About cross country skiing
A quick history
Cross country skiing, or nordic skiing, originated in Scandinavia thousands of years ago as a necessity for life in snow-covered countryside. In the 1880s the Norwegian Sondre Nordheim developed birch rope heel straps which gave greater control over skis. For the first time this allowed the skier to execute controlled turns whilst moving. Subsequently ski clubs were set up and the notion of skiing for sport emerged.
Today, it appeals to everyone from those looking for a leisurely way to get about on snow and enjoy the magic of winter, to racers and those wishing to physically challenge themselves.
What differentiates nordic skiing from alpine is that your boots are only attached to the binding at the toe, so your heel is free.
The main types of cross country skiing are:
Cross country skiing in prepared tracks
Track-making machines prepare the snow surface you ski on. Some resorts have hundreds of miles of prepared trails, allowing you to explore the beautiful landscape. There are two different types of cross track ski-ing – classic and skating.
Classic skis run in parallel ‘grooves’ made by track machines. This was the first track ski-ing technique and is generally the technique beginners learn first. It's like walking with a glide then pressing down and pushing with your arms to help you move along. It's a slower technique than skating and requires less energy.
Skating is similar to ice skating or inline skating. You ski on a wide flat area prepared by a track machine. Not all resorts have skating tracks. Skating is faster than classic and requires more energy.
Cross country skiing equipment is nothing like Alpine equipment!
Cross country skis for track skiing are light and thin. Those for classic skiing have an area for grip wax or a fishscale pattern in the centre of the ski that enables you to push down and propel yourself forwards. Skating skis are shorter and stiffer than classic skis and you apply a glide wax down the whole ski to allow you to ski in a gliding, skating motion.
Boots for either cross country skiing style are light and warm - they feel more like trainers with stiff sole. You can buy 'combi' all purpose boots or specific classic or skating styles, the latter give more ankle support.
If you want to buy kit in the UK check out equipment suppliers on our links page.
It's governed by the British Biathlon Union and they have a useful article on becoming a biathlete. You might also like to read 10 things to know about biathlon and Club member Nick Jubert's article 'A novice biathlete' [opens in a Word document].
It's a difficult to sport to pursue in England but Wessex Biathlon and Nordic Ski Club may be able to help you.
In Scotland former Olympian Mike Dixon organises courses at Glenmore Lodge.
You can also try it in some European biathlon centres such as Antholz in Italy.
Touring - 0ff-track cross country skiing
Touring is the winter equivalent of summer backpacking. By donning your rucksack you can make your own tracks and ski from hut to hut through spectacular scenery. For the very intrepid you can also camp outside in your own snowhole!
For this type of cross country skiing you will need stamina and good technique. Skis are usually metal-edged and bindings, boots and poles are a heavier, stronger design. Touring can be one of the most rewarding forms of cross-country skiing and allows you access to unique, otherwise inaccessible, terrain.
Telemarking - cross country or alpine skiing?
The telemark turn is a graceful technique developed by Sondre Norheim for descending steep slopes on nordic equipment. It gave birth to the modern alpine techniques in the 1930’s.
The skier completes the turn with each ski equally weighted but with the heel of the trailing ski lifted. The technique is especially suited to soft powder. The boots are only fixed to the ski at the toe and flex like cross country boots, allowing the heel to rise and the technique to be performed. Telemark skis and boots are similar in weight to Alpine kit.
If you like the adrenaline rush of steep slopes then telemarking may be for you. Any nordic skis are suitable for telemarking but it is easier to learn on specialist equipment.
According to the International Ski Federation [FIS], telemarking is an alpine discipline but in Snowsport England's view it's a cross country discipline. Does it matter? Yes, if you want to compete in the sport and need to know who sets the rules.