What Size Cross Country Skis Do I Need? There are two main ways to enjoy cross-country skiing (also known as “Nordic skiing”): classic skiing and skating skiing. In each, your heel is always “free” (not connected to the ski like downhill skiing), and you use your muscles and gear to move forward. But there are some key differences:
- Classic skiing uses a forward and back striding motion that resembles walking or running. The familiar motion makes cross-country skiing a logical place for new skiers to begin – even if you’ve never had skis on before, you may enjoy shuffling along on trails.
- Skate skiing is similar to speed skating on ice. When you push your skis out to the side, you use the edges of your skis to propel yourself forward. While it’s a fun and fast activity that many people can learn to enjoy, it’s not typically where beginners begin.
The gear for classic skiing and skate skiing differs slightly—to the untrained eye, it can all appear the same. This article will help you understand the differences to get the type of skis, boots, bindings, and poles you need to enjoy a day on the trails.
Table of Contents
How to Choose Cross-Country Skis
In order to choose the right cross-country skis, first, decide where you’re going and what kind of skiing you’re going to do, and then choose the skis that best suit those needs.
- Classic Skis
Classic skiing at REI includes three types of skis:
Cross-country touring skis are designed for skiing on groomed trails with a forward and back striding motion similar to walking or running. Skis are generally long, narrow, and lightweight so they can be used quickly and efficiently on groomed tracks. Some cross-country touring skis have a shorter design that makes them easier to turn and control, making them a popular choice among beginners. Using cross-country touring skis is an excellent option for people who want to have some fun and exercise but aren’t interested in getting an effective workout or setting a course record.
Classic race skis are similar to touring skis in that you use them on groomed tracks, but they’re built for faster, more aggressive skiing. Skis designed for racing and performance generally have a stiffer flex than touring skis, making them less forgiving and requiring better technique. Even if you are not a racer, these skis are excellent for people who want to move quickly and work out on groomed trails.
The metal-edged touring skis are designed for skiing off-piste or on steeper terrain. They are typically shorter for better maneuverability and more comprehensive for more stability and flotation in deeper snow than touring skis. The edges are metal for better traction on ice. Their more significant sidecut enhances turning ability on steeper slopes. These features make them heavier than touring skis, but more suitable for off-trail terrain.
- Skate Skis
On groomed trails, skate skis are used to ski along, similar to how speed skaters move on ice. Skis for skate skiing are generally light, skinny, and stiff, and about 10cm shorter than classic skis. It’s worth pointing out that skate skis are not designed for striding like classic skis are.
Getting the Right Cross-Country Ski Size
As long as the length of the ski is matched to your body weight, the skis will support your weight and provide the optimum grip and glide. If you get too short skis, you won’t glide as you should. Get skis that are too long, and you’ll struggle to get a good grip.
Each pair of skis has a specific recommended weight range based on its flex, materials, and other design characteristics. This information can be found on the “recommended weight range” spec on REI.com product pages or in the manufacturer’s size chart. Use a generic size chart with caution because ski sizing is not standardized between brands and varies for different models within the same brand.
Adjusting ski length based on skill level: Longer skis tend to be faster than shorter skis. This is important when choosing a ski length. The shorter ski size will give you better control and will keep your speed down a bit if you’ve never skied before. Experienced skiers usually prefer the more extended, faster ski size.
Cross-Country Ski Width and Sidecut
The width of a ski is typically measured at three points: the tip (the widest point near the front of the ski), the waist (the narrowest point near the middle of the ski), and the tail (near the back of the ski). The resulting hourglass shape is called a sidecut.
Cross-Country Touring and Race and Performance Classic Skis: If you plan to ski at Nordic ski areas and stay in the groomed tracks, you should find skis no wider than 68mm (the maximum width of ski tracks). Skis should have a minimal sidecut, so they glide straight and efficiently. Most race and performance skis aren’t wider than 60mm at their widest point, and some are much narrower than that.
