Cross-Country Skiing

General Principles

  • Cross-country or Nordic skiing is multifaceted and can be pursued either as a simple recreational outdoor activity or a vigorous competitive endurance sport.

  • Cross-country skiing serves as an excellent means to develop and maintain cardiovascular fitness; most large muscle groups of the upper and lower body are used in a smooth, rhythmic, low-impact manner. A recent prospective study showed association with reduction in all-cause mortality.

  • Injury rates are typically lower than those seen in alpine skiing and running.

  • It is very popular in Scandinavian countries and is moderately popular in the northeastern and western mountain regions of the United States.

Cross-Country Skiing Variations

Trail/Track Skiing

  • Skiers use machine-groomed trails.

  • Trails are compacted and rolled with heavy sleds pulled by snowcats or snowmobiles, leaving a set of parallel ski tracks and an 8-by-10-foot wide open lane for ski skating.

  • Groomed trails are standard at cross-country ski resorts. Several communities set trails on snow-covered golf courses or bike trails for local citizen use, and some are lighted for night skiing.

  • Trail skiing is suitable for a wide range of individuals, young and old, regardless of prior experience. Novices simply “ski-walk,” employing a shuffling-like technique on the snow. More experienced skiers use tracks with a diagonal stride (classic) technique or groomed lanes with a ski-skate (freestyle) technique.

  • Competitive ski racing and training require machine-groomed trails.

Backcountry Skiing/Ski Touring

  • No groomed trail is required.

  • Participants choose their own route (i.e., bushwhacking). Some enthusiasts pursue a midday trek in the woods and a picnic lunch, whereas others plan a multiday snow camping tour, and still others seek out backcountry slopes to climb and then descend using a telemark turn technique.

  • A telemark turn is one wherein the skier thrusts the outside (or downhill) ski forward, assuming a lunge position with the front knee at approximately 90 degrees of flexion and the back knee in a kneeling position. The turn is carved while holding this position.

  • Backcountry skiers typically choose skis with metal edges and relatively heavy, supportive boots.

Chair Lift–Facilitated Telemark Skiing

  • Could be considered a variant of alpine skiing; participants opt for a chair lift at a ski area to repeatedly transport them to the top of a slope and then descend while making telemark turns (in contrast to the parallel turns of alpine skiers).

  • Skiers use stiff plastic boots, wide metal-edged skis with a significant side cut, and strong three-pin or riveted toe cable bindings that still allow the heel to lift freely off of the ski. The three-pin and most other cable bindings are not designed to release during a fall, although newer binding designs do release.

  • Skilled telemark skiers often reach speeds similar to alpine skiers and are subject to similar injuries.

Competitive Cross-Country Skiing

Race Events

  • There has been a recent trend toward using audience-friendly formats such as mass-start, sprint, relay, and pursuit (a race that involves switching skis and styles midway through the race).

  • Venues for major ski races have been designed to allow better spectator viewing, with large sections of the course visible from the stands.

  • World Cup and Olympic race events include (distance format for women and men, respectively) 1 km sprint, 2 × 1 km team sprint, 10 km/15 km individual start, 15 km/30 km pursuit, 30 km/50 km mass start, and 4 × 5 km/4 × 10 km relay.

  • Citizen race distances vary from 5 to 55 km. Certain races are specifically designated as classical technique only, whereas most use a freestyle format.

  • The largest event in the United States is the American Birkebeiner in Northern Wisconsin (52 km, with >7000 participants).


Diagonal Stride (Classic)

  • Skis: Double camber, with central kick zone area for wax (waxless skis have a unidirectional texture, i.e., fish scale or micro-scale hair); when the skier’s weight is evenly distributed between skis, the central kick zone should not contact the snow, thus allowing maximal glide. When the ski is aggressively weighted, the kick zone is engaged in the snow, thus allowing a push-off, or “kick.” Skis are typically 20–25 cm longer than the skier’s height, but the skier’s weight should also be considered when choosing ski length and ski flex.

  • Boots: Lightweight, relatively low cut, flexible sole.

  • Bindings: Currently, there are two predominant systems: New Nordic Norm (NNN) and Salomon Nordic System (SNS). Both are lightweight and engage the ski boot at the toe alone, allowing the heel to lift freely off of the ski while striding. The two systems primarily differ by the ridges on the binding plate that fit into corresponding slots on the boot’s sole.

  • Poles: Carbon fiber (preferred by elite skiers) or aluminum, with variable grip and strap systems. Pole length extends to a height between the skier’s armpit and top of shoulder.

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