Skip to main content

How to Cross Country Ski (Complete with Video)

As winter rolls in, many of us are thinking about how to get out of the house and enjoy the snow. One way to enjoy the snow is learning how to cross country ski. It’s a great winter activity that everyone can enjoy and you don’t need massive mountains to cross-country ski. All you need is snow.

It’s also one of the more affordable winter activities. You don’t need a lift pass, a helmet, or goggles, and the cost of cross-country skis is quite a bit cheaper than downhill skis or a snowboard. That said, it’s still a ton of fun.

Buying cross-country skis doesn’t have to be complicated. Pop into your local outdoor store or REI and chat with one of the associates. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction. But let’s assume you’ve already got the best skis, poles, boots, good fitting gloves, an outdoor jacket, and you’re ready to go. What do you do next? Read on to learn how to cross country ski like a pro.

How to Put Your Skis On

A person with ski boots on a ski.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This might seem like an obvious one, but if you’re never cross-country skied before, you might not know how to put on your skis. There are a few different types of cross-country ski bindings. NNN bindings attach at the toe and are either manual or auto. Other types of bindings include SNS and 3-pin. Check out the helpful video below to see how to click into ski bindings. You can try this at home in your living room before you get out in the snow.

Clicking In and Out of Your XC Ski Bindings

How to Stand Without Falling

Once you have your skis on you’ll notice they have a tendency to slide back and forth. You’ll want to bend your knees, keep your center of gravity over your feet, and stabilize yourself with your poles. This video from REI covers how to stand and other basics of cross country skiing.

Classic Cross-Country Skiing for Beginners: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started || REI

How to Get Moving on Skis

Okay, you’ve got your skis on and you’ve practiced standing and balancing. What do you do next? Well, you’ve probably noticed that your cross-country skis have a bend or curve in them. This curve is highest just beneath your boot. You may have also noticed that on the underside of your ski, beneath your boot, is a pattern resembling a fish scale. Your skis might have a special patch of fabric instead of the scale pattern. These two design elements of the cross country ski are important to understand in order to ski well.

Close up of underside cross country ski
Enjoy Winter

When walking or climbing a hill, picture that center part of the ski beneath your boot pressing down into the snow. This is going to give you purchase on the slippery terrain and allow you to move forward without sliding. If you find that no matter how hard you push you can’t find purchase, your skis might be too long. Some skis come with a binding that can slide up and down the ski. If you have this type of binding, you might also try positioning the binding more forward on the ski.

To begin moving, stand on one foot and feel the ski grip the snow. Let your other foot glide forward over the snow while you push yourself forward with your ski poles. Check out the video below to see this movement in action. Jump to 2:30 for the basic movement technique. Their suggestion of trying the movement with only one ski on is great for beginners.

Beginners Guide to Cross-Country Skiing

How to Get Up on Skis

The first time you ski, you’re going to fall. That’s okay, it’s part of the learning process. Jump to 8:40 in the video above to see how to stand up. Some of the key take-aways:

  • Don’t use your poles
  • Postition your skis perpendicular to the slope
  • Get your skis parallel to each other
  • Lean forward onto your knees
  • Push yourself up

Hopefully, this guide has answered any introductory questions you had about cross-country skiing. There are a number of guiding services and classes out there to help you if you have further questions. While videos and reading about how to stand, move and get up while skiing is helpful, the best way to truly learn is to get out there and actually do it. With months of snow ahead, fill your thermos with your favorite warm beverage, pack your outdoor ski essentials, find a buddy or two, and get out there and enjoy cross-country skiing. See you in the snow!

Editors' Recommendations

Benjamin Buckingham
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ben lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a freelance writer and outdoor guide.
These winter workouts get you out of the gym and into the great outdoors
Keep your fitness journey going through the winter with these workouts
Workouts for the Cold and Snow

Some people consider winter a valid reason to dispense with exercise. It's cold, wet, and dark outside. Your social engagements dwindle to the bare minimum, especially after the holidays. And you’re definitely not showing any skin for the next few months. You may find it natural to confine your workouts to the gym. However, exercising outdoors in the winter brings a unique set of benefits you can’t access at any other time of year.

Along with boosting your depleted Vitamin D levels — thanks to all the indoor hibernation— outdoor exercise during winter boosts your immunity, a big plus when the entire office comes down with the flu. Exercising in extreme cold strengthens the heart, lungs, and circulatory system, and it has also been shown to enhance endurance and mental edge. Regular exercise keeps your circulation strong, your metabolism humming, and endorphins running through your veins, making you much more resistant to freezing temperatures and seasonal depression. But just how can you make the most of those winter months

Read more
Hit the slopes with the whole family at these top resorts
These are the best ski resorts for families in the U.S.
Bretton Woods ski resort

So you want to take the whole family on an epic ski holiday this winter. First off, it's a great idea. Family ski trips create awesome memories that last a lifetime, and if you get kids into skiing at a young age, they'll soon be out shredding you on the mountain. But taking the whole family on a ski trip not only means a host of ski gear for everyone, but you also have to find the best ski resorts for families.
Family-friendly ski resorts usually have a few common traits. Firstly, they mostly have a load of beginner-friendly terrain. As much as your young ripper may want to send it down the steepest trail, they need more time on easier groomers before they hit the steep slopes. Suitable bunny slopes and loads of green and blue trails are a must. And then there are the lessons. Seriously, outsource the teaching. Not only will it make your kid a better skier, but you'll get more time on the slopes, and it will avoid too many tears and tantrums — from both sides. On top of these, there are added extras like free hot chocolate, sleigh rides, ice skating, and more, that can all be found in these, the best ski resorts for families.

Best U.S. ski resorts for families
Park City, Utah

Read more
These are the best ski brands on the market this winter
Want to make sure those new skis you're splashing out on are worth the price? Stick to one of these brands
Best Ski Brands

Ski season is in full swing now, and your holiday may be just around the corner. You've found the perfect beginner resort or some steep and deep terrain, and you've even upgraded your ski gear for the season. But what about your skis? Will those ex-rental bad boys still rock it for you now that you've mastered your turns, or would you rather be seen rocking a set of quality skis to complete the look?

It's not just aesthetic, either. Sure, in the hands of a pro, your shaky old skis could be made to look pretty good, but if you're serious about progression — or just about genuinely enjoying your time on the slopes — you need the right set of skis. These come in all forms — twin tips, powder skis, race skis, beginner, intermediate, and advanced — but what's important is that whatever set you choose should be quality. Now more than ever, the ski market feels like a level playing field, with brands all vying to be number one, but which brands are quality, and which should you avoid? Well, here's our list of the top ski brands this winter.

Read more