A Definitive Guide to the Best Cross Country Skis

Can you even imagine passing winter without any cross-country or Nordic skiing? Cross Country Skiing is a unique sport as it can be adapted to your requirements. You can choose between going for a relaxed ski along groomed trails, participating in races and just blazing down backcountry trails.

Different cross-country skis are used for your various forms of skiing, making it rather difficult to find the right ski for yourself. This buying guide has thus been compiled to help shed some light on all the types of skis used for touring across the open country so that you buy the best cross-country skis to hit the snow!

Different types of cross-country skis

1. Classic and compact skis used for ski touring

These are skis used for traditional or standard cross-country skiing where you stick to skiing down mainly hard-packed and well-conditioned snow trails. People go for regular skiing on trails in parks, golf courses, and ski resorts and is ideal for both recreation and exercise purposes by anyone of any age.

There, however, is a difference between classic and compact skis used for ski touring. There are traditional versions which are longer than most of the latest cross-country skis and are sized by height. On the contrary, the smaller compact version is a bit shorter and fatter than classic skis. It gives better control and is a better choice for skiers who go skiing in deeper snow and tighter conditions. These skis have to be sized according to weight.

i.) Skating ski touring skis

These skis are called skate’ cross country skis as this form of skating resembles ice and inline skating styles. These skis are perfect to use on groomed trails, lakes covered with frozen snow or on hard-packed snow.

Skating ski touring is a faster form of skiing which is why these skis are referred to as the speed masters of ski touring. They use different muscles than those used for classic-style skiing, which is why it’s a favourite racing form. These skis are shorter and stiffer than the classic cross-country skis and can be enjoyed only on groomed tracks.

This skating form mimics skating on the ice and the skis are shorter and stiffer than other skis used to ski across the country. It is important that the skis are stiff enough to provide the push and propulsion you need to ski at faster speeds.

The shorter length of the skis offers better manoeuvrability so that you can take longer strides and ski faster. These skis come with a more pronounced arch underfoot providing you with the added and required push with each stride. Moreover, its base can be waxed so that you can adjust your speed according to the conditions of the snow and the temperature range.

ii.) Backcountry ski touring skis

Ski touring in the backcountry is the best form of skiing for you if you are in an area which regularly snows and there are not many groomed trails. As you ski in deep, non-groomed snow, you usually end up making your path.

These skis are stiffer, shorter, wider and stronger than classic cross-country skis. Some even have metal edges which make tackling and maneuvering difficult terrain so much easier. The metal edges also provide you with additional support while skiing down a hill and give a firmer grip while traversing across slopes.

You especially need a stronger ski while going backcountry skiing as you will be creating your trail as you ski. As these are very durable skis, they give you the power to ski in deep snow. Its extra width lets you cover more surface area while you ski and remain atop the snow for quicker, easier and much more efficient movements.

Moreover, it is not advisable to use these wider skis on groomed tracks as they are meant primarily for backcountry use, and do not perform well on groomed paths. These skis are sized by height and can be bought specifically based on what you plan to do with the skis.

Ski touring skis flex

Ski-touring skis usually come with a similar flex. However, there are also some skis which offer different flexes which you can choose from based on your weight. You need to pick a ski touring ski with a stiffer flex if you plan to go for heavier and more aggressive skiing.

Beginners’ choice of best cross-country skis

The best choice for beginners is to buy one set comprising all you need for cross-country skiing. You will get skis, poles, bindings, and boots in one package. Go for it if you do not want to spend time looking for each piece separately.

New Whitewoods

75mm 3Pin Cross Country Package 197cm

Skis, Poles, Bindings, Boots


2. Wax and waxless cross-country skis

Ski-touring skis can be divided into two types: waxable and waxless cross-country skis.

i.) Waxable ski touring skis

As the name suggests, these skis can be waxed for increased speed and greater control while skiing in various snow conditions. The skis have a grip wax in their middle for added grip and have a glide or fast wax on their tip and tail for better speed. These skis are obviously popular among cross-country ski racers as they are the fastest among cross-country skis.

ii.) Waxless cross-country skis

These skis don’t necessarily have to be waxed or even need particular attention to perform their best. The skis come with a scale pattern on its bottom which prevents you from slipping backward.

It also gives you a better grip while skiing in different snow conditions. Despite its name ’waxless,’ you can always apply some glide wax to the skis’ tips and tails for better skiing performance.

Find out more about different types of Waxless Cross Country Skis in our detailed guide.

Shop Fischer Waxless Cross-Country Skis here

3. Groomed and ungroomed ski touring skis

Ski touring skis are also further divided into two types: groomed and groomed/ungroomed ski touring skis

i.) Groomed ski-touring skis

As the name suggests, these skis perform well on groomed tracks. Groomed ski touring skis come with scales on their bases which give you the extra and necessary traction while you go skiing down the tracks. These skis used on groomed tracks are perfect for classic skiing style. This skiing style involves placing one foot first and then placing the other foot ahead of it to provide the momentum to push and move forward.

