Best Cross-Country Skis For Beginners – Buyer’s Guide

Best Cross-Country Skis For Beginners – Buyer’s Guide

Cross-country skiing is one of the oldest winter sports. It originated in Norway and is very popular in other Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland.

However, people all over the world are getting into cross-country skiing, as it is an excellent way of getting fit and being in the outdoors. People also love how accessible cross-country skiing is.

If you can run, you can enjoy cross-country skiing. One of its advantages is that it is a low-impact sport, meaning it doesn’t put too much strain on bones and joints.

Cross-country skiing exercises your whole body. With the proper technique and equipment, you can get a great workout.

In this guide to the best cross-country skis for beginners, you will learn everything about buying the correct equipment to get you started.

The Types Of Cross-Country Skiing

There are two main disciplines of cross-country skiing. These are known as classic ski and skate ski.

People that do either type of cross-country skiing have a free heel. By this, we mean your heel can lift, as your boot is attached at the toe on your binding.

The concept of a free heel allows you to slide the ski forwards more easily. But there are some differences between classic and skate skiing you should be aware of:

When you are classic skiing, you use a forward and back motion similar to how you walk or run. Beginner cross-country skiers tend to start with classic skiing, as the action is more familiar to them.

Skate skiing involves a technique that is more like one a speed skater would use. Pushing out to the side with the inside edges of your skis moves you forwards.

Skate skiing is faster than classic skiing, making it great fun. It is not uncommon for people to progress to skate skiing over time.

Skate skis are lightweight, very thin, and very stiff. They are also quite a bit shorter than classic skis.

How To Choose A Pair Of Classic Cross-Country Skis

The options available for cross-country skiing equipment look very similar if you are new to the sport. We will delve into the details so you can recognize the differences to choose the best equipment for you.

There are three main types of classic cross-country skis you need to know about. These are known as cross country touring skis, performance classic skis, and metal-edge touring skis.

Cross-Country Touring Skis

These skis are built for skiing on groomed cross country tracks, using the forward and back striding motion discussed earlier. Touring skis are long, narrow, and very lightweight, so you can slide along the tracks efficiently.

You will find that some touring skis are shorter, which are easier to turn and control. Shorter skis are ideal for beginner cross-country skiers.

If you want to have fun while getting some low-intensity exercise, cross-country touring skis are your best option.

Race And Performance Cross-Country Skis

These skis are used in the same way as touring skis in the fact you slide along the cut groove in the track. However, they are designed to go much faster and for more aggressive skiing.

Race and Performance skis are less forgiving thanks to their increased stiffness. To get the most out of these skis, you need to refine your technique.

You don’t have to be a racer to use performance skis, but if you want a more intense workout and ski faster, they are a good choice.

Metal Edge Touring Skis

Touring skis fitted with metal edges are used for more tricky terrain. They allow you to ski off the track and on steeper gradients.

You will notice that they are shorter and wider than regular touring skis. These characteristics give you more stability and float in deep snow.

The metal edges give you a better grip for climbing icy slopes. They also have a sidecut that makes turning much more manageable.

As they are wider and have edges, these skis are heavier but will allow you to explore more due to their capability off-track.

How To Make Sure Your Cross-Country Skis Are The Correct Size

Get The Correct Length

By ensuring the length of your cross-country skis is matched to your body weight, you will be able to perform at your best. The correct ski length will give you the optimum grip and level of glide.

If your cross-country skis are too short, you won’t be able to glide efficiently. If your skis are too long for your bodyweight, your grip will be compromised.

Cross-country skis are designed to suit specific weight ranges using different materials, flex ratings, and lengths. Before you buy your cross-country skis, make sure you know how much you weigh and check the manufacturer’s size charts.

Often people buying cross-country skis will find that they fall between two sizes. If this happens to you, think about your ability and fitness before making a fast decision.

Longer skis are faster but more challenging to turn. So, if cross-country skiing is brand new to you, you may want to choose the shorter skis that are easier to control.

Get The Correct Width

Cross-country skis have three measurements across their width. The widest part is the ski’s tip, the narrowest at the waist, and then the tail.

The difference in the measurements creates the ski’s sidecut, which affects its turning capabilities.

If you want to stay on groomed tracks, you will probably choose to buy cross-country touring or performance skis. These should not be more than 86mm wide, which is the maximum width of the track.

In this case, you don’t need a massive sidecut, as turning isn’t much of a problem in the tracks. Also, a minimal sidecut will help you slide forwards much easier.

Most performance cross-country skis are no wider than 60mm at the tip. But you will find some that are much narrower.

If you want to explore terrain that hasn’t been prepared for cross-country skiing, you will want metal edge touring skis. These are a little wider to allow you to float better in powder snow.

You will find turning much easier with skis that have a moderate sidecut, which is advantageous on uneven surfaces.

Most metal edge touring skis start at 60mm wide at the tip, but you can buy ones over 100mm wide.

