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Have you ever heard a word or phrase being thrown around, and even though you didn’t know what it meant, you had this feeling deep down like… “that’s not what it means.”

That was my exact reaction when I heard someone refer to nordic skiing as cross-country skiing. Although I didn’t have even the slightest clue about how to ski or what nordic skiing is… but something just wasn’t right. So… I did my research!

And today, I’m gonna give you guys nordic skiing, explained in the clearest and easiest way to understand.

What Is Nordic Skiing?

what is nordic skiing

Whether you’re a novice or an expert skier, you must know that the sport of skiing is vast and quite varying in its technique and approach. Nordic skiing is one of those variations of the sport that utilizes a very unique and different style.

The key factor that makes nordic skiing differ from other skiing types is the free heel binding system. Specifically, it is the toe of the ski boot that is bound to the ski board while the rest of the rider’s foot is free to attach and detach from the binding.

Why Is It Called Nordic Skiing?

The term nordic skiing can be split into two parts. The first part (Nordic) refers to the area where this form of sport was initially founded; the Nordic countries. That includes Norway, Finland, and Sweden.

On the other hand, the word ‘ski’ originated from the Norwegian word “skíð” which is basically pronounced as ‘skid.’ Although the practice of skiing dates back thousands of years to Chinese origins, the Norwegians are the ones who introduced it to the general public today under that name.

What’s the Difference Between Cross-country Skiing and Nordic Skiing?

nordic vs cross country skiing

Now, the biggest confusing aspect of nordic skiing is when people confuse it with cross-country skiing, and cross-country skiing is absolutely not what they mean. Cross-country skiing is one of the different types of nordic skiing, but it is not the same thing.

It is because cross-country skiing is known to be the most popular form of nordic skiing that it is very commonly confused together. However, the distinction to be made is very important and simple to figure out.

Nordic skiing is the parent category. With 3 subcategories which are: cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, and telemark skiing. Each type has its different other subcategories. However, cross-country skiing, in particular, branches out into classic cross-country skiing, light touring skiing, and skate skiing.

Moreover, nordic skis are a tad bit differently structured than other ski boards due to the free heel binding that they work with.

The Different Types of Nordic Skiing

I’ve lightly touched on the three styles of nordic skiing in the previous paragraph, but let’s delve a little deeper.

The first type of nordic skiing is cross-country skiing, and it further divides into 3 other various types. Number 1 is classic cross-country skiing which utilizes thin and lightweight skis on pre-designed snow tracks.

Number 2 is skate skiing, which requires shorter and tougher skis. Lastly, the light-touring skiing type uses specific light-touring skis that are wider and thicker for on-trail and off-trail touring.

The second type of nordic skiing is telemark skiing, and it is primarily labeled after the ‘Telemark’ Nordic region in Norway that is laden with off-road trails.

Thicker and heavier telemark skis accomplish a variant of skiing that is great at providing incomparable stability, paired with a loose heel, and help the rider indulge in downhill skiing and uphill riding with ease.

Lastly, ski jumping is both a special and tricky variation that is usually incorporated with other forms, such as downhill skiing or cross-country alpine skiing. As it requires more skill and effort, ski jumping is a popular sport in the Olympics, where it is mixed with other variations.

Nordic Skiing in the Olympics

nordic cross country skiing

A thing of pride and excellence for the country of Norway and its famed nordic skiing, the sport has time and time again established for itself a prestigious and distinguished spot on the World Olympics platform. Whether it is ski jumping or any other form of nordic skiing!

And unsurprisingly, Norway has always topped in the nordic skiing games without fail. With a total of 368 Olympic medals, the Norwegian team outsmarts all others and has set the record straight of earning the most medals per capita.

In the 2018 Olympics, Norway earned 38 medals in total, with Marit Bjørgen winning five medals on her own.

What about Ski Touring?

nordic cross country ski

Ski touring is yet another umbrella terminology that encompasses many different types. It basically means that you stick to no specific style or type of riding. It could be downhill skiing, telemark skiing, alpine touring… the list goes on and on.

