Skate vs Classic Cross Country Skiing

Cross Country or Nordic skiing gains popularity lately. It should not surprise anyone as the reasons for its popularity are clear. The equipment is cheaper than for alpine skiing, and you also do not need to pay for expensive tickets for lifts. In addition, cross country skiing offers more freedom than alpine skiing. You pack the essentials, pick the route, and you have a green light.

Though, if you are a starter to nordic skiing, you need to decide few things at first. What style of skiing would you prefer? Classic or Skate? Your choice will imply the rest – skis, type of boots, and the trails you will go for. Let us explain the nuances and differences between skate and classic cross country skiing.

Fischer is the most successful brand in FIS Cross-Country World Cup competitions – check its classic and skate skis or other cross country gear here.

History of Cross Country skiing

At first, we look shortly into the history.

The classic cross country skiing is more traditional as our predecessors used that style to move during the winter on the large snow plains. They did not invent it because of fun but as basic transports from point to point.

Skate cross country skiing was invented later by people who wanted to move faster.

Most people start with classic style and later move on to skating if their fitness level allows it. The professional competitions (e.g., FIS World Cup or Olympics) are performed in both classes. Though, classes are called Classic or Free. Free means athletes can choose the style they will use, but they all pick skate as it is faster (approximately 20 seconds every 10 km, which is a lot when competing for Olympics gold).

Skate vs. Classic Style

Classic cross country skiing

Photo credit: © Fischer Sports GmbH

Classic cross country style is slower and easier to perform. However, many pundits say it is harder to learn.

In my experience, it was straightforward. First, you move one ski and then another one forward, and at the same time, you put your weight from one leg to another. Then, you help yourself by pushing your body with poles and also with gliding.

After a few tries, everybody finds the balance and sync in moving forward. Usually, you will look for preset tracks that make classic cross country skiing easier. Though, you can use classic style also in free terrain.

Check shops [with offerings and sales] of the best cross country brands here: FischerRossignolSalomon

Skate cross country skiing

Photo credit: © Fischer Sports GmbH

Skate cross country skiing is similar to ice skating. You move the skis laterally to gain speed and move forward. If you do not know how to skate on ice, it can be harder for you to learn this technique.

It would help if you had better fitness for skating than for classic style. For example, skate cross country skiing does not use preset tracks, and fresh snow makes it harder to perform.

Check shops [with offerings and sales] of the best cross country brands: FischerRossignolSalomon

Going downhill is the same

Going downhill is always a challenge for nordic skiers. And it does not matter if you prefer to skate or classic as both skis do not have edges. So you need to carefully use the snowplow and correct the speed by pushing your weight onto the ski. And more important, do not be afraid; every cross-country skier falls from time to time, no matter how experienced they are.

Fitness level

As I already mentioned, skating is faster and requires a better fitness level. It is like sprint versus comfortable walk or easy run.

Classic vs. Skate Ski Equipment

The skis, boots, and poles are different for both techniques. That does not mean you cannot go classic on your skate skis or vice versa, but it would be more difficult and exhausting.

Every classic nordic skier uses skate technique when going up to the hill. And every skater use from time to time the preset track for classic skiing to rest a bit.

Classic Skis and Poles vs. Skate Skis and Poles

The fundamental difference is in size.

Classic skis are longer than skate skis, but poles for classic skiing are shorter than poles for skate cross country skiing.

It may look not very clear at first sight, but it is very reasonable. For efficient skating, you need shorter skis to avoid contact between them at the back. Also, you need longer poles for skating as you need to push more and gain better leverage for skating.

The best way how to never forget the difference in sizes is to try to skate on classic skis for a while.

Classic ski boots vs. skate ski boots

Skate boots are usually more rigid and have stronger angle support. Classic boots are softer and more comfortable.

Do not forget that there are different cross country binding systems available, and your cross country ski boots have to fit the bindings – for more, visit our Cross Country Bindings guide.

How to start? Classic or Skate?

The usual starting point is classic skis with skins for better comfort. I started that way, and what I see, almost everybody did it the same way.

And if you like it, then you can move to skate.

Classic cross country skiing is an ideal sport for all age categories. It is used for long and slow trips in snowy nature or fitness training if you want.

Skate cross country skiing is more about training and fitness.

The ideal combination is to have both types of skis at home and make decisions every morning before you go skiing.

Best Cross Country Skis

Fischer, Rossignol, and Salomon are leaders in the world of cross-country skiing. They have dominated FIS Cross Country World Cup competitions for years. All three brands offer excellent race skis but also performance or fitness skis.

Check shops, offerings, and sales of the best cross country brands: FischerRossignolSalomon

The best classic and skate cross country ski models for each brand are:

The classic and skate skis have the same model name but are manufactured for different styles [see the classic or skate in the type long name].

Rossignol: Rossignol X-IUM – Rossignol Delta – Shop here

Fischer: Fischer Speedmax – Fischer RC5 – Shop here

Salomon: Salomon S/Lab – Shop here

or you can check the most popular models below:

Rossignol BC 80 Positrack Backcountry

Check the price here

Fischer 2022 Adventure 62 Crown Cross Country Skis

Check the price here.

Posted in Best Skis, Cross-Country Skis, Reviews and tagged .

Ski Pro Guru

Simon is the leading editor of 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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