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Cross-Country Skis

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Cross-Country Skis

Whether you call it "Nordic," "XC," or just plain old "cross-country" skiing, your choice of skis is key to enjoying the sport. The first step in choosing cross-country skis is consider the type of cross-country skiing you do (classic vs. skate) and terrain you ski (groomed vs. ungroomed).

Classic vs. skate skiing: In classic cross-country skiing, skis continuously move in parallel with one another as you push off and glide. In contrast, the faster skate-skiing motion resembles a speed skater-skis are angled outward both when you push off and when you glide.

Groomed vs. ungroomed terrain: Some skis are made to use in resort areas that smooth out trails, laying down a wide platform for skate skiing and precisely grooved tracks for classic skiing. Other skis are designed for ungroomed trails and open backcountry terrain.

To learn more about the basics, read Beginner's Guide to Cross-Country Skiing and How to Choose Cross-Country Gear.

Cross-country skis fall into a few broad categories:

Cross-country touring classic skis are intended for efficient skiing in groomed tracks.

Metal-edge touring classic skisare constructed to optimize handling and flotation in steep, ungroomed terrain. Metal edges offer grip in icy conditions.

Race and performance classic skis are made for fast-paced skiing in groomed racks.

Skate skis are designed exclusively for use in areas groomed for skate skiing.

Selecting your ski category is the key step because most design elements discussed below are similar within a given category. The exception is length, because all skis come in a range of lengths, and your correct size (length) depends on your weight.

Cross-Country Ski Size

Ski sizes are based on skier weight ranges. Each ski model should list skier weight ranges for its available sizes (ski lengths). Be wary of generic size charts because ski sizing varies from brand to brand, and from model to model within brands.

Note: Longer skis are faster than shorter ones. If you're between sizes and are a new skier, choose the shorter option. Choose the longer option if you're comfortable using faster skis.

Cross-Country Ski Width

Ski width also affects speed, with narrow skis being faster. Skate skis and racing/performance skis are the narrowest, in-track touring skis are slightly wider and skis for ungroomed terrain are the widest-to offer flotation in deep snow.

If you want a ski that you can use in both groomed tracks and ungroomed terrain, then look for one with the widest point close to (but not greater than) 68mm, which is the width of the track laid down by most grooming machines.

Cross-Country Ski Bases: Waxless vs. Waxable

Skis need to grip so you can climb hills and propel yourself forward on the flats. Most classic cross-country skis have "waxless" bases that have a special texture in their mid-sections to handle grip needs. Some performance skis are "waxable," though, meaning you must apply wax in that grip zone, and vary the ski wax you use to match the snow conditions.

Skate skis are also considered "waxable" because applying wax helps maintain peak performance over time and can be altered to optimize performance for snow conditions.

Glide waxing: this optional step benefits even waxless cross-country skis; glide wax can be wiped on as needed to keep skis sliding smoothly and prevent snow clumping onto them.

Cross-Country Ski Compatibility with Bindings and Boots

Be sure the bindings on the skis you choose are compatible with the cross-country ski boots you own or plan to buy. Note that some skis are sold with bindings, while others are not. Specs for each ski should list its compatible binding system(s). You can also refer to this boot/binding chart to see which systems are compatible.

More to Consider

Your cross-country ski poles don't have the same compatibility constraints as cross-country ski boots and bindings, but, as this XC pole size chart shows, the pole length you choose differs between classic and skate skiing. And don't forget other essentials like cross-country ski clothing, cross-country ski packs and bags, and ski tuning tools and supplies.

More Reasons to Shop at REI

REI carries top brands like Fischer, Rossignol, Salomon and Madshus. We also provide a cross-country gear checklist and library of cross-country ski articles to help get you ready for a day on the snow.