What is Cross-Country Skiing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Cross-country skiing is a Nordic skiing sport. The sport originated in the Scandinavian countries of Northern Europe, although it is practiced in many heavily snow-covered areas around the world today. Cross-country skiing involves traveling on varied terrain, rather than skiing on a downhill slope, as in Alpine skiing.

Cross-country skiing is popular in snow-covered countries around the world.
Cross-country skiing is popular in snow-covered countries around the world.

Most the body's muscles are used in cross-country skiing in order to maintain motion and control. It was used as a method of transportation in much of Scandinavia until the early twentieth century, and continues to be a popular winter sport. Cross-country skiers may take simple day trips from ski resorts, or make longer expeditions. On longer expeditions, skiers stop at ski huts for shelter, or cross-country ski from lodge to lodge.

Cross-country skis allow the skiier's heel to move more freely than downhill skis do.
Cross-country skis allow the skiier's heel to move more freely than downhill skis do.

In sports, cross-country skiing plays a role in a number of competitive events. Cross-country skiing competitions are held in many parts of Europe, and the sport also appears in the Nordic combine event, which also includes ski jumping. In addition, cross-country skiing appears in the biathlon, where it is combined with shooting. Several Scandinavian countries also include cross-country skiing in their military training.

Cross-country skiing uses bindings, the equipment used to attach the skier to his or her skis, that are different than other skiing techniques. In cross-country skiing, bindings such as the New Nordic Norm (NNN) bindings are used, because they allow more freedom of movement at the heel. Many cross-country skiers also incorporate Telemark skiing techniques, which require the ability to lift the heel from the ski.

Cross-country skiing equipment is similar to Alpine skiing equipment. Cross-country skiing requires long thin skis and ski poles. Cross-country skiing requires specialized ski boots which are designed for the toe binding, allowing the heel to remain free moving. In addition, the skier wears appropriate protective gear for the weather.

A variety of techniques are used by cross-country skiers, in addition to those of classic skiing. Skate skiing involves distributing weight and using the skis much like ice skates. Telemark skiing is a specialized ski technique for turning and going downhill which involves putting the majority of the skier's weight on the outside ski. Telemark skiing results in smooth, elegant turns. Cross-country skiing is also part of skijoring, where skiers are pulled by horses or dogs.

Many find that cross-country skiing is an exciting winter sport. In addition to being physically demanding, the sport also allows skiers to see varied and beautiful terrain from skis. For this reason, cross-country skiing has become very popular in many areas where snowfall is heavy, such as the American Midwest. Large expeditions go on cross-country skiing trips to explore the natural world, get some exercise, and get outside during the cold winter months.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Cross country skiing, what a great way to burn calories amidst beautiful scenery. It is a great sport in particular because it is a low impact activity.

For those who have to protect their joints, it is one of the best sports.

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