Metal-Edge Touring Skis: If you intend to head off into ungroomed terrain and look at metal-edge ski touring skis, you’ll likely want skis with more width and a moderate sidecut to facilitate better flotation and easier turning. At their widest point, these skis are usually at least 60mm wide. Some can be as comprehensive as 100mm or more.
Some skiers look for skis that are suitable both for in- and out-of-track touring and have metal edges for better control on icy slopes. To ensure they will fit in groomed tracks, look for metal-edge touring skis that are about 65mm to 68mm wide at their widest point.
Skate Skis: The narrower ski is, generally the faster it moves. Skating skis are thus relatively thin when compared to classic skis. They typically range from 41mm to 45mm wide and glide smoothly over packed and groomed snow. Skating skis fit easily into groomed tracks for classic skis, allowing skaters to hop into them and tuck downhill sections for maximum speed.
Cross-Country Ski Bases: Waxless vs. Waxable
In order to climb hills and maintain forward momentum on flat terrain, skis need to grip the snow. There are two methods by which classic skis get their grip: either the bottom of the ski is textured, or grip wax (also known as kick wax) is applied. Skate skis rely on their edges for grip.
Here’s a closer look at the differences between the waxless and waxable ski bases found on classic skis:
- Waxless classic skis are the most popular choice because they are convenient and low maintenance, and they provide reliable grip in a variety of snow conditions. They are called waxless because they have a manufactured grip zone on the bottom rather than relying on grip wax for traction. A textured pattern (sometimes called “fish scales”) digs into and grips the snow, but some waxless skis now have a fuzzy strip of climbing skin attached to the grip zone. Classic skis with these skins are famous for their ability to strike a good balance between grip and glide. Despite their name, waxless skis perform best when you apply glide wax to the tips and tails periodically.
- Classic waxable skis require more work, but if their grip wax is precisely matched to snow conditions, they can outperform waxless models. Rub-on grip wax is applied to the middle third of waxable skis, which gives them traction. Inconsistent temperatures above or below freezing, well-waxed skis will glide better than waxless skis while providing excellent grip. When the temperature is unpredictable or right at the freezing point, waxing is tricky, and waxless skis are better.
Cross-Country Ski Camber
Camber is the bow of the ski, which is obvious when you put the ski down on a flat surface. Skate skis are designed with single camber, whereas most classic cross-country skis have the more-pronounced double camber.
Single Camber: Single cambered skis have a gradual arch in the middle. Single camber distributes skier weight more evenly over the entire ski base, making it easier to carve smooth turns. Single camber makes it easier to push off the skis’ edges efficiently on skate skis. In addition to skate skis, single camber is found on some cross-country touring skis and metal-edge touring skis designed for easier turning. On downhill skis and backcountry skis, you’ll also find single camber.
Double camber: Classic skis incorporate a second camber that’s important to achieving excellent glide while classic skiing on groomed trails. The waists of the skis, or “grip zones,” remain arched off the snow when you equally weigh double camber skis, as you would when gliding. However, if you shift your weight completely to one ski, such as when striding uphill or on flat terrain, the ski will completely flatten against the snow, so that the grip zone contacts the snow.
Cross-Country Ski Flex
Flex describes the stiffness of a ski’s camber and affects its speed and turning. In general, soft-flexing skis grip better and depend more easily on soft snow and slow speeds. Stiff-flex skis work best on firm snow and at high speeds. Unless you’re a racer, you don’t need to be too concerned with ski flex—for most people, purchasing a ski that’s appropriate for the type of skiing they want to do will ensure they get the right flex. However, this is something to consider when narrowing down your choices, particularly if you’re looking for race and performance skis.
How to Choose Cross-Country Ski Boots
The key to enjoying your time on the slopes is finding comfortable boots. Having blisters on your heels or scrunched toes can put an end to an otherwise wonderful day. If you are going to try on ski boots, wear wool or synthetic socks. A good fit means comfortable boots and holding your feet solidly in place. To keep your toes warm, you should be able to wiggle them.
