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Cross Country Skiing 101

Cross Country Skiing 101 | Wild Rock Outfitters

Ask a seasoned cross-country skier about the sport and you’ll see a glint in their eye. It doesn’t  take much to get a skier to rhapsodize about favourite trails, gear, and the many health benefits. Skiing provides an excellent whole-body workout that’s easy on the joints, all for a cost that’s minimal once you’ve invested in some simple, long-lasting gear.

Assuming you don’t have a ski buddy to show you the ropes, though, here’s a quick primer on what you need to know to get into cross-country skiing yourself.

The Basics

Cross-country skis fall into two broad categories: waxed and waxless. As a beginner, you’ll most most likely opt for waxless skis. These require less prep and equipment, allowing you to get on the trail with minimal fuss. Both varieties operate on the same general principle, however. The glide zone is the smooth section at the front and back of the ski, while the kick zone directly below the foot provides grip. The arch of the ski (“camber”) helps you use these elements in rhythm – put your weight down and kick, lift and glide, repeat.

On a waxless ski, the kick zone has a built-in texture that grabs the snow. On a waxed ski, the kick zone is left bare so you can choose a grip wax based on the snow conditions. Waxed skis allow you to dial in the very best performance by optimizing the grip to the conditions. Unless you intend to enter a race or eke out a new personal best, though, waxless skis won’t feel like much of a compromise. They still offer great performance to the average skier while reducing the chances you’ll choose the wrong wax and end up fighting instead of gliding along the snow.

Of course, waxless skis still benefit from a bit of liquid glide wax on the glide regions (skip over the grip zone in this case). These products are easy to apply just before a ski, and help to protect and maintain the ski base. You may also hear pros extolling the virtues of “hot waxing,” but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. For now, let’s get you suited up…


Once you’ve decided on whether to go waxed or waxless, it’s time to choose the right length of ski. Weight is the primary consideration here, to ensure the camber has an appropriate amount of flex. Wild Rock staff can help you with a fitting, or you can consult a sizing chart. It’s worth taking time to consider the type of skiing you envision yourself doing the most. Long narrow skis are fastest on groomed tracks, but you may opt for a design that’s slightly shorter in order to make turning easier. If you foresee yourself going deep into the backcountry, wider skis promote stability and metal edges provide extra grip. If you’re not sure where you’re headed yet, just know that choosing from the shorter end of the weight-to-length range can make it easier for a beginner to find their ski legs.

As a general rule, pair your skis with poles that come to shoulder height. Telescoping walking poles aren’t suitable here. Ski poles are longer with a specific rigidity.

Choosing the right boots is important, but nothing too technical. Try them on with the same type of socks you intend to ski with and make sure they feel comfortable, with enough room to wiggle your toes. Performance skiers will be seeking the perfect combination of flexibility to rigidity, but for recreational skiing you’re fine prioritizing comfort and insulation.

Next come bindings, the components that snap your boots to your skis. The three main varieties are NNN (New Nordic Norm), NIS (Nordic Integrated System), and SNS (Salomon Nordic System). There are variations within these options, but the nuances aren’t especially important to a beginner. What is important is making sure that your boots use the same system, since the varieties aren’t all interchangeable. It’s probably best just to choose a boot that feels good, then match the bindings accordingly.

How to Dress

If you see someone skiing in a bulky jacket and snow pants, chances are they’re new to the game too. The most appropriate outfit is similar to what you’d choose for a cold-weather jog. Choose a base layer that will wick away moisture, and layer the rest of your ensemble so that you can stay warm without sweating. A buff can be handy because it’s easy to adjust to keep your ears warm, or pulled down around your neck once you’ve built up a head of steam.

Now What?

You’ve bought or rented skis, boots, and poles, and applied a coat of glide wax. All that remains is to find a trail! Peterborough and the Kawarthas is fortunate to have a ton of great options. We can heartily recommend Kawartha Nordic for a start. They offer 46km of classic skiing trails, including both track set and backcountry options. Track set trails make your ride fast and smooth, like you’re on rails. Backcountry trails are narrower so you feel even more immersed in nature. You’ll probably see skate skiers fly by on their own track, which may pique your interest once you’ve mastered the classic style. Whichever trail you choose, it probably won’t be long before a glint comes into your eye at the mention of skiing, and you’re waxing poetic about the ultimate winter pastime.

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