Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Cross-country Skiing Works

        Adventure | Snow Sports

Cross-country Skiing Gear
Don't forget your poles.
Don't forget your poles.

Cross-country skiing doesn't require much in the way of equipment. Plus, cross-country equipment is both lighter and less expensive than alpine equipment.

If you'll be skiing on maintained courses, you'll want skis that are light, fast and thin. If you'll be blazing your own trails, you'll want backcountry skis that are heavier and several millimeters thicker. Combination skis are also available. Skis come in different lengths, but short and mid-length skis are most popular. If you're unsure which ski length you're most comfortable with, try renting skis first to determine which is the best fit for you.

Poles are light and normally have basketlike attachments at the ends -- these enable them to grip the snow's surface before the tip plunges to the ground. Poles typically reach from the ground to the skier's chin, and they have straps that keep the pole attached to the skier's wrist.

Boots for cross-country skiing are lighter and less block-like than alpine ski boots, and their bindings match the ski, leaving the heel free to rise and fall.

Plan to dress in layers when you're skiing -- some clothes will inevitably be shed as the exercise heats you up. Think about what clothing you would wear if you were to go jogging on a very cold day. Ski gloves and sunglasses typically round out the cross-country skiing ensemble.

When you place a ski on a flat surface, you'll see that the front and back end touch the ground, while the span between them, the camber, arches off the ground. When one ski is gliding, it does so on the two points of contact. However, as the other leg pushes down for the kick, the middle of the ski is pressed down, and this middle portion provides grip. This is often enhanced by grip wax, while the front and back tips of the ski are covered in glide wax.

Waxless skis have raised patterns manufactured into the length of the ski to provide grip, eliminating the need for grip wax. However, these skis aren't always ideal for all conditions, and they don't allow for adjustment in terms of applying different types of wax.

Keep reading to learn about the finer points of cross-country skiing.