How to Learn to Cross Country Ski

It’s fun and easy to learn how to cross country ski. In this video series, professional ski instructor Greg Rhodes explains the basics of cross country skiing so you’re ready for your first day. The series starts with the things you need to know about your gear and ends with how to move around on snow. Be sure to watch all the videos and share them on your social channels and tag people you know who want to learn to cross country ski.

There are two types of cross country skiing techniques: classic and skate. Both are done on groomed ski tracks, but they require different gear and skiers use different lower-body movements to propel themselves forward. The classic technique follows a movement pattern similar to walking or running. The skate technique follows a side-to-side (lateral) movement similar to ice skating or rollerblading.

Part 1: The Gear and Equipment Basics

There are several things beginner cross country skiers need to know before they even set foot on snow. In the first section of our beginner’s guide to cross country skiing, we will cover:
  • The gear you will use and how to fit your skis, boots, and poles.
  • Getting into your skis.
  • Getting out of your skis.

Cross country skiing has two categories, skating and classic. This video covers classic cross country skiing – the gear you need and how to get in and out of skis.

Cross country skis are long, narrow, and lightweight. They have a turned-up tip and a flat tail. The binding is where your boot connects to your ski. The area under the classic ski binding is called the kick zone. Many classic cross country skis are wax-less, which means they have either fishtails or skins, which grip the snow to help you move forward.

Cross country ski boots look a lot like hiking boots and should fit like supportive and comfortable athletic shoes. Make sure your toes have enough room to wiggle, and your heels do not lift up when you flex your foot forward. Boots have a bar under the toe, this bar connects your boot to your binding. Poles help you use your upper body to move along.

Poles are long and have a grip and strap on one end, and a basket and tip on the other. Make sure your poles are the right length. While standing in your ski boots on a flat surface, the top of the grip should be between your armpit and the middle of your shoulder.

To get into your skis, place your skis parallel to each other on the snow. Make sure the bottom of your boot is clear, then line up your toe behind the rubber bumper on the binding and firmly step down. Once you hear a click, you know you’re attached. Pole straps are important to wear, they allow you to relax your hand and not grip the pole too hard. To put on the straps, move your hand up from the bottom and then grab the pole. To get out of your skis, release your bindings and then lift up your toes.

Watch the above video to find out how to fit your skis, boots, and poles, and get in and out of your skis.

Part 2: Skiing Basics – Classic Skiing

Now it’s time to start learning some of the basic movements on snow. This section will cover:

  • How to move and glide on flat terrain.
  • How to go uphill.
  • How to go downhill.
  • How to get up from the ground.

Here are some ways to move and glide on your cross country skis. On flat terrain, you use a series of pushes or kicks against the snow to move forward. To start, you need to push down with a flat foot to have your fishtails or skins grip the snow, and then kick backward. When incorporating your arms and poles when skiing you move them opposite to your legs in a similar pattern to normal brisk walking.

Sometimes you will encounter small hills and need to ski up. The technique used to get up a hill will vary depending on how steep it is. On less steep hills, continue with the diagonal stride technic, but shorten the length of each stride (it might feel more like a jog). On steeper hills, you will need to use a technic called the herringbone. Turn the tips of the skis to the outside in a wide V shape and roll your ankles and knees towards each other. This allows the inside edge of the ski to dig into the snow. The steeper the hill, the wider you place your feet.

The easiest way to control your speed on a downhill is to use a snowplow. Bring the tips of your skis together to create a wedge. Roll your ankles and knees towards each other and dig the inside edge of the skis into the snow. Push the skis out while keeping the tips together to increase the pressure on the inside edge and increase your braking power. Remember to keep your pole tips behind you as you go downhill. Do not try and slow yourself down by planting your poles in front of you.

Here is how to get up if you fall. If you’re on a hill, place your skis across the hill to help keep you stable when you stand up on your feet. Do not use your poles to lift you up, but instead use your hands. It might even be helpful to take your poles off. Move your weight forward towards your knees and stand up from a kneeling position.

Tips from PSIA-AASI and REI

In this video series produced by REI Co-op, PSIA-AASI National Team member Greg Rhodes shares tips for getting started cross country skiing.

Classic Cross Country Skiing

Classic cross country skiing lets you exercise outdoors while enjoying beautiful winter scenery. In this video, Greg shares the basics for your first day on the trail so you’ll be gliding over the snow with ease in no time.

Watch to learn how to:

  • Move on flat ground.
  • Use your poles.
  • Move uphill.
  • Go downhill.
  • Get up from fall.

Cross Country Skate Skiing

Cross country skate skiing uses different gear and technique from classic cross country skiing. In this video, Greg shares all the basics for your first day on the trail so you’ll be flying down the trail with ease in no time.

Watch to learn how to:

  • Put on skate skis.
  • Move on flat ground.
  • Move your poles.
  • Go uphill.
  • Move downhill.
  • Get up after a fall.

Gear Checklist: What to Bring

Want to give cross country skiing a try but don’t know what gear to bring? In this video, Greg gives you the rundown of everything you’ll need for a day on the trails – from skis and boots to what to wear.

Watch to learn about:

  • Types of cross country skis – classic or skate.
  • Cross country ski boots.
  • How to fit your poles.
  • What to wear.
  • What to bring.

Want to learn more?

How to Ski Videos
How to Snowboard

If you are a beginner cross country skier, there is no better way to learn than to take a lesson from a professional instructor. Visit the Take a Lesson page for more tips or watch more ski and snowboarding videos. Have fun, and see you on the trails!