Try Nordic Skiing Techniques

Try Nordic Skiing Techniques


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Nordic skiing provides refreshing outdoor exercise for improving balance and strength. If you’re new to the sport, cross-country skiing on a groomed Nordic trail is a gentle way to try this low-impact aerobic workout in crisp, snow-covered settings. Nordic equipment and trail fees are less expensive than costs related to Alpine equipment and lift passes.

Nordic skiers use two different styles of skiing on groomed trails. Classic—also known as traditional or diagonal stride—is the easier technique to learn, though efficiency develops through practice and further lessons. It resembles walking while striding and gliding in grooved, parallel tracks set along the edge of the trail. Skiers use their poles in a pattern similar to walking with hiking poles. The stabilizing grooves and familiar walking motion give beginners confidence. Experienced classic skiers avoid shuffling movements and strive for longer, gliding motions.

Nordic Track Skiing An Intense Workout

Skate skiing requires more balance and is an intense aerobic workout. In this technique, skate skiers travel on the wide portion of the corduroy-groomed trail, using their upper body rigorously. The leg motions resemble those for roller blading or ice skating. With their skis pointed outward in a V-shaped pattern, skate skiers lengthen their glide through practice. They push or step each leg sideways and forward from the center of the body, one ski at a time.

The “V-1” is the beginner’s most-used skate-skiing pole pattern, with three points of contact on the snow when the two poles and one ski touch the snow simultaneously, then one point of contact when the other ski lands on the snow. Beginners gain balance and endurance then add other poling patterns.

Participants new to skiing usually start with classic skiing. As they gain balance and endurance, they often progress to skate skiing. Alpine skiers and bicyclists sometimes start with skate skiing due to either their prior ski experience or their high-level of aerobic conditioning.
Eileen Thuesen, a Boise-based Alpine skier and mountain biker, took up skate skiing. “It’s warmer than downhill skiing and better for my fitness,” she said.

Equipment Differences

Both classic and skate skiing equipment are specialized. Classic skis are longer, with a section in the middle of the ski where a sticky wax or permanent texture helps the ski grip the snow when it compresses during each stride. Skate skis are shorter, stiffer, and waxed for gliding without gripping the snow.


Classic ski boots offer more flexion than skate ski boots, which have high ankle support and a rigid sole. Both types of ski bindings are small and attach the toe of the boots to the skis.

Ski Poles

Ski pole lengths differ. Classic poles are shorter, to accommodate the striding technique, while skate poles are longer, so skiers maximize efficient use of abdominal and upper body muscles. Employees at Nordic centers and retail stores help skiers with correct sizing.

Be prepared for all conditions

Preparation for Nordic skiing helps ensure an enjoyable and comfortable experience. Skiers manage body heat with layers of clothing.

Start with a wicking layer next to the body, and then add an insulating layer, and lastly, a wind-breaking layer. Special water-wicking socks keep feet dry and warm in the thin, lightweight Nordic boots. A ski hat or headband keeps ears warm. Gloves work better than mittens because gloves allow for a more controlled grip on the ski poles and for better dexterity when putting on ski equipment or fine-tuning clothing layers.

Avoid the temptation to Nordic ski in your snowmobile suit or downhill ski pants and jackets, which are bulky and overly warm for aerobic exercising. Nordic skiing is a rigorous physical workout that produces sweat, and lots of it.

New skiers are surprised when they get sun-burned during an outing. Be sure to prevent high-altitude and sun-reflected sunburn by using lip-gloss, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Bring water or an energy drink to stay hydrated.


When novices first hit the trails, they often discover a lesson from a ski instructor rapidly increases their confidence and speed. During a lesson, the instructor guides beginners quickly through the learning curve with tips and drills for efficient skiing.

Nordic centers offer regularly scheduled group lessons, private lessons, and special clinics. Lessons typically cover one to two hours. Clinics may last a half- to full-day. Inquire about senior discounts.

Allow plenty of time in advance of the lesson to assure a smooth experience by arriving ahead of the scheduled start time. Use this time to visit the bathroom, buy a trail pass, and rent equipment. Let your instructor know of any special needs or requests. Try to relax, and enjoy the lesson.

As fresh snow accumulates this winter, get on a pair of classic or skate skis at your local Nordic Center. Your mind and body will appreciate getting outdoors and trying something new!

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