Cross-country skiing | Dec 27, 2022

Cross-country skiing: a beginners’ guide

You’re thinking about taking up cross-country skiing?
Marietta Hoffmann
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Some do it because it’s a great way to keep fit. Some do it because it’s a great way to enjoy nature. And some do it because it’s great – full stop. What are we talking about? Cross-country skiing, of course!

Apart from the abovementioned benefits, cross-country skiing has another big advantage: It’s remarkably easy to get started. It doesn’t take prior know-how, you don’t need lots of expensive gear and you can do it practically anywhere where there’s snow.

Having said that, it helps if you have a bit of prior information before setting off into the pristine winter landscape. That’s why we have compiled a beginners’ guide to cross-country skiing for you. Read on and discover some great tips!

What is cross-country skiing?

Cross-country skiing refers to skiing in open country. Unlike Alpine skiing, you don’t get steep descents and lifts. Instead, you glide across flat or hilly terrain using your skis and poles. There are two main techniques in cross-country skiing: classic and skating.

Classic cross-country skiing

  • similar motion to walking
  • based on the diagonal step
  • involves a straight-line stride
  • less intensive than skating

Skate skiing

  • similar motion to ice skating
  • more dynamic and challenging 
  • enables you to reach higher speeds
  • easier to master steep trails
© Fischer Sports GmbH
© Fischer Sports GmbH

What gear do you need for cross-country skiing?

Compared to other winter sports, gear needs for cross-country skiing are relatively modest. All you need to get started is a pair of cross-country skis, a pair of boots to go with them and a set of poles. Below you can find a few basic facts, for more detailed information check out our article on cross-country skiing equipment.

Read now!


Classic cross-country skis

© Fischer Sports GmbH
  • long and narrow
  • small grip zone
  • ideal for groomed tracks

Backcountry cross-country skis

  • shorter and wider version of classic cross-country skis
  • longer grip zone
  • metal edges for grip in icy conditions
  • ideal for skiing “off-trail” on meadows or hills
© Fischer Sports GmbH

Skate skis

© Fischer Sports GmbH
  • skinny and stiff
  • smooth base
  • about 10 cm shorter than classic cross-country skis
  • ideal for skiing on the skate lane of trails


Boots for classic cross-country skiing

  • soft outsole for a natural rolling motion
  • lower shaft

Boots for skating

  • stiffer outsole
  • higher shaft for more stability
© Fischer Sports GmbH


© IIC - INTERSPORT International Corporation GmbH

Poles for classic cross-country skiing

  • The top of the pole should reach up to your armpit.
  • The length of the pole should be roughly your height in cm x 0.83.

Poles for skating

  • The top of the pole should reach up to your ears or nose. 
  • The length of the pole should be roughly your height in cm x 0.89.

What clothes do you need for cross-country skiing?

As with practically any other winter sport, layering is the key to an enjoyable cross-country skiing experience.

Base layer: functional underwear (e.g. made from merino wool) that wicks sweat away from your skin
Mid-layera shirt or fleece that keeps you warm
Outer shell: a cross-country jacket and pants that protect you from the elements

© Fischer Sports GmbH

What are the best tips for getting started?

Now that we have covered your basic equipment needs, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty! What’s the best way to get started? Here are five tips for first-timers on cross-country skis:

Get fit

Tip # 1

You don’t have to be a top athlete to go cross-country skiing. But – like with any other sport – it helps if you have a basic level of fitness. A good way to build up your stamina are endurance sports like jogging and cycling.

Our tip: Nordic walking and inline skating both involve similar movements to cross-country skiing. While Nordic walking is similar to classic-style cross-country skiing, inline skating resembles the skating technique. That’s why both of these sports are useful to get prepared for your first time on cross-country skis.

Start out easy

Tip # 2

Ok, so maybe you already ARE a top athlete – but it’s also important not to overestimate your skills. For your first cross-country skiing experiences, take things slowly! Choose a flat, easy trail that’s not too long. 

As classic-style cross-country skiing is generally considered to be easier in terms of balance on the skis, it’s a good idea to start with this technique.

© IIC - INTERSPORT International Corporation GmbH

Learn from the experts

Tip # 3

Cross-country skiing may look effortless, but it can be hard work if you don't use the correct movement for the respective technique. For instance, Nordic skiing requires specific movements at a precise time to optimise your glide and avoid being exhausted after ten minutes.

That’s why it can be a good idea to take lessons before your first time on cross-country skis. Most ski schools offer courses for cross-country skiing in both techniques and even biathlon. Doesn’t it sound nice to start your cross-country skiing career together with like-minded winter sports fans? Plus, with some expert advice, you will be able to enjoy your cross-country skiing experience to the fullest.

Stick to the rules

Tip # 4

Just like for Alpine skiing, the Fédération Internationale de Ski has issued a set of rules for cross-country skiing, including information on overtaking, two-way traffic and more. Following these guidelines guarantees a safe and enjoyable cross-country skiing experience for everyone.

Read now!

© Fischer Sports GmbH

Keep up the spirit

Tip # 5

We hate to say it – but not everyone is a born cross-country skier. In the beginning, getting the technique right can be tricky. So for your first time on the trail, be prepared to fall – it happens to everyone! The only important thing is to don’t get discouraged and keep going!


Can’t wait to try cross-country skiing?

We bet you’ll love it! For your first time, why don’t you drop by an INTERSPORT Rent shop near you? Our RENTertainers will be happy to kit you out for your cross-country adventure!

Find a shop!

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