XC, Nordic, Touring, Cross-Country. What’s What?

Touring is Nordic is XC. Credit: Dynafit

If you’re new to the sport, you’re going to find people using terms that may be a little confusing at first. Here’s an explanation of most of the jargon you’re likely to meet.

  • Nordic skiing is the catch-all term that includes classic technique, skating, ski touring, telemarking, even jumping and biathlon… In all these cases, your boot’s toe is fixed to the binding and your heel is free to lift up, as opposed to the fixed heel in downhill (or alpine) skiing. Nordic skiing is about a jillion years old; downhill is a relative newcomer.
  • Grooming lets you glide on top of a solid, consistent base that’s been prepared by snowcats or snowmobiles pulling special attachments. Groomed trails are used by both classic skiers and skaters.
  • Cross-country refers to skiing on machine-groomed surfaces – track for classic skiers and compacted snow for skaters
  • Classic technique (also called diagonal stride). You’re moving straight ahead instead of skating.
  • Skating is a relatively new technique (was introduced to racing in the early 1980s) involving an ice-skating like motion of arms and legs, thrusting out to the side. It’s dynamic and relatively exhausting.
  • Ski touring means skiing on ungroomed snow, whether it’s playing in your backyard or day-long treks in the mountains.
  • Track skiing (for classic skiers) means skiing in precise machine-compressed grooves, with snow compacted on both sides of the track for planting your poles.
  • Telemarking is an elegant and practical descent and turning technique.
  • Ski joring means being pulled, usually by a dog, though I’ve also been pulled by a horse, reindeer, and VW bug.
  • Biathlon refers to skiing and target shooting, usually with a rifle.
  • Kilometers are how cross-country ski trail lengths are measured. A km is a little over 1/6th of a mile. Skiers get more of a kick out of saying, “Hey, I skied 10 km today!” than “Well, I skied about 6 miles.”
  • Nordic Combined naturally enough refers to the blending of ski jumping and cross-country skiing.


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