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 - - good bet to learn ski skating if . . .
 - - bad bet for ski skating if . . .
 - - "walking" on skate skis?

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Is ski Skating for you?

Skating is not for everybody.  There are two main styles of cross-country skiing:  Skating and "Classic" striding. 

Ski Skating motions are much like ice skating or inline skating ("Rollerblades") -- except most people usually also use poles to help them push.  Ski Skating is sometimes called "freestyle", especially in cross-country ski races.

Classic striding is more like walking or jogging.  It is sometimes called "diagonal stride" or "kick and glide".  It's called "Classic" style because it's older than ski skating.  Classic style also includes other motions: "shuffling", "double poling", "herringbone".

Most people learn Classic style first, and many non-athletic skiers stay with Classic only and never learn Skating. 

Classic style uses their walking skills and can usually be done at an easy walking pace -- but it's difficult to Skate slowly enough to make the effort as low as normal walking.

Athletic skiers typically also want to learn Skating for the speed and smooth glide.  Some skiers come to like skating so much that they stop doing classic. 

But I've never heard of an experienced cross-country skier who had never learned Classic striding sometime. 

If you're not sure, start with Classic style.

Skating is best for:

  • athletic skiers
  • speed and glide
  • convenience in a variety of conditions on groomed trails

Not usually good for soft ungroomed snow -- worse if it's both soft and deep.

But:  with the addition of "kicker skins", skating-style skis can also be used for walking slow, or for a wide variety of ungroomed or backcountry terrain.

Classic is best for:

  • skiers who want to just enjoy being out there
  • pace as slow as you choose
  • convenience in a variety of ungroomed or backcountry terrain

Not usually good for thawed-and-refrozen tracks.

But:  With kicker skins (or sticky klister goo), classic striding can be performed conveniently on a wide variety of groomed trails -- even thawed-and-refrozen tracks.  It is possible also to skate on classic-style skis.  Anyway, a few skiers savor their glide more when it is set off against the alternating "punctuation" of an explosive leg-push "kick". 

Good bet to learn ski Skating if you . . .

  • are already experienced with ice skating or inline skating ("Rollerblades")
  • are athletic, especially with sports that emphasize legs:  bicycling or rowing
  • are confident or interested to learn new motions
  • are confident to learn new balance -- e.g. downhill skiing
  • enjoy playing with speed
  • have lots of ski trails conveniently available which are wide and gentle and well-groomed

Bad bet for learning ski Skating if you . . .

  • are not confident or interested to learn new motions and new balance
  • want it to be simple like walking on snow
  • are a bit afraid of speed
  • do not consider yourself very athletic
  • mostly have ski terrain which is ungroomed, narrow, or hilly

Walking on skate skis?

Actually it is possible to "walk" effectively on skating skis -- if you get "kicker skins".  They allow you to use your skating skis like classic striding skis -- except with much less glide.  "Kicker skins" take only a couple of minutes to put on or take off your skis.

[ see more about kicker skins on the Classic FAQ page ]

Choosing your start

If you think you want to try both Skating and Classic, then start with learning Classic style.

If you know you mainly want to Skate, and you've found a good learning location with good snow conditions currently for Skating, then it makes sense to start directly with Skating.

If you're experienced with inline or ice skating, and you've found a reasonable location for skating, you can start directly into ski Skating.

If you're not sure, start with Classic style.

Overall Plan for learning

The basic strategy is to start by

  • taking lessons from an instructor
  • at a ski center with good skating terrain
  • on days with good snow conditions for skating
  • using skate-specific skis and boots that fit you
  • keeping your risk level low and managable
  • first get comfortable with the basic skills of cross-country skiing -- see list of topics.

Lessons from an Instructor

The reason for having an instructor is that there are so many variations in snow conditions and terrain, so many possible coordinations of motions of skis and poles, and so many unexpected feelings and muscles -- that nobody could figure it out enough for it to be effective and fun soon enough -- unless they were very determined or very lucky.

Location and Terrain

In order to learn well, most people need to feel safe.  You need room to experiment and room to fail.  For skating, that means open fields with nothing anywhere in range to hit when your fail, and wide trails with little that's close nearby.  Many ski centers have narrow trails in between trees -- not much margin for failure.  Hills are nice to challenge your strength.  But for learning you want to focus on technique and new feelings -- well within your strength capabilities.  Try to find an unusual ski center:  one with a big flat open field for practice.  

