Skiing is an extremely popular sport for people all over the world. It is a great way to get some exercise, see some incredible Alpine views and get an adrenaline kick.
Skiing is not just a sport; it can be a whole lifestyle. There are many elements to skiing that attract people to it, but the main one is the fun factor.
The primary principle of sliding on snow on two planks has remained for centuries. However, during the history of skiing, various disciplines have evolved.
All the various disciplines of skiing have their own style, techniques, and dedicated equipment. Two popular branches of skiing are Alpine and Nordic skiing.
In this post, we will go through these two variations of skiing in detail to compare them. We may inspire you to try one of these fantastic sports or even both of them.
- What Is Alpine Skiing?
- What Is Nordic Skiing
- Alpine And Nordic Skiing Equipment
- Which Is Best For Fitness?
- Which Is Best For A Thrill?
- Final Thoughts
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When someone mentions skiing to you, Alpine skiing is probably the type of skiing that springs to mind. Most people who consider themselves to be skiers go Alpine skiing.
Alpine skiing is when you ski down a mountain with the appropriate equipment, consisting of poles, boots, and skis. The Alpine technique involves performing powerful turns, typically on groomed slopes and in soft powder snow.
The slopes Alpine skiers use are shaped and created by ski resorts. The slope designers find the best routes down the mountains and grade them by their difficulty with a color-coded system.
Green – Easy, suitable for beginners
Blue – Easy to intermediate
Red – Intermediate to advanced skiers
Black – Expert only
Alpine skiers will reach the top of the mountain using ski lifts. These lifts allow them to get in lots of downhill runs in one day.
Beginner skiers will often start off on magic carpets, which are conveyor belts that they stand on. Magic carpets are the least intimidating of all the ski lift types and are found on the nursery slopes.
Once beginners have developed some basic skills, they will progress to different ski lifts, such as drag lifts. Drag lifts pull you up to the top of the slope via a pole attached to an overhead cable.
Skiers will progress to using cable cars and chairlifts to get further up the mountain and reach more exciting terrain.
The lifts and slopes are all interconnected and often link up neighboring ski resorts. These large ski areas allow you to explore further afield and experience different terrain.
Nordic skiing is also known as cross-country skiing and is probably the oldest style of skiing.
Nordic skiing involves a technique for pushing yourself along on rolling landscapes and on tracks. Nordic skiers are usually seen on specially made courses, often with two grooves cut into the snow, one for each ski. The tracks are often rated with regard to their difficulty and length.
The terrain Nordic skiers use is very different from where you would find an Alpine skier. Nordic tracks are situated on terrain that is generally quite gentle when you compare it to Alpine skiing terrain.
The idea of Nordic skiing is to have an easier way of traveling through deep snow. The skating and gliding motion over snow is much more efficient than sinking into the snow on foot or even snowshoes.
Nordic skiing is very popular in Scandinavian countries, where it originated and is the birthplace of many competitions. For example, the biathlon is where Nordic skiers have to race around a track and shoot targets.
Competitive biathletes are known to be the fittest athletes in the world. Amazingly, when it comes to the shooting part of the race, they have to time their shot with their heartbeat to be accurate.
Alpine skis come in various shapes and sizes. These differences make them suitable for different snow conditions, skier ability, and style.
However, all Alpine skis have metal edges. These edges grip the snow and ice, allowing the skier to carve their way down the mountain and use them to stop.
For example, you can buy:
- All-mountain skis – These find the sweet spot to allow you to ski groomed slopes or a mix of groomed slopes and powder.
- All-Mountain wide skis – The extra width of these skis allows you to float in powder easier. But, they are still great for groomed and chopped-up snow.
- Powder skis – Powder skis are perfect for skiing in deep backcountry powder snow. They float really well and have a playful feeling while being very maneuverable.
- Backcountry skis – Backcountry skis unlock the previously inaccessible terrain. In a similar way to Nordic skis, you can use them to push yourself along to reach the top of a slope under your own power. Once at the top, you ski the powder back down the mountain.
Nordic skis are much thinner than Alpine skis. They are super lightweight and designed to make pushing yourself along as efficiently as possible.
There are two types of Nordic skis. However, your heel is always “free” with both types as you lift your heel while propelling yourself forwards.
Classic – When classic Nordic skiing, you stride forwards in a similar way to how you walk or run. Classic skis are broken down into three types, cross country touring skis, race/performance skis, and metal edge touring skis.
Skate – The skate skiing technique is similar to a speed skater’s. By using the inner edges of your skis, you push yourself forwards. There is only one type of skate skis, but there are differences in shape and flex.