When shopping for cross-country ski boots, it’s important to choose boots that match the type of skiing you’re doing.
- Boots for cross-country touring: Look for boots with a combination of flexibility for striding and torsional rigidity for turning and stopping. Some shoes have extra features such as lace covers and rings for attaching gaiters. These features can be beneficial for keeping snow out of the boots if you venture out of the tracks into ungroomed snow. Boots for cross-country touring often emphasize comfort and have a bit more insulation in them than boots for race and performance skiing.
- Boots for race and performance classic skiing: These boots are typically lighter than touring boots and sometimes have lower cuffs for a more excellent range of motion.
- Boots for metal-edge touring skis: These boots are stiffer to provide more significant support for turning. Although they still have flexibility, they are higher cut, warmer, and more durable than general touring boots. Some have an “exoskeleton” made of plastic for extra rigidity.
- Boots for skate skiing: Skating boots offer more ankle support than classic skiing to help protect against the twisting forces involved in the skating technique. In addition, they have stiffer soles to help minimize torsional and forward flex, which can both hinder skating performance.
- Boots for skate skiing and classic skiing: There are boots that are designed for both skating and classic skiing. They are called combi boots and have a blend of features that allow them to perform pretty well for both skiing styles. Combi boots are a great way to save money if you skate ski and classic ski at the same time since you only have to buy one pair of boots.
After you’ve chosen the right boots, you can look for bindings that match. It’s worth noting that some skis come with bindings, in which case you need to be sure that when you’re shopping for boots, you choose ones that are compatible with the bindings already on the skis. In the next section of this article, which discusses bindings, you can learn more about compatibility.
How to Choose Cross-Country Ski Bindings
Due to the subtle differences in performance between bindings, choose your bindings based on your choice of boots. Boots have different soles on them, making them only compatible with specific bindings. Although this has simplified some in recent years, allowing for more compatibility between multiple types of boots and bindings, it’s still something you need to be aware of.
Race and performance bindings for skate skis, cross-country touring skis, and classic race skis
For many years, New Nordic Norm (NNN) and Salomon Nordic System (SNS) were the two primary binding/boot systems available, and they were not compatible with one another. Therefore, if you had boots with NNN soles, you needed NNN bindings, and if you had boots with SNS soles, you needed SNS bindings. However, this has changed in recent years.
Due to the Turnamic system, found on Rossignol and Fischer products, and the ProLink system, found on Salomon products, there is much more crossover between boots and bindings. Dynamic, ProLink, and NNN can all be used interchangeably.
Using the chart below, you can determine which bindings are available to you based on the type of sole on your boots.
|Boot and Binding Compatibility|
|Boot Sole Type||Compatible Bindings|
|NNN||NNN, NNN Nordic Integrated System (NIS), Turnamic, ProLink|
|Turnamic||NNN, NNN NIS, Turnamic, ProLink|
|ProLink||NNN, NNN NIS, Turnamic, ProLink|
|SNS Profil||SNS Profil|
|SNS Pilot||SNS Pilot|
When you shop for bindings, you’ll become aware of different features that can influence your decision. Here are a couple of things to be on the lookout for:
- Manual versus automatic: Some cross-country bindings require you to bend over to lock your boots to the bindings or release them. Others are automatic, allowing you to step into them without bending over and remove them with the press of a ski pole. The convenience of automatic is excellent, and it’s a feature many recreational skiers enjoy. But manual bindings typically make a more solid connection with boots, and serious skiers prefer them.