If you are looking for a pair of versatile cross-country skis that allow you to ski on and off the track, metal edge touring skis are your best choice. However, they should be between 65mm and 68mm wide, so they fit in the tracks.

When you start to progress, you may want to try your hand at skate skiing. Skate skis are narrow, so they can move much faster than classic skis.

Skate skis range from 41mm to 45mm, so they glide well on hard surfaces and easily fit into tracks for fast descents.

Choose Your Base

In order to climb hills and slide forward, cross-country skis need grip. Classic cross-country skis do this with either a textured pattern manufactured into the base or with a wax application on the base.

Therefore, there are two different types of bases used on classic cross-country ski, waxless and waxable.

Classic skis with waxless bases are the most common choice. The reason for this is down to their convenience and low maintenance.

Waxless bases are suitable in various snow conditions. They grip the snow using a fish scale-like “grip zone” created when the skis are manufactured.

Some waxless bases use skins that attach to the ski’s base. These have a furry texture that grips the snow to stop you from sliding backward but allows you to glide forwards.

In an unexpected twist, waxless skis work at their best when glide wax is applied to their tips and tails.

Waxable bases use wax applied in the middle section to grip the snow. They take more work to ensure they are effective, but waxable skis outperform waxless ones. However, waxless skis work better when the temperature fluctuates.

Choose The Correct Profile

The profile of your cross-country skis makes a difference in how they perform. If you were to look at the ski side on, you would see that its profile has a cambered shape, and cross-country skis generally have two profile shapes.

Skate skis have a profile with single camber, but most classic cross-country skis have a double camber profile.

The single camber profile is quite subtle, which sees a slight arch in the middle when placed on a flat surface. The shape evenly disperses your weight over the ski’s base, making it easier to turn using the edges.

In the case of skate skis, the single camber profile makes it easier for you to push forwards from the ski’s inner edges. Cross-country touring skis, alpine, and powder skis also use a single camber profile.

Double camber skis have a more pronounced arch when placed on a flat surface. This extra camber helps classic cross-country skis glide much easier on groomed tracks.

The double camber design pushes the grip zone into the snow when your weight is transferred onto one ski while pushing forwards. When you distribute your weight on both skis when gliding, the grip zones are kept off the snow.

Learn About Ski Flex

The term flex describes how stiff a cross-country ski’s camber is. The flex can make a difference in how fast a ski is in a straight line and how easy it is to turn.

Cross-country skis with a soft flex rating grip the snow better while being easy to turn. This makes them popular with beginner cross-country skiers.

Stiffer cross-country skis perform best on hardpack snow and at high speeds. You would only really be concerned about flex if you are racing or trying to beat personal records.

If you choose a pair of cross-country skis based on the type of skiing you want to do, the flex should be suitable. However, flex is worth looking at when you get to a point when you need to narrow down your options.

Buy The Correct Cross-Country Ski Boots

To go cross-country skiing, you need the appropriate footwear that fits into the ski’s bindings. If your boots are uncomfortable, your enjoyment on the snow will be compromised.

Ill-fitting boots will rub your feet, causing blisters on your toes and heels, which will cause you to cut your day short.

To ensure your new boots fit properly, try them on while wearing wool or synthetic socks, just like you would wear when skiing. You should have a good fit while being able to wiggle your toes to keep them warm on colder days.

There are different types of boots that suit the different types of cross-country skiing.

Cross-Country Touring Boots

Cross-country touring boots have good flexibility that allows you to stride forwards. They are also torsionally quite stiff, which helps you to turn and stop.

Some cross-country boots have additional features to keep you comfortable such as lace covers and rings to attach gaiters that keep the snow out. These are ideal for when snow is deep or you ski away from the groomed tracks.

Cross-country touring boots are made to be extra comfortable and often feature more insulation than boots designed for performance skiing.

Performance Cross-Country Boots

To go faster, you need lightweight equipment, which includes your boots. Therefore, performance boots are lighter, but they also are lower cut to give you more range of motion.

Boots Designed For Metal-Edge Touring Skis

These boots are much stiffer than other types, so you get more support for turning. They are still flexible but are higher on your ankle while being warmer and more durable””higher-end versions have a plastic exoskeleton for increased rigidity.

Skate Skiing Boots

Skating boots have much more ankle support than ones used for classic skiing. The extra support protects your ankles from the twisting forces you experience when using the skating technique.

These boots also have stiffer soles. This is a feature that reduces torsion both forwards and sideways, which negatively affects your skating efforts.

Boots That Can Do Both

You can buy cross-country ski boots that can be used for both classic and skate styles. These are known as combi boots and work well for both disciplines.

If you aspire to be a skate skier, you may want to buy a pair of combi boots so you can start with classic skiing and progress to skating. This way, you won’t need to buy another pair when you make the transition.

Buy The Correct Bindings

Some cross-country skis come with bindings, so you need to ensure your boots are compatible with them. But, if you need to buy bindings separately, there are a few things to know.

There is not a massive difference in how well cross-country bindings perform. Therefore, choose your boots before your bindings for the best comfort and performance.

