Cross-Country Skiing Glossary

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Looking down at 4 pairs of cross-country skis attached to skiers




Alpine skiing: Downhill skiing, typically done at a lift-assisted ski resort. Gear includes stiff plastic boots, fixed-heel bindings and skis with an alpine camber or some version of a rocker or reverse camber.

Alpine touring (AT): A style of backcountry skiing, also called randonee or ski mountaineering, in which free-heel striding and climbing skins are used for ascending slopes, and fixed-heel, parallel turns are used for the descents. Gear is similar to that for alpine skiing, but AT bindings switch between free-heel and fixed-heel modes. Alpine skiing and alpine touring boots and bindings are not compatible.




Backcountry skiing: Any kind of skiing done away from developed land, open roads or lift-assisted ski resorts. It may refer to cross-country skiing, or to randonee or telemark skiing, in these areas.

Base: The bottom of the ski, usually made of a hard, clear material in touring and metal-edge touring skis and of a slightly softer, black graphite material in performance skis. (See also extruded ski base and sintered ski base.)

Basket: Plastic foot near the end of a ski pole shaft that provides a pushing platform for cross-country skiing. Racing poles feature smaller, lighter baskets than touring poles.

Biathlon: Olympic and World Cup event involving cross-country skiing and marksmanship. Participants (carrying .22-caliber rifles on their backs) ski prescribed interval distances with stops at a shooting range for both prone and standing attempts at targets. In some races penalty loops are skied for missed targets and in other events time is simply added.




Camber: The upward curve built into the middle of a ski, which can be seen when the ski is laid on a flat surface. The amount of camber helps determine a ski's performance characteristics.

Alpine (single) camber: Ski curvature characterized by a subtle, gradual arch in the middle, without a defined wax pocket. Alpine camber distributes skier weight more evenly over the entire ski base, which makes it easier to carve smooth turns. Skating skis have alpine camber; downhill skis (alpine, randonee and telemark) traditionally have had alpine camber but many now have rocker camber or reverse camber.

Nordic (double) camber: Ski curvature characterized by a pronounced arch, a high central section and a "wax pocket" underfoot. The ski base is held up off of the snow's surface slightly by the shape and flex of the ski. The center of the wax pocket is pressed into the snow for traction during the kick phase of classic striding. General touring and metal-edge touring skis have Nordic camber.

Classic technique: Cross-country skiing technique characterized by opposite-leg and opposite-arm motion in a straight-ahead direction. Also called kick and glide , this is the technique primarily associated with cross-country skiing. It is what skiing exercise machines simulate. See also diagonal stride.

Cross country: Commonly used term for Nordic skiing. The term is inclusive of general touring, metal-edge touring and skate skiing. It is often abbreviated as XC.

Cross-country ski center: A commercial area featuring groomed trails and other amenities. Most areas offer lessons, rental equipment, food, first aid and warming shelters. Also called a Nordic ski center.




Diagonal stride: The forward movement associated with cross-country skiing. The body weight is thrust onto the front leg/ski as it glides forward with the rear leg/ski extended naturally behind with the ski tail lifted slightly off the snow. The arms move in opposition to the legs, just as if you were running. See also classic technique.





Extruded ski base: Typically found on general touring skis, an extruded base is relatively inexpensive and easy to repair. It is formed from melted polyethylene pellets. Extruded bases are not as abrasion-resistant as sintered bases, nor do they hold wax as well.




FIS (Federation of International Skiing): International governing body for all ski sport.

Flex: The stiffness of a ski, or the degree to which it resists bending. Flex ratings can refer to the stiffness of an entire ski or to specific sections like the tip or tail. The amount of flex a ski has will affect how it feels and reacts in different snow and skiing conditions.

Soft-flexed skis bend more easily and, as a result, are easier to control and turn in softer snow and at lower speeds.

Stiff-flexed skis are more difficult to bend and tend to be more responsive at high speeds and in harder snow conditions. They can be difficult to handle in soft powder and deep snow.

Freestyle: Another term for skate skiing (skating).




Glide wax: Hard-sealing wax product applied to ski bases to improve glide efficiency and protect the base materials from wear and oxidation. It is typically applied to the entire base of skating and telemark skis, but only to the tip and tail zones of touring skis. Even so-called nonwax skis benefit from occasional tip and tail glide waxing, for improved performance and conditioning. Glide wax is usually applied with heat for added durability.

Glide zone: The portion of a ski base (tips and tails) that is waxed to maximize glide.

Grip (or kick) wax: Designed to provide traction for waxable skis. Grip wax produces this traction by allowing the rough edges of snow crystals to penetrate the wax layer just enough to grab hold of the ski when it is stationary and weighted. It does not prevent the ski from gliding smoothly when already in motion.

Groomed trail: A trail on which parallel tracks for striding and a wide, smooth area for skating have been prepared by machine. Usually features signs designating the level of skiing difficulty.




Header (also face plant, melon slide, nose burner): Face-first fall.

Holmenkollen: Norwegian ski stadium/course and home of the most famous annual World Cup competition for cross-country skiing.




Klister: Sticky, gooey gel used for kick (grip) waxing in conditions such as old snow and very wet snow.




Length: The distance from ski tip to tail. Proper length depends on height, weight, ability and skiing style. In general, longer skis tend to be faster and more stable, while shorter skis tend to be easier to control and turn.