You can basically practice ski touring anywhere where you can find snow, but generally, people prefer to tour the Alps on their downhill skis. Due to the freeriding technique used, it is also sometimes called backcountry skiing or ski mountaineering.

The most important factor that differentiates ski touring from other types is its daredevil nature that forces the rider to take their chances on steep slopes. This is why it is advised that only adventurous and experienced skiers take a risk on the steep terrain of the mountains.

Which One Is Right for You?

After learning about pretty much all the different types of skiing methods, you must be wondering… which one should I go for? As beginners, there’s not much we can do apart from downhill skiing.

However, if you’re planning to level up and upgrade your game a bit, here are some factors that you can have a look at before making your decision.


If ease is what you’re going for, then classic cross-country skiing is the most versatile and manageable type of skiing that all skill levels can try out. All that you could want to try out is possible with this method of skiing. Slow, fast, a little trick here and there… the list goes on.

nordic ski boots

The world is basically you’re oyster when you’re on a pair of classic cross-country skis. If you take it from me, then you should start your journey on groomed trails. This enhances your ability to keep the nordic skis on track. Once you have managed the art of on-piste skiing, then you can take on the exciting challenge of off-piste skiing.

Technique and Training

Nordic skiing branches out into a bunch of different types that are quite different than skiing downhill. Each type utilizes a different understanding and technique in order to master its execution flawlessly.

However, one thing is for sure in order to completely grasp the gist of any of those variants; you need to pack in your practice hours. Nothing is learned overnight, of course, and there is no given fixed time within which you will fully learn those types of nordic skiing.

Myself included, it took me years to completely grasp the art of handling myself on a pair of skate cross-country skis. If there’s any advice I could pass on to any fellow learning skiers, it is to take the steps one at a time and go at your own pace.

Groomed tracks are a good place to get you started. Dabble into some light touring as well to test yourself and understand what exactly it is that tickles your senses.


Okay… I’ll admit it first! If good scenery is involved, I’m down to try just about everything for a good view. So if you’re a sucker for the views like me… off-piste skiing is just what you should be going for.

Venturing on alpine touring skis or going telemark skiing will most definitely lead you toward the backcountry slopes that not many skiers traverse.

It is undoubtedly a plunge into the unknown that we’re taking, but it is completely worth it once you set your eyes on the breathtaking views. However, you don’t exactly have to explore the wilderness on your own.

There are a number of gorgeous ski resorts with safe, fenced areas that can also give you wonderful views. National parklands are also a perfectly secure and potential possibility.


Each type of skiing method allows for a certain percentage of variance in its approach and strategy. The more variety, the more versatility you can incorporate into your game. For example, classic-style skiing allows riders to apply their own rules pertaining to speed and intensity.

nordic skiis

If you want a light cruise kind of vibe, then you can very well do that, but if you prefer a more fast-paced and high-intensity workout type of thing, then you are free to do that too.

Although if you’re more inclined to fun and fast riding, then the skating technique is recommended more than the former.


Across the entirety of Europe, you can find nordic skiing regions with no limitations whatsoever. Even in ski resorts, you can find there a section that is specifically reserved for nordic skiing types.

Moreover, if the different types of cross-country entice you, then no worries about that either because with the popularity of off-piste skiing, taking to the hills… you will find your desires accommodated as well.

In addition to that, if you’re located in any of the Scandinavian countries, telemark skiing spots can’t be missed due to their abundance.


cross country skis vs downhill

Now, I know you folks are a tad bit worried about the safety of all this daredevil skiing. But hear me out!

It is a conscious decision that you make as a skier to ski on or off track. No matter which type of skiing you’re getting yourself into… if you choose to do it on groomed slopes, then you don’t have to worry about getting yourself in trouble.

Freestyle skiing that is done off-track and on backcountry trails requires determination before any skill, talent, or expertise. You could be the most experienced skier out there, but if you chicken out at the last minute… that’s on you!

Wrapping Up

All in all, picking up a pair of skis and going to town on them is not what the sport is all about. Nordic skiing is a vast umbrella category of options that you can choose from to suit your palate and riding style.

But one thing is for sure, nordic skiing… is not cross-country skiing, my friends!

Categories: Skiing


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