Learning to ski cross-country


Learning to ski cross-country

Skate skiing is the cross-country skiing style you know best from seeing global competitions. There are various race distances, and relays, and it’s the way biathletes skate, also. When you see great skiers such as two-time world champion biathlete Laura Dahlmeier or Olympic champion Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, it looks really fast and like a lot of fun. Well, it is fun, and you can become fast, but it is a tough, tough workout. If you’re interested, we’ll get you started.

Skate skiing technique

This is a dynamic cross-country skiing style requiring fairly sophisticated technique, good balance, and good physical conditioning that can get skiers moving at up to 30kmh (19mph). Skating has a ski that is entirely different from Classic style skis. When you want to give it a try, the ideal spot is on a groomed trail, which typically offers the two -ane track Classic skiers use and right next to it will be a flat, firm trail for Skaters. Not all parks or public spaces allow cross-country skiing, so if it’s not a designated trail, be sure you’re actually allowed to be there.

Getting a feel

Take your time to just stand on your skis, maybe making a few small movements, transferring your weight, so you get used to the basic sensation of these thin skis on hard snow. You’ll be digging in with the inner edges of the skis, so get a feel for that, too, before you even move.

On the trail

The starting position is with the skis in a comfortable V position, with the heels close together but not overlapping.

The basic motion is somewhat similar to inline skating or ice skating. You push off on the inner edge of one ski at a time, outward and rearward, while you keep the other ski pointed forward to glide.

As you finish your push off, transfer your weight to the glide ski, and pull the push off ski back in so it will be in position to be the next glide ski as you alternate legs for the push off and glide. The further apart your skis are, the more resistance you’ll have under your push off ski.

Practice this motion while staying in one place, not yet actually skating, just to get a feel for the weight transfer and ski position.

On the move

You’re ready to really Skate ski now. You know the very basics and you have the ideal training surface. Start with your skis in a V position, put more weight on one leg and push off with the inner edge of the other ski. On a good pair of waxed skis you’ll start moving immediately! Practice bringing the push off ski right back towards the other leg right when the push is completed. You’ll quickly develop a smooth rhythm.

At first don’t use poles. Let your legs do the work. They’re bent slightly and the upper body is relaxed without much movement. When you start to use poles, you’ll use a proven double-poling method, known as the 2:1 technique, where the arms are used with every other skating stride, planted into the snow each time at the level of the same leading ski.

Cross-country poles are longer than Alpine poles due to the extended power push off they need to perform. Skate poles are longer than Classic. The rule of thumb here is they should be 90% of your height. As you start to refine your technique, be on the lookout for these common errors:

  •  Don’t overcommit your weight to either leg, or too far forward, at any point. Falling forward is as common as falling backward for beginners.
  • A good glide is where you get speed and smoothness from. Don’t try to generate all your speed with a frenetic kick phase. Kicking and gliding are both important.
  • When you’re on a groomed trail, there are rules in place, most likely those of the FIS. Learn the rules, and, just as importantly, do your best to let everyone ski safely and enjoy themselves at any speed.
  •  Ski types are definitely not interchangeable. Skating on Classic skis will be zero fun. The base is entirely different and will not work with the Skate technique.

Five skating techniques

Don’t worry, there aren’t five different sports with five different skis. These are just five variations of Skating you can use in different settings and topography.


  1. Diagonal skiing is used on extremely steep uphills. Each pole is planted in unison with the power stroke of the opposite leg. It is actually similar to the way you climb a short rise on Alpine skis but in a much more rapid motion.
  2. 2:1 technique as discussed above. This is the most common technique for most Skate skiing situations. Be sure to switch the cadence occasionally so you’re pushing off on the poles along with a different leading leg sometimes.
  3. 1:1 technique is a real power move to generate short busts of speed. This is used anywhere except steep uphills. Right before every single push-off you plant and push with both poles. So it’s one double-pole push for every one ski push off.
  4. The arm-swing technique uses exaggerated arm and upper body motion to generate high speeds on steeper downhills. It’s similar to the 2:1 , but as one ski kicks, the upper body weight transfers over the lead, gliding ski, then the arms are brought aggressively forward for the next poling action.

    Here, again, changing the cadence occasionally so your poling accompanies a different glide ski iat times is important to prevent excessive fatigue on one side.
  5. When the ice skating stride is in play, it’s a very high speed situation, with extremely long glide phases, and it’s nothing for beginners. At high speeds the poles are no longer needed and are held under the arms or they swing freely at the skier’s side.


In competitive situations you’ll even see Cross-country skiers in a gliding tuck the exact same way Alpine racers do.

Hit the brakes

Knowing the basics of forward motion and being able to ski straight ahead without losing your balance is only half the equation. So let’s take a look at turning and stopping. You can’t really scrub off speed by zig zagging like you can in Alpine skiing, but you can snowplow the same way, and just as effectively.

 And curves aren’t take in smooth sweeping movements, but rather in a series of quick, small steps to reposition yourself. An easy trick is to jump into the Classic ski track next to your Skate path and take the turn that way.

The right gear for skating

Do not underestimate how much of a workout cross-country skiing is. Think of it as a jogging loop where you also have to exercise your arms. Overheating is as much of a risk as cold hands or feet. Excess perspiration will get cold and uncomfortable. Dress accordingly.

Skating boots are also different from Classic cross-country boots. They are stiffer and more supportive to enhance the power transfer of the Skate motion.

Skating vs. Classic

Same sport, two totally different styles.

Classic skiing has that name because it was originally a form of personal transportation that later became a sport. You follow a groomed track and move your arms and legs in a straight manner. Skate skiing developed later and was also recognized as a formal sport later. You need smooth trails, but not in the specific depth and width that Classic skiers do. It’s also called Free Skate. The movement, we know, has a much greater lateral aspect and more complex technique to it.

One thing both styles shares is that they are both fantastic ways to experience the outdoors, and they both put tough demands on all the major muscle groups. Skate skiing takes a little more time to master and more physical commitment, since it is the more athletic of the two styles, but the rewards are great. Attaining 30kph (19mph) through the power of your own legs and arms is a special feeling.