For all the information on buying cross country skis, check out our guide on the best cross country skis for beginners.
Alpine ski boots are rigid and sturdy. Their construction gives Alpine skiers lots of edge control and maneuverability in any condition.
The construction of Nordic ski boots is very different. They are made from leather or synthetic material.
A very noticeable difference between Alpine and Nordic ski boots is that Alpine ski boot bindings keep your entire boot attached to the skis. While Nordic ski boots are only attached at the toe.
As you would expect, there are different types of ski boots throughout both disciplines. They all have varying stiffness ratings, binding attachments, and features.
For more information on choosing Nordic ski boots, check out our guide.
Ski poles are fairly generic pieces of equipment. When it comes to Alpine ski poles, the main differences are length and grip type.
Nordic ski poles have similar differences. But, it is common for Nordic skiers to choose adjustable poles and grips with straps that lock their hands into the optimum position.
You will notice that Nordic ski poles are much longer than Alpine poles. This is so the skier can get the most leverage and pushing power from their upper body.
High altitudes and changing weather require technical and warm clothing. You can get very cold while sitting on a chairlift, so wrapping up is essential for an Alpine skier.
An Alpine skier also needs to wear waterproof clothing. A fall in the snow or skiing deep powder can cause your clothing to get wet, as can a heavy snowfall.
To get the most out of your time Alpine skiing, you need a good ski jacket, pants, gloves, and thermal underwear. Dressing in layers is the best tactic, as you can add or remove layers to suit the weather and your body temperature.
Don’t be tempted to wear jeans while skiing; click here to see why.
When Nordic skiing, you need to be able to regulate your body temperature. Most Nordic skiers only wear thin, technical layers, as the physical exertion makes them very hot pretty quickly.
It is best to ensure you can stay dry in case of weather changes, so a lightweight and very breathable jacket is a good investment. Thin moisture-wicking clothing is best for Nordic skiing, as you won’t feel restricted or overheat.
Starting off feeling cold is actually a good thing, as it will only take five to ten minutes of hard work before you start to feel hot. Wearing too many layers as you set off will cause you to overheat quickly.
When it comes to accessories for Nordic skiing, there are not many choices. This is because it is quite a minimalist sport, as you want to be as lightweight as possible.
However, there is a wide range of accessories available for Alpine skiers. These are all designed to make the experience more fun, comfortable, and safer.
Alpine skiing accessories include things like heated socks and gloves, fancy goggles, and avalanche safety equipment.
Nordic skiers don’t tend to wear much in the way of protection. The speeds are relatively low, therefore so is the risk.
However, we recommend that every Alpine skier should wear a helmet. The speeds are much higher, and there are a few more risks involved.
By wearing a ski helmet, you can manage the risk much better and stay safer on the mountain.
Whichever discipline of skiing you do, you need to protect your eyes. The sun reflecting off the snow can cause serious problems, such as snow blindness.
As an Alpine skier, you can wear a good pair of ski goggles or sunglasses. Goggles work best, as they are sealed and stop your eyes from watering when skiing at high speed.
Nordic skiers will not wear goggles, as they will get sweaty and steam up very quickly. Therefore, you will notice that Nordic skiers will wear good sports sunglasses to protect their eyes.
Both Alpine skiing and Nordic skiing are great for fitness. Often during the winter, people just sit at home keeping warm and watching TV, but these people are missing out.
Nordic and Alpine skiing are superb ways of staying active during winter. They help to build your endurance and strength while providing several other benefits.
If you want to ski solely for fitness, Nordic skiing is the one to do, as it is widely known as the best cardiovascular exercise known. This is because you are constantly pushing with your skis and poles to propel yourself forwards.
The only time you get to recover is on downhill sections where you can glide naturally. Nordic skiing is a full-body workout that uses most of your body’s muscles while being more efficient and effective than just using your legs alone or your arms.
Nordic skiing is also a great way to burn calories. The high intensity and constant work help with weight loss, even after just an hour of skiing.
As a beginner Nordic skier, you can start off on very easy tracks and terrain to introduce you to the sport. As your skills and fitness improve, you will quickly move on to tougher terrain with more uphill sections.
These uphill sections are where your fitness will be tested and improved. But, you can push as hard as you like or take it easy and enjoy the Alpine views, which are a large part of the sport.
Nordic skiing is regarded as a low-impact sport, so there is minimal impact loading on joints. Therefore, it is a perfect activity for individuals with arthritis or joint surface defects.
Even though you use ski lifts and spend all your time sliding downhill, Alpine skiing is still a physically demanding sport. When Alpine skiing, you strengthen both small and large muscle groups. Therefore your hamstrings, quadriceps, core, and upper body are all being exercised.
