A Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Country Skiing: Part 3

A Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Country Skiing: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Country Skiing. Alessia Francini-Beaumont, our resident cross-country skiing instructor, has given you a general overview of the winter sport and taught you about the best techniques, now you will find out what to pack – from equipment to clothing. This is the final part of her guide, so happy skiing and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

What do I need to pack?

Cross-country skiing encompasses several styles, from touring or racing on groomed ski tracks to gliding through deep country snow. Your heel is always “free” (not connected to the ski) and you move yourself by striding forward (as opposed to skate skiing where you stride side-to-side in a skating motion). So what equipment do you need?


Cross country skiing. Close up of shoes and skiis.

© Anze Bizjan

Skis: Classic style skis are designed for groomed trails (tracks) and are generally:

Skating skis, in comparison, are shorter and also lightweight but they don’t have the fishscale/waxed area.

Downhill skis are heavier and have metal edges to give direction.

Waxless skis are convenient and provide grip in a variety of snow conditions. They are called waxless because rather than relying on wax for traction, they have a textured pattern in the middle third of each ski that digs into and grips the snow. Despite their name, waxless skis perform best when you apply glide wax to the tips and tails.

Waxable skis require a bit more work because you have to manually apply the wax, but they can outperform waxless models if the wax is precisely matched to snow conditions. Waxable skis get their traction from rub-on wax that’s applied to the middle third of each ski. In consistent temperatures above or below freezing, well-waxed skis will glide better than waxless skis whilst still providing excellent grip. When temperatures are erratic or right at the freezing point, waxing is difficult and waxless skis are the better choice.

Waxing blooper by Alessia!

I was once using waxable skis but applied the wrong temperature wax on the skis and once I was out, the snow stuck to them. This made the skis very heavy so I had to stop skiing. Top tip: Make sure you’re aware of how cold it is outside before applying the wax!

Bindings: All skis require bindings (a metal bar under the front of the ski boot) so that you can attach your skis to the boots. There are different bindings depending on your requirements and level. Some of them just clip into your boot whereas others have to be manually fastened in. Bindings allow you to lift up your heel when skiing, giving you power to glide on the snow.

Ski and hiking poles with large snow cups.

© trekandphoto

Poles: Poles are used to help you gain speed on the snow and push you along when skiing. Classic style poles sit under shoulder height compared to the skate ski poles that sit just above shoulder height.

Pole strap: This is a sling that cradles your hand and holds it next to your pole; it prevents you from letting go of the ski pole (and potentially poking someone behind!) when you a full arm movement.

Pole baskets: These protect the tip of the pole and need to be facing backwards when skiing to stop you going too deep into the snow.


Unlike downhill skiing where your clothing is rigid, heavy and you may feel like you’re dressed something similar to the man on the moon, cross-country skiing clothing is thinner and more breathable and allows you to move about easily.

A man cross country skiing

© Sergey

Ski boots: Classic style ski boots come up to ankle height and skate ski boots are slightly higher with two metal edges underneath for stability when pushing diagonally on the slopes.

Clothing: For cross-country skiing it is better to have synthetic breathable materials that are in layers so you can remove or add them as and when you are moving. We suggest a waterproof outer layer and good quality breathable trousers, hats (one for cold weather and one with a peak for sunnier days), fleece style mittens, thermal trousers, socks and a shirt to wear as an extra under layer. The two key parts of the body to be kept warm are the head and hands. Some people also like to take goggles (more useful for downhill skiing) or sunglasses that filter out ultra-violet light. Top tip: Don’t forget to pack a light backpack, water bottle, high factor sunscreen and lip balm.

And that’s the end of my Beginner’s Guide to Cross-Country Skiing. Enjoy!

Headwater has cross-country skiing holidays in Venabu, Norway; Kandersteg, Switzerland, and Leutasch, Austria