in a striding and gliding motion, alternating foot to foot. With the "diagonal stride" variant the poles are planted alternately on the opposite side of the forward-striding foot; with the "kick-double-pole" variant the poles are planted simultaneously with every other stride. At times, especially with gentle descents, double poling is the sole means of propulsion.[1] On uphill terrain, techniques include the "side step" for steep slopes, moving the skis perpendicular to the fall line, the "herringbone" for moderate slopes, where the skier takes alternating steps with the skis splayed outwards, and, for gentle slopes, the skier uses the diagonal technique with shorter strides and greater arm force on the poles.[1]

Skate skiing[edit]

Michal Malák skate-skis at a qualifier for the Tour de Ski, 2007.

With skate skiing, the skier provides propulsion on a smooth, firm snow surface by pushing alternating skis away from one another at an angle, in a manner similar to ice skating. Skate-skiing usually involves a coordinated use of poles and the upper body to add impetus, sometimes with a double pole plant each time the ski is extended on a temporarily "dominant" side ("V1") or with a double pole plant each time the ski is extended on either side ("V2"). Skiers climb hills, using these techniques, by widening the angle of the "V" and by making more frequent, shorter strides and more forceful use of poles.[20]

This technique began with ski orienteering in the 1960s on roads and other firm surfaces. Finnish skier Pauli Siitonen developed a precursor to the style in the 1970s, when he would leave one ski in the track and skate to the side with the other in marathon or other endurance events. Finnish skier Pauli Siitonen used the style in the 1970s. It became widespread during the 1980s after the success of Bill Koch (USA) in 1982 Cross-country Skiing Championships drew more attention to the skating style. Norwegian skier Ove Aunli started using the technique in 1983 when finding the right wax was difficult.[21]


Turns, used while descending or for braking, include the snowplough (or "Wedge Turn"),[22] the stem Christie (or "Wedge Christie"),[22] parallel turn, and the Telemark turn. The step turn is used for maintaining speed during descents or out of track on flats.[23][24]


Equipment comprises skis, poles, boots and bindings; these vary according to:

  • Technique, classic vs skate
  • Terrain, which may vary from groomed trails to wilderness
  • Performance level, from recreational use to competition at the elite level[1]


Skis used in cross-country are lighter and narrower than those used in alpine skiing. Ski bottoms are designed to provide a gliding surface and, for classical skis, a traction zone under foot. The base of the gliding surface is a plastic material that is designed both to minimize friction and, in many cases, to accept waxes.[25] Glide wax may be used on the tails and tips of classic skis and across the length of skate skis.[1][26] Each type of ski is sized and designed differently:

  • Classic skis: Designed for skiing in tracks. For adult skiers (between 155cm/50kg and 185cm/75kg), recommended lengths are between 180 to 210 centimetres (approximately 115% of the skiers height). Traction comes from a “kick zone” underfoot that when bearing the skier’s weight engages either a textured gripping surface or a kick wax. When the skier’s weight is distributed on both skis, the ski’s camber diminishes the pressure of the kick zone on the snow and promotes bearing on the remaining area of the ski, which has the best glide. Accordingly, these skis are classified as "waxable" or "waxless." Recreational waxless skis generally require little attention and are adapted for casual use. Waxable skis, if prepared correctly, provide better grip and glide. [1][27][28]
  • Skate skis: Designed for skiing on groomed surfaces. Recommended lengths are between 170 to 200 centimetres (up to 110% of the skiers height) for adult skiers. The entire bottom of skate skis are prepared for maximum glide. Traction comes from the skier pushing away from the edge of the previous ski onto the next ski. [1]
  • Back country skis: Designed for ski touring on natural snow conditions. Recommended lengths are between 150 to 195 centimeters for adult skiers. Traction may come from a textured or waxed kick zone, as with classic skis, or from ski skins, which are applied to the ski bottom for long, steep ascents and have hairs or mechanical texture that prevents sliding backwards. Touring skis are typically heavier, shorter, and wider than classic and skate skis; they have metal edges for better grip on hard snow. Their greater sidecut helps carving turns.[29]

Gliding surface[edit]

Glide waxes enhance the speed of the gliding surface, and are applied by ironing them onto the ski and then polishing the ski bottom. Three classes of glide wax are available, depending on the level of desired performance with higher performance coming at higher cost. Hydrocarbon glide waxes, based on paraffin are common for recreational use. Race waxes comprise a combination of fluorinated hydrocarbon waxes and fluorocarbon overlays.[30] Fluorocarbons decrease surface tension and surface area of the water between the ski and the snow, increasing speed and glide of the ski under specific conditions. Either combined with the wax or applied after in a spray, powder, or block form, fluorocarbons significantly improve the glide of the ski and are widely used in cross country ski races.[31]

Traction surface[edit]

Skis designed for classical technique, both in track and in virgin snow, rely on a traction zone, called the "kick zone," underfoot. This comes either from a texture designed to slide forward, but not backwards, from applied devices, e.g. climbing skins, or from kick waxes. Kick waxes are classified according to their hardness: harder waxes are for colder and newer snow. An incorrect choice of kick wax may cause slipping (too hard for the conditions) or sticking (too soft for the conditions) of the kick zone.[1] Kick waxes generate grip by interacting with snow crystals, which vary with temperature, age and compaction.[1] Hard kick waxes don't work well for snow which has metamorphosed to having coarse grains, whether icy or wet. In these conditions, skiers opt for a stickier substance, called klister'.[1]

Boots and bindings[edit]

Ski binding and boot system for back-country skiing

Ski boots are attached to the ski only at the toe, leaving the heel free. Depending on application, boots may be lightweight (performance skiing) or heavier and more supportive (back-country skiing).[32]

Bindings connect the boot to the ski. There are three primary groups of binding systems used in cross-country skiing (in descending order of importance):[32]

  • Standardized system: Boots and bindings have an integrated connection, typically a bar across the front end of the sole of the boot, and platform on which the boot rests. Two families of standards prevail: NNN (New Nordic Norm) and SNS (Salomon Nordic System) Profil. Both systems have variants for skiing on groomed surfaces and in back country. These systems are the most prevalent type of binding.
  • Three-pin: The boot-gripping system comprises three pins that correspond to three holes in the sole of the boot's toe, used primarily for back-country skiing.
  • Cable: A cable secures the free-moving heel and keeps the toe of the boot pushed into a boot-gripping section, used primarily for back-country and telemark skiing.