But one of the main health benefits of Alpine skiing is that you can ski for several hours in a day, thanks to ski lifts. When you compare it to Nordic skiing, most people will probably struggle to do more than a couple of hours on Nordic skis.
As you progress as a skier, you will find it less tiring. As your muscles get stronger and your technique improves, you will find that you need to work much harder before tiring.
The more you ski, the better your self-awareness will be. Alpine skiing allows you to become more aware of your body while improving your balance and coordination.
Over time, you will be able to react to changes in the snow and adapt accordingly. This is something that benefits you off the snow, too, especially as you get older.
Another benefit of Alpine skiing that is transferred into your day-to-day life is that it strengthens your bones and joints. The constant process of shifting your weight builds strength in your hips, back, and knees.
All this movement increases bone density and makes them more resistant to damage. Your joints become more robust, so they are less prone to osteoporosis and joint injuries.
Alpine skiing improves your core strength, as you are constantly moving from side to side and reacting to changes in the snow. A constantly engaged core will become stronger, improving your agility and balance.
You can combine elements of both Nordic and Alpine skiing with ski touring. We mentioned ski touring earlier and described it as a way of accessing backcountry terrain using backcountry skis.
Using backcountry skis to hike up a mountain is a fantastic workout. It is similar to hiking in the summer, but you get the rush of skiing powder on the way back down.
During a ski tour, you attach what are known as skins to your skis. These are strips of furry material that stick to the base of your skis.
The material allows you to slide forwards but not backward. Therefore, you can make your way up the mountain and remove your skins at the top.
Some people may wonder what the point of hiking up a mountain is when there are ski lifts. But, the whole experience of enjoying the mountain views and surrounding nature, combined with a fun descent, is an unrivaled experience for many skiers.
However, before heading off into the backcountry, you need some specific skills. The primary skill is the ability to ski in powder, but you also need to be aware of the dangers.
Avalanches, tree wells, and cliffs are just some of the dangers involved with backcountry skiing.
As we have highlighted, each sport has its own benefits. However, simply getting out on a pair of skis is good for us; here is why:
As we ski, our ability to spot changes in terrain is improved. This means we can adjust our technique to suit undulating terrain and varying light conditions.
Skiing is an excellent confidence builder. As you improve during each trip, you will feel happier, especially after making progress or simply having a great day on the mountain.
The increased blood flow from physical exercise and adrenaline heightens your senses. This makes you feel invigorated and keen to ski more, which is a good thing.
Alpine landscapes give us the most incredible views on earth. When we stand on a mountain on a clear blue sky day, we get to see the peaks and valleys in all their glory. Taking time to appreciate these surroundings is an essential part of any ski trip.
Skiing with family and friends enhances the experience immensely. The experiences you share with people build stronger friendships and relationships.
The mountain lifestyle isn’t just about sliding on snow on planks. After a day on the mountain, one of the greatest things to do is to chat about your experiences over a few après beers and dance along to a live band in a bar.
Ski resorts are full of other attractions and activities. You can enjoy different sports during a ski trip, such as paragliding, snowmobiling, and even ice driving.
Nordic skiing gives you an immense sense of achievement. This comes from improved fitness, making it around a challenging track and becoming faster.
However, Alpine skiing gives you the biggest adrenaline rush of the two sports. When you put in fast, powerful carve turns on groomed slopes and untracked powder, you get an incredible sensation.
Skiing at high speed is great fun and gets your heart pumping. And the feeling of perfecting the carve turn is incredibly satisfying.
If you are trying to decide which skiing discipline to take up, you need to think about what you want to get from skiing.
For example, if you want to experience an adrenaline rush, Alpine skiing would be the best choice for you. However, if you want to go at a slower pace or focus on fitness, Nordic skiing is the one for you.
But nothing is stopping you from giving both Alpine and Nordic skiing a try. You don’t have to be exclusive to just one, as you can enjoy the benefits of both sports. Also, many of the skills are transferable.
If you are totally new to Alpine sports, you may want to try Nordic skiing first. This way, you can take in the mountain views at a sedate pace and hopefully see some local wildlife.
The following day of your ski trip could be your chance to get to grips with Alpine skiing. This will be your first taste of lift-assisted skiing and the experience of getting some speed up.
By trying both early on, you will be able to decide which one you want to do more regularly. You may even decide that you want to do both, which is excellent if you have time.
Both of these skiing disciplines are fun to engage in, and every sporty person will get something out of them. Alpine skiing is the most popular, but as you can see, Nordic skiing has lots of benefits too.