Cross-country skiing: classic vs skating

5 min read


Cross-country skiing: classic vs skating

So, you want to start cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, but you’re hesitating whether to choose classic or skate techniques? Can you use your classic skis to skate ski?  This article will tell you everything you need to know about the differences between the two Nordic sports.

The classic technique

Classic style cross-country skiing is the age old, traditional discipline of Nordic skiing. It is easily recognizable by the diagonal stride technique used, that looks like you’re walking on skis.

If you are just starting out, classic cross-country skiing is quite easy to learn regardless of the snow quality. It is best to use fishscale skis, or skin skis, these are recommended for beginners as they enable you to glide easily in the dedicated tracks. These groomed tracks allow you to discover the discipline safely, and most of all allow you to get outside in the fresh air.

The further you progress in cross country skiing, the more technical the sport becomes. You'll need perseverance and precision in order to acquire the right technique on less forgiving skis.

--- Discover our classic skis : for HER | for HIM

The skating technique

Skate skiing is a more recent cross-country discipline that took off in the 1980s. The V1 skate (offset) technique is similar to ice skating

Skate skiing particularly seems to appeal to fit, athletic people who like to train on a regular basis. Skate skiing is often thought to be more technical than classic style skiing, but with perseverance it’s possible to reach high speeds and achieve effortless glide.

Biathlon is a discipline that combines skate skiing and rifle shooting and is attracting more and more skiers.  Nordic skiing areas are now fully equipped for biathlon and offer introductory courses so anyone can discover this exciting sport.

--- Discover our skate skis : for HER | for HIM

What equipment do I need for skate skiing or classic skiing?

When you are new to cross-country skiing, you may think that you can use the same equipment for skate and for classic skiing, however this is not actually possible! Both techniques are very different from each other and use their own specific gear.

It’s not possible to utilize the same equipment for skate skiing and for classic skiing. (with the exception of some boots that can be used for both)

The skis

The difference between skate and classic cross-country skis stems from their conception, leading to significantly different styles

  • Classic cross-country skis

A classic style ski base is split into different zones, a kick zone (or grip zone) in the middle, under your foot and glide zones at the tip and tail of the ski.

There are 3 types of kick zones possible:

The tip of a classic skis is wider than a skate ski and they are generally longer.

To help you choose your classic skis read this article.
--- Discover all our classic cross-country skis: for HER | for HIM

  • Skate skis

Skate skis have one glide zone that goes from tip to tail of the ski base. They are generally shorter than classic skis, and you should take your weight into account when choosing a pair.

They are generally more torsionally rigid which allows the skier to use and push off their edges.

For more information on how to choose the right pair of skate skis take a look at this article.
--- Discover all our skate skis: for HER | for HIM


The bindings on classic skis and skate skis are different as the flexor (a rubber bumper in front of the boot) varies in rigidity between the two ski styles. It also varies depending on your technical skills.

On more expensive skis, bindings are generally lighter and narrower.

There are also several types of bindings and one size doesn’t fit all. You can find more information on this subject in this summary.
--- Discover all our cross-country bindings: for HER | for HIM


The differences in technique between classic and skate skiing mean that there are also differences between the boots for each discipline.

Classic cross-country ski boots have a soft outsole which promotes forefoot flexion. They have lower cuffs for a greater range of movement and are generally looser around the ankle.
--- Discover our classic boots selection: for HER | for HIM

Skate boots generally have a more rigid outsole which helps you to lift your ski up and reduces the possibility of torsional movement. The high cuff and spoiler help keep your ankle in place and provide lateral support.
--- Discover our skate boots selection: for HER | for HIM

There are also some versatile boots on the market that you can use for both skate and classic skiing. They compromise between the soft outsole of a classic ski boot and the ankle support of a skate boot. They allow skiers to train in both Nordic disciplines with just one pair of boots. Participants in skiathlon use these boots as half of the race consists of skating and the other half classic. 

--- Discover all our cross-country boots: for HER | for HIM


Poles used in classic skiing are shorter than those used for skating.

For classic skiing they should come up to shoulder height or you can use this formula to calculate the length: your height in cm x 0.83.

In skate skiing they should generally come up to the same height as your nose or ears and again you can also use this formula: your height in cm x 0.89.

--- Discover our cross-country poles: for HER | for HIM

Skate skiing and classic skiing are two very different disciplines that come under the umbrella of Nordic skiing. The gear used is different depending on the style. Beginners generally start with classic style skiing, but if you are looking for an additional challenge, skating may be for you. It’s up to you which one you go for!

To summarize:

  • Diagonal stride is the most easily identifiable classic skiing technique
  • The most used skate skiing techniques are V1 and V2, also known as offset and skate one
  • The skis are very different between the two disciplines eg. Skate skis are a lot shorter than classic skis.
  • Bindings are also specific to each sport
  • Skate ski boots are more rigid, with a higher cuff than classic boots, giving good ankle support
  • Classic ski poles are shorter than skate poles