New Nordic Norm (NNN): Boot/binding system consisting of a short, metal rod in the toe of the boot sole and a clip-in binding to which it attaches. NNN bindings also feature raised ridges that fit into matching grooves on the soles of NNN boots for lateral control. Known for their comfortable flex and efficient ski control.

Nordic combined: Olympic and World Cup event involving combined competition in jumping and a subsequent cross-country ski race. Racers start the ski race based on how well they jumped—first one across the line wins.

Nordic Integrated System (NIS): Developed by Rottefella, this variation of the New Nordic Norm (NNN) boot/binding system features a different binding-to-ski connection.

Nordic Norm (see also 3-pin): Traditional, 3-pin boot/binding connection. The boots have tonguelike extensions on the toes with 3 holes in the undersides. The extensions fit over 3 vertical pins on each binding, over which a curved bale is squeezed down to hold them in place.

Nordic skiing: Typically refers to any form of cross-country skiing, including classic or backcountry touring, skating and telemark.




Off-piste: Skiing out of a managed ski area; out of bounds.

Off-track skiing: Skiing on unprepared snow whether previously skied on or not.




Pin head (pinner): Telemark skier; refers to the 3-pin style bindings used in telemark skiing.

Pole grip: Handle on a ski pole.




Randonee skiing: See alpine touring.

Rollerskis: An off-snow training method for cross-country skiers. Skis are short (2-3 ft.) metal shafts with rubber or polyethylene wheels attached to both ends. Used primarily on pavement although some models work off-road.




Salomon Nordic System (SNS): Salomon's proprietary boot/binding connection system featuring a single, wide binding ridge and matching sole groove as compared to the twin ridges and matching grooves found on NNN bindings and boots. Because of this difference in design, SNS and NNN systems are not compatible.

Sidecut: The concave arches in the sides of a ski, designed to enhance the ski's turning performance. In general, the more sidecut a ski has (up to a point), the easier it will be to turn. Keep in mind, however, that sidecut can have a negative effect on your forward glide and how well your skis track in a straight line. For this reason, pronounced sidecuts are not recommended for in-track striding or for casual touring across flat or moderate terrain.

Sintered ski base: A less common form of ski base formed by molding polyethylene with pressure and heat, but without melting it. The result is a porous, abrasion-resistant, wax-absorbent surface. Typically found on mid- to upper-end ski models, sintered bases tend to be more expensive than extruded bases and outperform them when properly glide-waxed.

Sitzmark: Large indentation in a track or open area created by a fallen skier. It's good trail etiquette to fill these in if you make one.

Skate skiing: Cross-country skiing technique where the skier keeps the tips apart and the tails together and gets the kick by pushing off the inside edge of alternating skis (as in ice skating). Also called skating or freestyle skiing, this form of skiing is highly aerobic and can be very fast.

Ski mountaineering: See alpine touring.

Ski orienteering: Cross-country discipline in which the skier must locate a series of control points with the aid of a topographical map and compass.

Skins: Strips of synthetic (nylon, mohair or polyurethane) material that are temporarily affixed to the bottoms of skis for traction. Usually used in the backcountry for sustained uphill climbing. Can be affixed with adhesives, clips or both to the entire length of the ski or just in the kick zone (kicker skins).

Stick wax: Wax that is applied in a crayonlike fashion. Color-coded by the brand to adapt to anything from sub-zero to freezing-level snow. Primarily used on fresh snow and sharp crystals.





Telemark: Type of downhill turn and style of turning typically involving one ski slid forward and a distinctive forward bent-knee position. Telemark turns provide good fore/aft stability that makes them effective at a downhill ski area using chairlifts or in the backcountry.

Three-pin: A traditional, stable binding/boot system usually used in backcountry touring, classic touring and telemarking. Can also refer to the above-mentioned types of skiing. See also Nordic Norm.

Track skiing: Cross-country skiing on machine-groomed snow using classic or skating technique.




USSA (United States Ski Association): National governing body and administrative organization for downhill and cross-country (minus biathlon) skiing in the United States.




Wax: Comes in 2 types: kick (or grip) and glide. Kick wax is used for grip in the classic technique. Both stick wax and klister are common varieties of kick wax. Kick wax is applied exclusively to the middle third of classic skis. Glide wax is used on the tips and tails of classic skis and on the entire length of skating skis.

Waxable skis: Any cross-country ski that can be treated with performance-enhancing waxes to improve grip and/or glide. The term is typically used to refer to skis that do not have grip patterns carved or molded into their bases. But all cross-country skis are actually waxable, since all benefit from periodic glide waxing to condition their bases and protect them from oxidation.

Wax pocket: The central section of a Nordic-cambered ski that is held slightly off of the snow's surface by its curvature. The pocket, also called the kick zone, is the part of the ski that grips the snow when the skier's weight is on it and the ski is not moving. Grip patterns are located in this kick zone on nonwax skis.

Waxless skis (or nonwax skis): Classic striding skis designed to grip the snow without the aid of grip wax on the middle third of the base. Instead, the kick zones have scales cut into the base material for traction. Waxless skis benefit from periodic glide waxing on their tips and tails to improve gliding performance and to condition the P-Tex base material, so the term "waxless" is something of a misnomer.

Width: Refers to the distance from ski edge to ski edge, measured at the ski's "waist" or narrowest part. In general, wider skis are more stable and easier to control, while narrow skis are faster.

World Cup: Series of international ski races held almost exclusively in Europe each season. It is the highest level of cross-country competition outside of the World Championships and Olympics.


Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you engage in any outdoors activity.