- Binding plates: Some skis come with binding plates installed on them. There are a number of advantages to these bindings, such as easy installation without drilling and the ability to reposition the bindings according to things like snow conditions and skiing ability. If your skis have plates, you need to buy compatible bindings. For instance, skis with NIS plates are designed for NNN NIS bindings. Skis with Integrated Fixation Plates (IFP) are designed to work with Turnamic bindings. If you drill through the binding plates or purchase adapters, such as the Salomon IFP Adapter Plates, you may be able to mount other bindings on binding plates.
Bindings for Metal-Edge Touring Skis
The bindings are more durable and rugged than their touring and racing counterparts. They are also more comprehensive and, therefore, generally not appropriate for in-track skiing. Here are your two choices:
- 75mm 3-pin bindings consist of three metal pins attached to three holes on a tonguelike extension of a ski boot sole. They provide reliable support and can be repaired on the spot. However, it can be more difficult to get in and out of than other styles.
- New Nordic Norm Backcountry (NNN BC) bindings are similar to NNN touring bindings, but they are more expansive, thicker, and durable. NNN BC bindings require NNN BC boots.
How to Choose Cross-Country Skis Poles
You need a quality pair of poles to complete your ski setup. Consider materials, baskets, straps, and length as you shop based on the type of skiing you intend to do.
Ski Pole Materials
Aluminum or composite cross-country ski poles are available.
- Aluminum: The more durable and economical choice, aluminum poles are typically heavier than composite poles. They are often used in cross-country touring and metal-edge touring.
- Composite: These poles feature shafts made either entirely or partially from carbon. These are lighter and more expensive than aluminum and often preferred by committed skiers on skate skis or race and performance classic skis.
Ski Pole Baskets
Skate ski poles, cross-country touring skis, and race or performance classic ski poles will typically have small semicircle baskets. These work well on packed snow, which is where you’ll normally ski.
If you have metal-edge touring skis and intend to explore deep powder snow, then you’ll want poles with more extensive baskets that are about 3 inches in diameter.
Ski pole straps range from basic webbing loops to elaborate systems with hook-and-loop fasteners and quick-release mechanisms.
Poles with simple loops are typically designed for cross-country touring or metal-edge touring. These straps keep the poles with you and, when worn correctly, give you something to push off of while poling. This strap style should be used by putting your hand through the bottom of the loop and pulling down to grab the grip of the poles. This technique supports the wrists and heels of the hands and allows you to keep your hands relaxed on the grips.
Poles with fancier straps are often meant for skiers on skate skis or race and performance classic skis. Poles stay perfectly positioned with the straps hugging your hands tightly.
Ski Pole Sizing
For cross-country touring, skiers typically size poles to reach from the ground up to their armpits. You may want to size them a few centimeters longer for race and performance classic skiing. In skate skiing, the poles should reach from the ground up to somewhere between your chin and lips.
For metal-edge touring, the proper length of poles depends on where you intend to go. For flat or gently rolling ungroomed terrain, you’ll size them like trekking poles. For more rugged terrain, size them shorter. Telescoping poles are an excellent option for this type of skiing because they allow you to set the length just where you want it and adjust it as you go.
When shopping for poles in a store, grab a pair you’re interested in and hold them next to you with their tips on the floor to see how they fit. This chart will give you a general idea of how long classic ski poles and skate ski poles should be if you’re shopping online:
|Recommended Ski Pole Length by Height|
|Skier Height||Recommended Ski Pole Length –Classic||Recommended Ski Pole Length – Skate|
|Less than 4’7”||110cm||120cm|
|4’8” – 4’9”||115cm||125cm|
|4’10” – 4’11”||120cm||130cm|
|5’ – 5’1”||125cm||135cm|
|5’2” – 5’3”||130cm||140cm|
|5’4” – 5’5”||135cm||145cm|
|5’6” – 5’7”||140cm||150cm|
|5’8” – 5’9”||145cm||155cm|
|5-10” – 5’11”||150cm||160cm|
|6’ – 6’1”||155cm||165cm|
|6’2” – 6’3”||160cm||170cm|
|6’4 – 6’5”||165cm||175cm|