Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners


a couple cross country skiing outdoors

Many people are looking for outdoor recreational activities to enjoy, and cross-country skiing is a popular choice. If you’ve never been cross-country skiing or are looking to invest in your own cross-country skiing gear this winter, our Winter Sports Experts break down some cross-country skiing basics including the types of cross-country skiing, what you need for cross-country skiing, and what to wear cross-country skiing. 

Types of Cross-Country Skiing

There are two main types of cross-country skiing—classic and skate skiing. Before digging into the main types of cross-country skiing, it’s important to clarify that Nordic skiing, cross-country skiing, and XC skiing all are the same. Often people are confused between these three different names, but they can all be used interchangeably.

two men out cross country skiing

Classic Skiing—Classic skiing is the most popular type of cross-country skiing, and the easiest to learn. Classic skiing is done on groomed trails that have tracks to follow. When classic skiing, you’ll use a straight-line stride called a “kick and glide.” 

Skate Skiing—Skate skiing is a faster-paced option that offers a more intense workout. This type of cross-country skiing is done on groomed trails but without the tracks. As the name suggests, skate skiing requires you to move in a similar motion as skating on ice.

What You Need for Cross-Country Skiing

There are a few pieces of cross-country skiing gear you need to have for a fun time this winter. Often there are places in the area where you can rent these items if you’re not ready to invest in all the equipment this season. Contact your local SCHEELS to see if they offer cross-country skiing rental equipment!

  • Cross-Country Skis: Based on which type of cross-country skiing you’re doing, you’ll want to purchase the right style—classic skis or skate skis. The size of the cross-country skis you need is based on your weight. If you’re a beginner to cross-country skiing and between sizes, it’s best to size down as you’ll experience more control with a shorter ski.
  • Cross-Country Ski Boots: You’ll want to try your boots on with a thick pair of socks so you know that your feet won’t be cramped. Make sure your boots are compatible with the bindings on your skis too.
  • Cross-Country Ski Poles: Cross-country ski poles typically have a small half-circle basket on the end as well as straps to prevent you from dropping them and having to reach down to grab them when out on the trails. 
  • Proper Clothing: You’ll also want to make sure you layer correctly. We break down the specifics in the next section.

What to Wear Cross-Country Skiing

Like every outdoor winter activity, layering is key. You’ll quickly warm up when cross-country skiing, so layering is the best way to stay comfortable. There are three main layers you’ll want to consider wearing depending on the temperature:

a woman wearing layers when out cross country skiing
  • Base Layer: The first layer you want to wear is a base layer. These are designed to wick away sweat keeping you dry and warm for longer. If you need help, read our article How to Choose a Base Layer.
  • Middle Layer: A middle layer will be your insulating layer. Good options for middle layers include a warm fleece pullover or lightweight running vest. 
  • Outer Layer: If it’s windy, an outer layer is important as this will give you added protection. You’ll want to wear a windbreaker jacket or running jacket that will still block the wind yet isn’t bulky to restrict your mobility.
  • Pants: Most cross-country skiers wear stretchy yet warm pants to maximize mobility. Good options for pants include winter running tights or wind-resistant running pants. 
  • Winter Accessories: Consider wearing a hat or headband to keep your ears warm, gloves or mittens to protect your hands, a buff for additional warmth around your neck, and merino-wool socks to keep your toes warm.

Now that you have the cross-country skiing basics, you’re ready to enjoy a season of cross-country skiing. If you have additional questions about cross-country skiing, contact a Winter Sports Expert at your local SCHEELS