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Encyclopedia > Cross country skiing

Cross-country skiing (aka XC skiing) is an adventure and fitness activity as well as a competitive winter sport popular in many countries with large snowfields, primarily in Europe and Canada.

XC skiing as a sport is part of the Nordic skiing family, which also includes ski jumping. As an adventure or leisure activity, XC skiing may be viewed as a kind of "bushwalking on skis", where skiers tackle trails of various lengths and difficulties. Some skiers stay out for extended periods using tents and equipment similar to bushwalkers, others take relatively short trips from ski resorts. There is also the possibility of using huts provided along some tourist trails, or to go by skis from private wood cabins in the mountains to visit other recreational cabin dwellers in the area.



The skis are long and thin to distribute the weight of the skier and allow her/him to move quickly. Typical ski dimensions are length 2 m (6–7 ft), width 5–6 cm (2 in) and thickness 1 cm ( in). Like downhill skiers, XC skiers carry two poles, usually made of aluminium, fibreglass or some other light material, with a spike at the end to provide a fixed pivot when the pole penetrates through to a hard surface, and a plastic ring (or "basket") both to provide maximum impetus from thick snow and to ensure the pole only goes to its designed embedding depth, so as to optimise the angle of arm force. The skier's footwear is attached to the ski with a binding. There are many different types of bindings and boots, more or less standard (some even proprietary) and so it is important to choose corresponding pieces of equipment.


Cross-country skiing has been practised in Scandinavian countries since prehistoric times, and also possibly by native Americans for similar lengths of time. It has been used by polar explorers as a means of transport, and all Scandinavian armies train their infantry on skis for winter operations. Traditionally, almost all equipment were made of natural material: wooden skis, preferably of hickory, and bamboo poles with leather hand straps and bamboo plus leather end rings/baskets. The footwear was usually sturdy leather boots with thick, rigid soles. Bindings were initially only simple straps made of twisted wood-based thread, but later evolved via the so-called Kandahar binding with fastening of the boots' front and back (still used in some armies), through the "Rats trap" front-only binding, to today's various modern front-only bindings.

Sports events

Today, there are several types of cross-country competitive events, involving races of various types and lengths, as well as the biathlon, involving a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The Winter Olympics, FIS World Championships and FIS World Cup events have long been a showcase for the world's fastest cross country skiers. There are also special extreme distance ski races, sometimes called ski marathons, like Vasaloppet, in Sweden, the oldest, longest, and biggest ski race in the world, as well as the Italian Marcia Longa, the Norwegian Birkebeineren and others. In competitive XC skiing, only classical and skating techniques are used: only one of them in a given race, or, in case of the so-called "double pursuit" event, the two styles are used each in their own separate half of the race (with a change of equipment in "pit stops" half way through).

  • Olympic medalists in cross-country skiing
  • Cross-country skiing World Championships
  • Cross-country skiing World Cup medalists


There are three main techniques used in XC skiing. Specially adapted equipment is available to suit each.


To move when on level ground or uphill whilst using the classical style, cross-country skiers slide one ski forward and reach with the arm on the other side to implant the pole in the snow in front of them, then pull on the pole to accelerate themselves along. They then lift the pole out of the snow and repeat the process with the other side of the body, hopefully maintaining momentum and achieving a smooth, energy-saving rhythm.

When reaching a downhill slope, they are able to coast down in a similar manner to downhill skiing, or may use Telemark technique - see below.

The classical style is often performed on prepared trails (pistes) that have pairs of parallel grooves cut into the snow, one for each ski, and consequently a special long, narrow and light ski is usually used. The skis used either have a fish-scale underside, or ski wax is applied to the central section in the centre of the ski, so that when the skier kicks the ski into the snow it grips, allowing the skier to move forward.

When skiing away from prepared trails, a much wider ski is usually used. When used by the local population of flat regions, such as parts of Finland, the skis may also be much longer, sometimes exceeding 3 or 4 m (yards) in length.

Free technique

Skiing by free technique/skating
Skiing by free technique/skating

Free technique, aka skating, involves the skier pushing outward with the ski angled, so that the inner edge of the ski is driven against the snow, much like an ice skater. Skis tend to be shorter than those used in classical technique, and poles longer. There are various combinations of ski and pole movements to suit the terrain and conditions. The technique is only suitable for use on prepared trails (pistes) or those with firm, smooth snow.


See the main article Telemark skiing for details.

The Telemark technique is particularly suited to backcountry skiing (off piste cross-country skiing). While first and foremost it is a technique for descending, for those with dedicated equipment it is effectively a separate branch of skiing that takes place in the backcountry (off piste).

See also

External links

  • FIS-Ski cross-country skiing portal (http://www.fis-ski.com/uk/disciplines/cross-country.html) – With the latest results, upcoming events, and World Cup standings



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