Cross-country skiing

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Cross-country skiing
Campeonato mundial.jpg
Nicknames 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 competitive form of skiing consisting of races over fixed courses of varying lengths. Internationally, the sport is contested at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, the FIS Cross-Country World Cup, and at the Winter Olympic Games. There are two types of cross-country skiing: traditional, and skate skiing.

More generally, cross-country skiing is a style of skiing used in sports like biathlon and ski-orienteering. It is a popular aerobic exercise and is used in activities like ski touring.


Start of a German Reichswehr military training patrol team in the Giant Mountains, 1932.
Main article: History of skiing

Cross country skiing is the oldest type of skiing. It emerged from a need to travel over snow-covered terrain. Norwegian army units were skiing for sport (and prizes) in the 18th century. At the olympics, the sport has traditionally been dominated by the Nordic countries. Olympic timeline:[1]

Competition has been evolving to make it more interesting for spectators.


Priit Narusk in the qualification for the 2007–08 Tour de Ski in Prague.

The Winter Olympics, the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, and the FIS World Cup events (including the Holmenkollen and the Tour de Ski, a grueling nine race series completed in eleven days) have long been a showcase for the world's fastest cross country skiers. There are also special distance ski races, sometimes called ski marathons, like Vasaloppet in Sweden, Birkebeineren in Norway, the Engadin Skimarathon in Switzerland, the American Birkebeiner, and the Tour of Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska.

Classic vs. skating[edit]

Opening a track through deep snow can be quite arduous.

In classical cross-country skiing the skis remain parallel and pointed straight ahead. The poles are planted alternately on the opposite side to the kick. The underside of the skis has a sticky section in the middle created either with ski wax or with scales. It can be done on groomed trails or in the backcountry. This style can also be used to break trail through ungroomed snow, and to go up and down moderate hills.[2] When descending a hill, the telemark or the snowplough turn is used.

Skate-skiing is a newer faster technique than classic. The skis mostly remain in a V-shape. There is no grip section under the ski, the skis are waxed with a glide wax over their entire length, making them faster than classical skis. Force in Skate-skiing generated by pushing the inside edges of the ski against the snow. The skiier must balance alternately on each leg, while pushing with the poles. Skate skiing can only be done on smooth and wide specially-groomed trails.[2]

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


SNS Profil boot (Salomon) and ski binding (Fischer)
  • Skis used in cross-country are lighter and narrower than those used in alpine skiing and have long curved tips. For classical events, the minimum length is 195 to 210 centimetres, while the average length for skating 170-200cm.[1] Classic skis are generally longer, narrower and lighter than back country skis, which makes them faster and more efficient on groomed trails. Metal-edge touring skis are typically heavier, shorter, wider, and have metal edges for better grip. Their greater sidecut helps downhill turning.[3] Skating skis are lighter and longer than classic skis. Classic skis have a pronounced arch, a high central section and a "wax pocket" underfoot. The ski base is held up off of the snow's surface slightly by the springiness of the ski. When the skier pushes back on the ski, the sticky wax grips the snow.[4]
  • Ski poles are used for balance and propulsion. They feature a foot (called a basket) near the end of the shaft that provides a pushing platform. Racing poles feature smaller, lighter baskets than classic poles.[4]
  • Ski boots are attached to the bindings only at the toe, leaving the heel free. Depending on usage boots will be either lightweight, or heavier and more supportive.


Main article: Ski wax

There are a wide variety of waxes for Nordic Skiing. The waxes can be classified into four main categories: glide waxes, kick waxes, klisters and waxtapes.

Glide wax[edit]

Glide waxes are used to make a ski glide faster, and are applied by ironing onto the ski. Glide waxes range widely in price, depending on quality; racing waxes can be very expensive, over $100 for a 60 gram block of wax. They are generally in the form of blocks, though they can be found as powders or liquids. Glide waxes are applied outside the kick zone of classic skis, or to the full length of skate skis. They are the only type of wax used on skating skis. Typically, three different categories of wax may be used, depending on the level of cross country skiing. Hydrocarbon waxes, made from simple paraffin waxes, are used in most recreational and lower level glide waxing. Race waxing may use a combination of fluorinated hydrocarbon waxes and fluorocarbon overlays.[5] 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.[6]

Kick wax[edit]

The purpose of kick wax is to provide grip on snow when weight is transferred on a ski; they are used on classic skis only. Kick waxes are applied in the kick zone of classic skis if the ski is not a fish-scale, waxless ski.[7]

Kick waxes are classified according to their hardness: harder waxes are for colder and newer snow. Using a wax that is too hard will not give sufficient grip, while wax that is too soft will cause the formation of an ice sole that slows the skier down. It is not uncommon to apply a new layer of wax if the weather changes, or when moving in altitude.

