5 Essential Cross-Country Skiing Techniques You Should Know

L.L.Bean employee Emma R.

L.L.Bean employee, Emma R., had tried cross-country skiing in high school, but hadn’t touched a set of skis in over 10 years. When we paired her up with Kristen R., one of our Outdoor Discovery Programs ski instructors, Emma gained the skills and confidence to enjoy her time on the snow. Here are the five skills Emma learned that you can use too.

Emma: “Prior to this experience, I had very little cross-country skiing experience. And it showed when I put the skis on for the first time. But having Kristen there to reassure me and guide me properly made a world of difference. She made me feel confident that I could go out and do this on my own!”

1. Moving Forward

It may sound silly, but one of the most important techniques to learn is how to move forward on your skis. It’ll feel a little awkward initially, but the more you practice the more natural it will become. In no time you’ll go from a short shuffle to a smooth glide.

However, before you glide, it’s best to start with a shuffle. Make sure you center your weight over the grip section of the ski, which is usually under the binding and boot, and practice shuffling forward. Start without poles, adding them in once you feel comfortable with the shuffle motion.

Once you’ve mastered the shuffle with two poles, it’s time to work on the kick-and-glide motion. After a few shuffles, transfer your weight onto the front ski and let it glide a short way. Continue to repeat this shuffle and glide motion, alternating feet and practicing different cadences. Short strides can help you move more quickly over short distances or get up small hills, while long glides help you conserve energy over longer distances.

Emma: “I underestimated how much focus went into moving. Gliding surprised me and in reaction to that I straightened my legs, shifted my weight back, and fell straight backwards.”

2. Getting Up From A Fall

Part of the reality of cross-country skiing is that everyone falls, even the most experienced skiers. You’ll fall less as you improve, but it still happens occasionally. So when you do fall, it’s important to know how to pick yourself back up.

The first step to getting up is to untangle your skis and poles. It might be easier to take the poles off and place them on the ground next to you. If you’re on a hill, remember to position the skis perpendicular to the slope.

Once your skis are untangled, move forward onto your hands and knees and pull one leg forward so you’re in a kneeling position. Place your hands on your knees and push yourself up. If you can’t push yourself up from this position, you can remove your skis to make it easier. And if the snow is deep, place your poles in an “X” shape in front of you to aid in standing up. But remember not to put your full weight on the poles – they’re just there to help stabilize you.

Emma: “If there’s anything I learned, it’s to not be surprised if you fall. Kristen told me that if you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself enough. So you just have to embrace the fall!”

3. Going Uphill

If the hill is small enough, you may be able to rely on the classic kick-and-glide motion to get up it. But knowing how to properly go up a hill on cross-country skis can save you a lot of time and energy for anything bigger. There are two easy-to-learn techniques that will help you climb more effectively.

The most basic method for climbing a hill is known as the side-step method. Many experienced skiers use this technique for steep inclines, but it’s also a safe and simple way for beginners to climb a hill. Approach the hill with your skis at a 90-degree angle to the slope. Keeping your weight over the binding, lean slightly uphill and engage the uphill side of the ski into the snow surface. Keep the downhill pole firmly planted and ascend the hill one step at a time.

Another common method for climbing hills is known as the herringbone technique. Place the skis in a V-shape, with the tails together, and engage the inside of the ski to the snow surface while keeping your weight forward. To start, both poles are planted firmly behind the skier. Every stride forward with a leg is accompanied by a single pole-push with the opposite arm.

Emma: “Once I started to get the hang of it, the repetition was actually kind of relaxing. It was really fun to just focus on the movement of the skis and my legs and arms.”

4. Going Downhill

How to control your downhill speed is one of the most important skills you should know as a beginner cross-country skier. This will allow you to safely descend and minimize the risk of falling and injuring yourself or others.

To control your speed going downhill, place the tips of your skis together to form a wedge shape, the opposite of the herringbone uphill technique. However, like the herringbone technique, engage the inside edge of your skis with the snow surface. Keep your weight over the binding, instead of leaning backwards, by keeping your hands forward on or over the knees.

Remember that the edge of the ski acts as a brake to enhance control. The more you engage that inside edge, the more control you’ll have. If you’re ever unsure about how steep a hill is, the side-step method we discussed in the uphill section is also an effective way to safely descend.

Emma: “The idea of going downhill made me really nervous. The snow that day was kind of icy and the hills were fairly steep (from my perspective), so I was slightly terrified. But we started gradually on little slopes so I could get comfortable with the form, and then we worked our way up to steeper hills. It ended up being easier than I thought!”

5. How To Turn

The final technique beginner cross-country skiers should know is how to turn. While there are several different methods for turning, a wedge turn will often be the most practical.

Like the downhill technique, start by positioning your skis in a wedge shape with the tips closer together. Turning is then accomplished by placing your weight onto the outside ski. For example, if you want to turn right, place your weight on the left ski.

Keep your weight over the top of the skis and avoid trying to tip the ski towards the inside edge like you might with a downhill ski. This turning technique can also be accomplished with the skis parallel to each other, though it will depend on the terrain and your comfort level.

Emma: “I genuinely don’t think I would have been able to learn how to do this without Kristen instructing me, and I also don’t think I would have enjoyed cross-country skiing as much. Now I have the skills and tools I need to feel comfortable doing this again in the future!

Interested in Learning More About Cross-Country Skiing?

Check out these profiles of professional cross-country skiers and L.L.Bean Ambassadors Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall.

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