The poles are then used to propel you forward, down the track. The skis used on groomed tracks are usually narrower in style so that they provide for more movement and better sliding as you go skiing. These are in fact the most popular skis used while skiing across open country at the moment.

ii.) Groomed/ungroomed ski touring skis

The groomed/ungroomed skis used for touring across the open country are just right for skiing down groomed tracks but have tips and waist widths which are rather broad. The benefit of this is that they provide you with better and more assistance and stability while you traverse along the wild paths, but are not as broad as the typical backcountry skis. However, these groomed/untidy skis are still narrow and agile enough for you to comfortably glide quickly and efficiently along any track.

How to choose the length of cross-country skis

You have to choose the length of your skis based on what type of skier you want to be. There are three main cross-country skier groups- traditional (classic and compact), skating and backcountry ski touring which require different sizing for each. This general sizing guide should help you choose the right-sized cross-country skis. [be prepared to convert different units to get the needed result]

i.) Sizing classic touring skis

Classic touring skis are sized based on your height. You have to measure your height in inches and multiply the number by 2.6. The resulting number is then added to 15 to get an approximate ski touring ski length in centimetres.

ii.) Sizing compact touring skis

The skis here are fixed and sized based on your weight in pounds. So if you are less than 140 lbs, you need a small ski measuring 160-165cm in length. If you weigh 130-185 lbs, then a medium-sized ski of 170-175cm is just right.

In case you weigh 176-209 pounds, then look for a large ski measuring 180-185cm, and if you weigh more than 209 pounds, then you need an X-large Ski measuring 185-195 cm.

iii.) Sizing skating skis

Your size is decided based on your height. So you can find your size in a skating ski touring ski by measuring your height in inches and multiplying by 2.6. Add the resultant number to 5 to get an approximate skate ski length in centimetres.

iv.) Sizing backcountry skis

This ski too is sized based on your height. You need to measure your height in cm, and then add or subtract 5 to 15 cm from it, based on how you plan to use the skis and the type you want.

Check out Rossignol Positrack Waxless cross-country skis here on Amazon


How to choose the length of ski touring ski poles

It was once rather easy sizing your ski poles as there was then only one type of ski touring skiing prevalent, and one form for pole accompanying the ski. Things are however different now as you not only have to measure the size of your skis, but you also have to choose and use the correct sized ski touring ski poles which go along with the skis for optimal performance and comfort while skiing.

You can now see why each ski touring type of ski pole is sized slightly differently. Now here’s a rundown of the sizing of all the different varieties of ski poles used for cross skiing.

i.) Sizing recreational ski touring ski poles

The standard of ski touring is recreational cross-country skiing which has to be sized based on the old but trustworthy armpit guideline. You have to measure the ski pole to the underarm or armpit, and the right-sized pole in this category is one that sits right under your armpit.

However, if you prefer skiing with faster strides, you should choose a slightly longer pole, and if you ski slowly, the ski pole should fit loosely under your arm. The best ski poles for these skis are straight-shaft, cheap touring poles.

ii.) Sizing backcountry ski touring ski poles

There is no single sizing guideline to follow for this type of ski used for ski touring. It is better if you go backcountry skiing using a set of adjustable poles. The advantage of these adjustable poles is that you can adjust them to be longer when you ski uphill and go striding, and always shorten them when you go downhill or while doing long climbs.

There are high chances of your regularly traversing across differing conditions while backcountry skiing. These adjustable ski poles prove helpful in these circumstances as you can adjust its length based on the terrain and different snow depths.

iii.) Sizing fitness ski touring ski poles

You have to size these ski poles to about your mid-shoulder height while you stand straight with the pole placed next to your body. This longer pole not only gives you an enhanced stride but also helps use and strengthen your core torso muscles, which is why it’s called fitness cross-country skiing!

iv.) Sizing skate ski touring ski poles

In the case of these ski poles, you have to size them up to your chin or lower lip region. Though this may give shorter skis than you used to use, the style has changed over the years, and today, the shorter poles help in cutting weight and are easier and quicker to manoeuvre.

If you need the best poles to use for the fastest skiing, look for poles which reach the top of your humerus bone or about your collarbone’s height. While some people who go racing look for even longer poles, it’s better you first try the recommended length and then look for longer poles if required. Too long, and too short a pole can both throw you off balance.

In the case of classical or skate cross-country skiing, use high-performance poles which have tapered aluminium or carbon fibre shafts as they are light in weight and offer better balance. They are ideal for skating as you comfortably and quickly pick them up and set them own as many times as you like while skiing.

While light poles are also ideal for use in classic skiing, you have to swing them down from your shoulder in this form of skiing. Its weight, in turn, does not prove to be that much of an advantage and isn’t so easily or quickly visible as while skating. Moreover, once you buy lightweight ski poles, you get sort of addicted to using them for skiing, and won’t be able to, or find it easy skiing with other ski poles!




Carbon Fiber X Cross Country Ski Poles XC-70

Pro 60 Cross Country Ski Pole

Adult CT 20 Touring Pole




Check also how to choose the right cross-country ski bindings and what is the difference between SNS and NNN systems.


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Ski Pro Guru

Simon is the leading editor of SkiProGuru.com for almost 3 years. He started skiing in his teens and now he switches from Alpine to Cross-Country Skiing regularly. He tried also snowboard for a few years, but then returned to conventional skiing :) In his free time he follows soccer, tennis and reads a lot of contemporary proses and novels.

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