The difficulty of choosing correct kick waxes to different conditions is nowadays greatly reduced by grip wax tapes, which have a wide temperature range, and are easily applied to the ski bottom. Although these are not used by competitors, who prefer the optimum waxing, they have proven to be quite suitable for fitness and recreational purposes. Many high-level competitive teams have "wax technicians" whose job is to apply the ideal wax combinations for the conditions.[citation needed]

Kick waxes generate grip by penetrating into the snowflakes when the skier puts his weight on the ski. Colder snowflakes are harder, and so is newly fallen snow. The most appropriate wax is the one that is soft enough to generate grip, but also hard enough not to accumulate snow and create a sole.

Waxes are usually colour-coded by usage temperature: the most common are red for above 0˚C, and blue for below. There are many other colours for more specific temperature ranges, for instance violet for around 0˚C, green for below -10˚C, and white for below -15˚C. The snow-temperature range given by the producer will vary slightly, since new snow will require a harder wax.

Guessing the right hardness can be quite difficult, and the varying condition of the snow can make the right choice wrong after a few hundred metres. Furthermore, the snow in the beaten track is usually much different from the one immediately surrounding it, and works best with a softer wax. If skis are poorly tuned, sometimes the skier can solve thin snow soles caused by a soft wax by beating the ski on the track after kicking; the opposite problem may be handled by skating. One way around the problems of standard grip wax is to use a wax grip tape, which is applied to the kick zone of the ski in tape form. The tape can last for 100 to 200 km (62 to 124 mi) has a very wide temp range (-20C to +5C), and can be left on the ski at the end of the day and stored by covering in waxed paper.


If the snow is transformed (coarse grained, icy or wet), kick wax may not provide enough grip. One must therefore resort to klister, which is a glue-like paste (in Scandinavian languages "klister" means "glue' or "paste"). Klister is discouraging for amateurs, as it is very sticky, it is easy to apply but very difficult to remove.

Klister can be applied with a plastic blade or with the palm of the hand. The hand is then cleaned in the glove, rubbing against the glove fabric while sweating. Since klister is a non-polar substance, a non-polar solvent (such as mineral spirits) or a soap is necessary to remove it. It is possible to buy solvents made specifically for cleaning skis. These should be used with care, as they are both flammable and toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Klister is also colour-coded: red, purple, blue and silver.

Waxless skis[edit]

In recent decades waxless skis have become popular in the recreational ski market. Introduced in 1970, waxless skis accounted for 75 percent of cross country sales in the United States in 1985, despite their typically poor performance compared with well-waxed skis.[8]

Waxless skis have a fish scale, cross-hatched or ridged pattern in the kick zone to provide grip. A waxless ski is inferior to a finely tuned waxed ski, but does not require the sometimes time-consuming and sometimes costly selection and application of kick wax or klister and will work between temperatures, an important advantage in areas with many sun/shadow boundaries. Some skiers apply a layer of glide wax to keep them sliding smoothly and protecting the surface from dirt and ice build-up. There are specialty liquid wax products on the market manufactured for waxless skis, though standard glide wax can also be used on the tips and tails of the ski.[9][10]

Waxless skis are better suited to recreational and casual skiers who want to ski with minimal time spent on maintenance, as they generally produce too much drag for competitive skiers and those who value comparatively effortless movement.[11]

Waxless skis are sometimes used by Nordic racers during variable ski conditions such as temperatures over freezing. At the 1976 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck, US ski team member Bill Koch won a silver medal on waxless skis.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Cross Country Skiing Equipment and History". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved 11 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Adult Cross-Country Skiing Instruction". Weston Ski Track. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Cross Country Skis (Nordic Skis)". MEC. Mountain Equipment Coop. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Cross-Country Skiing Glossary". REI. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Information on Fluorinated Waxes
  6. ^ Fluorocarbons waxes are a skier’s best friend, Swix, 22 February 2011
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Inventing a ski that you didn't have to wax was easy. Listening to everybody laugh was the hard part
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ XC Ski World (n.d.). "Equipment - For Classic". Retrieved 9 May 2010. 
  11. ^ Mountain Equipment Coop (2010). "Cross-Country Skis (Nordic Skis)". Retrieved 9 May 2010. 


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