What is Nordic Skiing?

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You’ve probably heard the term “Nordic skiing” before, but do you know what it is? “Cross country skiing” is often used in place of it, though Nordic skiing actually umbrellas over a wide variety of other techniques. This can leave beginners feeling a bit confused, understandably!

We’re here to clear up the misunderstandings so you know exactly what to expect while Nordic skiing, yourself! Let’s get started!


It’s true that many people simply use Nordic skiing interchangeably with cross country. However, in the Alps they know it as any off-piste roaming on billowing, lower-level environments whereas other types of skiing are often performed on larger mountains with steep slopes and more extreme terrain.


As you can probably guess by the name, Nordic skiing came to be in the Nordic part of the world as well. Scandinavians used thin planks as a way to transport themselves further in the snowy season, as it proved to be much too difficult and exhausting to simply trudge through the snow.

Some years later, they added in the use of poles to help move even quicker! While the Fins were the first to use such poles, by the late Middle ages, they’d improved quite a bit on their technology.

In the 1800’s, skiing moved on to become not only a logical way to transport oneself, but as an actual sport that was fun to partake in! Around this time, the first ski binding emerged, helping to facilitate races and even Olympic skiing.

Features of Nordic Skiing

We’ve talked about how Nordic skiing was developed over the years, but what does it look like in present-day? When you compare it to the downhill skiing we typically see at resorts, it’s quite a bit different. Nordic skiing features a free-heel binding system, whereas the others keep the entire foot attached to the ski. This allows you to lift your heel to offer a more natural stride, as if you were walking and climbing with shoes on.

Not only that, but you can expect Nordic skis and bindings to generally be notably lighter in weight and narrower. This helps even further in making for a natural movement and simplifies moving with them on.

Types of Nordic Skiing

As we mentioned above, there are various types of Nordic skiing: 3 to be exact. Let’s take a look at each so you know a bit more about them.

  1. Cross Country Skiing- We’ve mentioned cross country skiing a few times already and this one is definitely the most popular of the bunch. However, within this type there are actually even more types to break down!
  • Classic Cross Country – This is the most common type of cross country skiing, and is also the easiest (which could explain its popularity). This type is performed on tracks which aid you in gliding along without putting all your effort into it. It’s kind of like the moving sidewalks in airports! This technique involves you sliding one foot in front of the other, using poles to help propel you. However, arms move diagonally to legs, which feels very similar to walking. You can go slow and really take in the scenery, or go faster for an excellent cardio workout! This type is great for all experience levels, so you can do it with your kids if you have them!
  • Skate Skiing – Skate skiing is really a lot of fun and is very similar to ice skating! You push yourself in a very similar way, however, to gain speed you really have to force yourself as you don’t quite “glide” like you would on the ice.Skate skiing is performed on wide groomed trails as powder and softer snow does not make for a good combo here. Skis will be a bit shorter than your traditional skis and don’t have scales on the bottoms.
  • Light Touring – If you’re looking to tune into that adventurous side, then check out light touring. It’s perfect for really getting in touch with nature and going off the beaten path. You’ll use very light skis and leave your heel free for more natural strides. These skis are the most versatile of the bunch, though you should still stay on mild ungroomed areas.
  1. Telemark – We briefly mentioned Telemark earlier, which is an area of Norway. It’s been said that this is the birthplace of the technique and comes named from this area. You’ll find it’s kind of a blend of both Alpine skiing with Nordic skiing, letting you venture out into the backcountry and ascend steep slopes.

However, the skis are made so you still have quite a bit of stability and durability when skiing downhill! The bindings and boots you wear will leave your heels free when moving uphill while still remaining stable enough to achieve high speeds on the descent.

  1. Alpine touring – Alpine touring skis are actually very similar to Telemark’s. They’re both ideal for exploring the backcountry and are perfect for ascending and descending steep slopes. They’re more durable than cross country skis, and these have a free heel when climbing uphill and lock when skiing downhill. Many mountaineers and trekkers use these as a mode of transportation, to be able to reach incredible vistas.

Which is Right for You?

Now that you’re aware of all the different types of Nordic skiing out there, you may be feeling confused or even overwhelmed and not know where to begin. We’ll help narrow this down for you!


If you’re not trying to really spend a lot of time learning one of them, take up classic cross country skiing. It’s perfect for all types of ages, ability levels, fitness levels, etc. You can choose just how fast you want to go, and thanks to the groomed trails you have a guide to keep your skis in place.


As you now know, there are differing types of techniques to take on with each type of skiing. Cross country, once again, is probably the most intuitive and natural feeling of all. Not only that, but you can go at it slowly, and at your own pace. You don’t have to go barreling down a hill on your first try.

Light touring makes for a nice progression into more physical techniques, as you can check out groomed tracks along with mild ungroomed places.


All types of Nordic skiing will offer you beautiful views. However, some will only consist of more flat and undulating types of environments, while others will let you go off-piste and ski the stunning backcountry. These places are often “untouched” by humans and really let you immerse yourself in the wilderness.


You probably don’t want to take up a style of Nordic skiing if you realistically won’t be able to participate much in it. For example, most commercial ski resorts feature ample Nordic ski zones along with cross country skiing availability. Off-piste skiing is definitely not anywhere near as popular and can be difficult to find safe, good locations.


Now that you know all about what Nordic skiing is and all of its sub-styles, do you know which is right for you and your lifestyle? If you’re uncertain, there’s no need to worry! You can always check out one and if it’s not right for you, go onto another. The beauty of Nordic skiing is the incredible versatility it comes with! No matter what your experience of fitness level is, we know there’s something you’ll love. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you again soon!


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Shayanne Weeks

Shayanne is a freelance writer and marketer based in LA, California. Describing herself as a nomad, she has lived in Boise, Idaho and Seattle, Washington as well as Guadalajara, Mexico. As an extremely active person, she loves to snowboard, skateboard, and ski. She enjoys sharing her love for active sports with others through her “how to” sports guides and sports equipment reviews. Shyanne is addicted to the adrenaline rush she experiences during her outdoor pursuits, from ziplining in Mexico to snowboarding in Idaho.

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