Ski poles are used for balance and propulsion. Modern cross-country ski poles are made from aluminum, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, or carbon fiber, depending on weight, cost and performance parameters. Formerly they were made of bamboo. They feature a foot (called a basket) near the end of the shaft that provides a pushing platform, as it makes contact with the snow. Baskets vary in size, according to the softness/firmness of the snow. Racing poles feature smaller, lighter baskets than recreational poles. Poles designed for skating are longer than those designed for classical skiing.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rees, David (1981). Cross-country skiing: touring and competition (3d ed.). Toronto: Copp C. Pitman. ISBN 978-0-7730-4045-8. OCLC 300405310. 
  2. ^ Editors. "Ski". Merriam-Webster's Dictionary. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  3. ^ "Ancient Ice Sports". Shanghai News and Press Bureau. Retrieved 2012-01-01. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Saur, Lasse (1999): Norske ski - til glede og besvær. Research report, Høgskolen i Finnmark.
  5. ^ Birkely, Hartvig (1994): I Norge har lapperne først indført skierne. Idut.
  6. ^ Vaage, Jakob (1955). Milepeler og merkedager gjennom 4000 ar. Ranheim: Norske Skiloperer Ostlandet Nord Oslo. p. 9. 
  7. ^ Lund, Morten (Winter 1996). "A Short History of Alpine Skiing". Skiing Heritage 8 (1). Retrieved 2 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Hergstrom, P (1748). Beschreibung von dem unter schwedischer Krone gehörigen Lappland. Leipzig: von Rother. 
  9. ^ Magnus, Olaus. "Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus". Retrieved 25 September 2012. 
  10. ^ Bergsland, Einar (1946): På ski. Oslo: Aschehoug.
  11. ^ SKI Magazine’s Encyclopedia of Skiing. New York: Harper & Row. 1979. p. 5. 
  12. ^ de La Tocnaye, Jacques (1801). Promenade d'un Français en Suède et en Norvège. Brunswick: P.F. Fauche et Cie. 
  13. ^ "Cross Country Skiing Equipment and History". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 11 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Research and Reference Service (November 2011). "SKIING – cross-country skiing: participation during the history of the Olympic Winter Games—Introduction, key stages and evolution in the number of events from this sport’s beginnings to the present time". Reference document. Olympic Studies Centre. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  15. ^ A Complete Guide to Alpine Ski Touring Ski Mountaineering and Nordic Ski Touring Including Useful Information for Off Piste Skiers and Snow Boarders.. Authorhouse. 2014. p. xvii. ISBN 978-1491888087. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Volken, Martin; Schnell, Scott; Wheeler, Margaret (2007). Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering. Mountaineers Books. p. 12. ISBN 978-1594850387. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  17. ^ Thomson, Jim (November 2009). "A Technical Manual for the Organization of Cross Country Ski Events". Officials’ Manual Version 3.4. Coss Country Canada. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  18. ^ Editors. "Ski Trail Grooming Guidelines". University 
  19. ^ "Ski Orienteering". The Canadian Orienteering Federation. Retrieved 2008-05-26. 
  20. ^ Hindman, Steve (December 2008). "Technique & Training: Three steps to skating". Cross Country Skier Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-20. 
  21. ^ Bengtsson, Bengt Erik. "Cross-country skating: How it started". Skiing History Magazine. International Skiing History Association. Retrieved 2014-10-20. 
  22. ^ a b PSIA Standards Committee (June 2014). "Cross Country Certification Standards 2014". Professional Ski Instructors of America. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  23. ^ Fabricant, Florence (January 26, 1999). "The Novice; Mastering the Practical Curtsy, on Skis". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  24. ^ Hindman, Steve (2003). "Going Downhill". Training & Technique. Cross Country Skier Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  25. ^ "Cross Country Skiing Equipment and History". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 11 October 2014. 
  26. ^ "Cross Country Skis (Nordic Skis)". MEC. Mountain Equipment Coop. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Bergin, Ron (2008). "Back to Basics: A Quick Look at Paste Waxes, Waxless Ski Preparation and Kick Waxing". Archived from the original on 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  28. ^ XC Ski World. "Equipment - For Classic". Retrieved 2010-05-09. 
  29. ^ Editors (September 2, 2013). "How to choose the right ski length". Back Country. Retrieved 2014-10-22. 
  30. ^ Harvey, Ian (February 9, 2011). "Information on Fluorinated Waxes". A Michigan Nordic Ski Racer. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  31. ^ Swix (February 22, 2011). Fluorocarbons waxes are a skier’s best friend "Information on Fluorinated Waxes". A Michigan Nordic Ski Racer. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  32. ^ a b Dzierzak, Lou (November 2008). "Cross country skiers venture off track". On the Wild Side. Cross Country Skier Magazine. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  33. ^ "Cross-Country Skiing Glossary". REI. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 

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