But, there are bindings designed for the different disciplines of cross-country skiing.

Boot/Binding Interfaces

Historically there were two main boot/binding interfaces. These are known as NNN (New Nordic Norm) and SNS (Salomon Nordic System), which are not compatible with each other.

However, you can now buy boots and bindings with the Turnamic system used by Rossignol and Fischer. In addition to this, Salomon now has the ProLink system.

Turnamic, ProLink, and NNN all interface with one another, so you don’t have to worry too much about finding compatible boots and bindings.

Additional Features Of Bindings

There are some features that some cross-country bindings have that may influence your decision on what to go for. Here are some examples:

You can have manual or automatic cross-country ski bindings. To release your boots from manual bindings, you need to bend down and unlock them.

Automatic bindings allow you to release your boots without bending down and just using the end of your pole. Automatic bindings are more convenient, but manual bindings give you a firmer connection between your boots and bindings, which is preferable if you are a serious skier.

Another thing to take note of is that some cross-country skis come with binding plates installed. Binding plates allow you to fit the bindings easily without needing to drill holes in your new skis.

Binding plates also allow you to adjust the binding’s position according to the snow’s depth and your skills. But plates require your bindings to be compatible with them.

For example, skis fitted with NIS plates are compatible with NNN NIS bindings. Alternatively, skis with Integrated Fixation Plates (IFP) are compatible with Turnamic bindings.

You can buy adapters that allow you to combine the different types. Also, you may be able to drill through the plates to fit bindings to non-compatible plates.

Bindings for Metal-Edge Touring Skis

Bindings designed for metal edge touring skis are tougher and more durable than ones used for touring and racing on tracks. They are not really suitable for skiing in tracks, as they are much wider, but there are two types to choose from.

75mm 3-pin bindings

These bindings use three metal pins that lock into three holes on an extension of the ski boot’s sole. This type of binding gives you a good amount of support and is easy to fix when broken. However, some people find them a bit more awkward to get in and out of.

New Nordic Norm Backcountry (NNN BC)

These bindings are pretty similar to NNN touring bindings. However, they are wider, thicker, and more durable. You need to remember to buy boots with NNN BC soles to have a compatible setup.

Choosing The Correct Cross-Country Ski Poles

Now you know all about skis, boots, and bindings; there is just one more piece of equipment you need, and that is your poles. As you search for appropriate cross-country ski poles, you need to still be thinking about the type of skiing you want to do.

There are a few things to consider when buying poles, such as what they are made of, baskets, wrist straps, and their length. Here, we will go into the details.

Cross-Country Ski Pole Materials

Cross-country ski poles are generally made from aluminum or composite materials. Aluminum poles cost less, but they are a little heavier than composite poles.

If you like cross-country or metal-edge touring, you would usually choose aluminum poles. Composite poles are typically used for skate skiing and performance classic skiing.

The composite material is preferred by more serious cross-country skiers that want light and strong poles.

Ski Pole Baskets

The baskets fitted to the bottom of your poles are there to give you some purchase in soft snow. Skate, touring, and performance skiers will generally fit small semicircular baskets to their poles.

These skiers will mainly be skiing on hard-packed snow, so they don’t need anything too big. However, if you are into metal-edge touring, you will want larger baskets.

Larger ski pole baskets spread your weight over the surface of deep snow better, preventing the poles from sinking. Therefore, they work best when you explore areas covered in deep powder.

Wrist Straps

So you don’t lose your poles, they come with wrist straps. Straps range from basic loops to more sophisticated hook-and-loop systems with quick release.

If you are touring, you would only really need poles with simple loops to make sure you don’t drop them. They also give you something to push off with while poling along.

Poles with more elaborate straps are used by skiers on skate skis or race and performance classic skis. These special straps wrap around your hands tightly to maintain the optimum position for efficient poling.

Pole Length

The length of your cross-country skiing poles is the most critical aspect when buying them. When compared to regular skiing, cross-country poles are much longer.

Cross-country ski poles extend from the ground up to their armpits. But for performance classic skiing, you will want them to be a few centimeters longer.

Skate skiers use poles that are even longer for extra leverage. These poles come up to somewhere between their chin and lips.

Metal-edge touring skiers tend to use different length poles depending on where they are touring. If they are on flat terrain, they size them as if they are just touring the tracks.

However, for rougher terrain, tourers will use shorter poles. But, you may want to buy some adjustable poles, as you can set them at the perfect length for what you are doing.

There is no special method for sizing your cross-country ski poles. All you need to do is hold them next to you with the tips on the floor to see where they come up to in relation to your body.


Now we have gone through all the aspects of cross-country skiing equipment, you are armed with all the information to buy the best cross-country skiing equipment for you. All you need to do now is wait for the snow to fall and work on your fitness.

Photos are sourced from Pixabay and Unsplash.

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Best Cross-Country Skis For Beginners - Buyer's Guide

Peter Salisbury

Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.