ski & snowshoe info
(nordic walking, too)

new skier FAQs

Here are the basics of cross country skiing – everything you need to know to get started and feel really comfortable even the very first time you try it.

This page is intended for people new to skiing, but you might find some really helpful information here, even if you’ve been skiing a few times.

If there’s a question that’s missing, please e-mail us and we’ll add it in. Thanks!

What is cross country skiing?
It’s skiing on lightweight equipment, where your heels aren’t attached to the ski – they lift up and down as you ski, so the motion is like you’re walking. All you need is snow and ski equipment (see below). And here’s a fun fact: It’s the original form of skiing, and it’s been around for centuries!

What do people enjoy about it?
A lot – including the fact that it’s great exercise (it works your whole body)… it’s easy to learn… you can do it at whatever level you feel comfortable… it’s a great way to get out in the winter without being cold (your body generates the heat to keep you warm)… it can be social or solitary, depending on what you prefer… and it’s a wonderful way to see the beautiful sights of winter!

Do you need to be a certain fitness level to cross country ski?
No. If you can walk, you can start out cross country skiing. You can stay at an equivalent of a walking level (in terms of speed) as long as you’d like – forever, if that’s your preference – or go faster and stay out longer over time. It’s your choice!

Do you need to be a certain age?
Cross country skiing can be something that anyone – at almost any age – can do. Kids as young as three can start toddling around on skis and at five can take lessons… and people can ski all their lives, just adapting their speed and time spent on skis to whatever they’re comfortable with.

Should I start out on groomed trails?
Yes! It’s a lot easier to start on trails that have a consistent, even surface with machine-made tracks. Having to break your own trail (make your own tracks in the snow) can be really hard, depending on how deep the snow is. It’s also easier to ski in the groomed tracks because they guide your skis for you.

What services do cross country ski areas have – and how much does that differ?
It can differ a lot from area to area (you can check out their web sites or call ahead to get details). Services can include: rental equipment, ski instruction, heated bathrooms, food (anything from snack-type food to full meals), a lounge area (to rest and to eat food you may have brought), and lodging. Also, the staff at a ski area will help get you started and suggest trails for your ability.

How do I choose what ski area or trail system to go to?
There are a number of things to keep in mind: convenience (how far it is and whether you want to stay closer to home or you want to go further away) and what you need out of the ski area. For example, do you want to take a lesson? Do you want a hot meal there? Do you need to rent equipment? Would you like to stay overnight? You can check out ski areas’ web sites or call ahead to see if they have the services you want.

I’ve been looking for information on where to go cross country skiing and find many different names for the ski areas. Are they all the same?
Whether the business calls itself a Nordic center, a ski touring center, an adventure center, or an outdoor center… if there are groomed trails and services, it’s a cross country ski area.

What kind of equipment do I need?
Just boots, poles, and skis with bindings. (The boots and bindings on the skis need to be compatible.)

Where should I get cross country skiing equipment from?
It’s probably easiest to get it from the cross country area you’re visiting, if they have rental equipment. (Most do.) You can also get ski equipment from ski shops – it’ll help to tell them that you’ll be skiing on groomed trails. Shops at Nordic centers and specialty ski stores have the knowledge to get you fitted with the right equipment.

Should I rent or buy equipment when I’m just starting out?
It’s smart to rent when you’re starting out. That way, you can make sure you like the sport (you will!) before you invest in equipment, and you can also see what kind of skis and boots you like. Then, when you go to buy equipment, you’ll be more knowledgeable – and, in fact, might know exactly what skis and boots you want to buy. Specialty ski shops have the best selection, most current models, and often run sales just prior to the start of winter.

What are the types of cross country skiing at ski areas?
The two types are track skiing (also called classic skiing) and skate skiing.

Track skiing is done in tracks that have been created by machines. (They’re tracks compressed into the snow.) When you’re track (or classic) skiing, your skis are pointing straight in front of you, and you glide forward, guided by the tracks.

Skate skiing takes place in what’s called the skate lane next to the tracks – about a six to eight-foot wide stretch of flattened snow next to the tracks. With skate skiing, your skis are in a V position and you push off from side to side, kind of like with ice skating or rollerblading.

If I’ve never gone cross country skiing before, is it uncomfortable to try?
No, but you should take a lesson, so you feel more comfortable and in control. (See the next question!)

What can I expect during a lesson?
The instructor will explain the equipment to you (including how to get it on and take it off), and demonstrate how to move and balance on skis, how to hold your poles, how to negotiate different types of terrain (flat, uphill, downhill), how to get up if you fall, and more. They’ll also be able to look at what you’re doing and give you personalized tips and coaching.

What should I wear?
Synthetics and wool blends are the best – cotton is not good. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture, whether it’s perspiration or snow. (So, leave your jeans at home!) Synthetics and wool blends allow moisture to evaporate, making you more comfortable.

Dress in light layers, so you can take them off (as you get warmer) or put them on (as you get cooler). A hat is a great way of controlling temperature, because you can take it off or put it on. You also need gloves or mittens (if it’s colder); it’s not a good idea to ski bare-handed.

What should I bring?
Some basics would include sunglasses, sunscreen, tissues, water, lip balm (with sunscreen), and possibly a snack or a packed lunch, if you’re going out longer and won’t have access to food. You can carry these items in a fanny pack or daypack/backpack.

Can I take my kids cross country skiing?
Yes! Kids generally learn really quickly – although, again, we always advise taking a lesson or hiring an instructor to ski with your whole family. (That way everyone gets instruction at the same time.) Lessons for kids start around five years old, and there’s ski equipment available in different sizes for different ages.

What should I know about trail etiquette?
The most important thing to remember is that the downhill skier has the right of way. That means, if you’re skiing uphill and someone’s coming downhill, you move off to the side of the trail and let them by. The same applies for faster skiers vs. slower skiers – the slower skier steps out of the tracks and moves to the side of the trail to let the faster skier coming up from behind go by.

Can I take my dog skiing?
Some ski areas allow you to take your dogs and some don’t (you can call ahead to check). At an area that does allow dogs, generally only some trails are open to dogs. Different areas also have different rules about dogs being on-leash or off-leash, although it’s always appreciated to pick up your dog’s poop.

What’s backcountry skiing?
Backcountry skiing usually refers to skiing done off of groomed trails – and it’s usually in reference to skiing that’s tougher to do. You might be in deeper snow and in more remote locations – and you, or someone in your party, is breaking the trail. Skiing with a guide and being prepared is a good idea when backcountry skiing.

Where can I get more information?
You can always call the cross country ski area you’re planning to visit and ask them any questions you have. They’re happy to answer questions… and you’ll find that cross country ski area employees are friendly folks!

  • Lone Mountain Ranch
  • Royal Gorge
  • Great Glen Trails
  • Fischer
  • Pacific Yurts
  • Lapland Lake
  • Tahoe Donner Cross Country
  • Rossignol
  • Golden Eagle Lodge
  • Jackson XC
  • Aurora Insurance
  • Nature Valley
  • Organic Valley


Cross Country Ski Areas Association is a non-profit organization representing member ski service providers. The Association's purpose is to promote the growth and improve the quality of cross country ski operations in North America.



    © 2017 Cross Country Ski Areas Association. All Rights Reserved. | web design & development by FLUX!