Snow conditions

Choose a day with firm (but not icy) well-groomed snow.  On a day with lots of new snow, it's a struggle just to keep moving on skating skis.  It often takes at least a day to get it rolled and packed and groomed firm enough for fun skating and learning.  With very light fluffy snow, it might take even longer.  Only strong skiers who already know how to skate well are having much fun skating in new soft snow. 

Snow that has thawed or partly melted and then re-frozen can get very icy and slippery -- difficult to handle without metal edges on your skis (or even with) -- can even be dangerous without the best skills and the right equipment.  (But sometimes if you can get on that snow when it's getting warmed again and the surface is melting again, the skating can be wonderful.  But timing is critical, since it's not fun any more when it melts further into deep slush). 

Be very careful after a warm day of melting followed by a cold hard freeze.


The simplest way is to start learning at a ski center with a good program of rental skis.  That way if the first set you get is not appropriate for you or the conditions, you can take it back and exchange it for something else.

Risks and Hazards

Get advice and help from the ski center and your instructor as needed to keep your level of risk very low.  

I don't see why learning the "cross country" variety of skiing needs to expose you to any more than a very low level of risk. 

[ more to be added ]

Get Comfortable with the Basic Skills

Most people will learn the basics while learning Classic-style skiing.  For some ideas about this, see Get Comfortable on Skis -- the list of topics on that page could be a good start for your own list of key things to learn early.

If you decide to start directly with skating, that same list of topics will still be a helpful start for your own list of key things to learn early -- if you substitute "making basic skating strokes" wherever you see the words "shuffling" or "striding".

more . . .

[ more to be added ]



Best for skating is specialized skating boots -- and the most important factor to look for is good fit -- but without being so tight that they might limit the flow of blood to your toes (which could make them very cold).

If you want to use one pair of boots for both skating and classic striding, "combi" boots are usually a good choice.  If they fit your foot well, they usually offer good-enough support for helping you press the edge of your ski for skating.  They're a little heavier than specialized racing classic boots, but most people feel more downhill control in the "combi" boots. 

For many skiers, "combi" boots are a better choice for Classic striding than most "classic" boots -- even if they never use them for skating.

Warning:  Each model of boots is incompatible with some kinds of ski bindings . . . 


The binding is the mechanism that connects the boot to the ski.

Kinds and Compatibility

There are three main kinds of binding for skating (as of 2003):

  • SNS Pilot -- works only with SNS Pilot boots (not with other SNS boots)
  • SNS Profil -- usually works with SNS Pilot or other SNS boots (Skate or Combi or Classic)
  • NNN -- usually works with NNN boots (Skate or Combi or Classic)

SNS Pilot boots work with non-Pilot SNS bindings.  But non-Pilot SNS boots do not work with SNS Pilot bindings.

How to Choose Kind

Usually the first priority and the main consideration is to find the boot that fits you best, then go with whatever binding is compatible with that boot.

Other factors:

  • SNS Pilot has an extra spring-loaded lever that helps keep the ski closer to the skier's heel.  It is reasonable to think that this improves control in some situations -- and perhaps more like inline skates, if you do that in the off-snow-season.  It also adds weight.  Some people think it might increase the chance of leg injury in some strange falls or collision situations.
  • Backcountry skate tours -- I've heard a report that the SNS Pilot could be difficult to get in and out of in some backcountry snow and weather conditions.
  • NNN binding is more often seen on rental skis in the western U.S.  (so if you sometimes fly to western U.S. destinations and want to bring your own boots but rent skis, you might want to favor NNN).  Though some U.S. ski centers that mainly rent NNN, also have some SNS Pilot binding skis for skating.
  • SNS binding is more often seen on rental skis in Europe.  (so if you sometimes fly to Europe and want to bring your own boots but rent skis, you might want to favor SNS Pilot for skating-only, or SNS Combi boots if also doing some classic striding).

Skis -- style

Skis that are specialized for skating are the way to go.  Rent them at first, if you're not sure you're going to like skating enough.  Skating skis are designed for the most fun in the widest variety of snow and terrain.  With skis dedicated for skating, you (or the rental shop) can maintain them ready for maximum fun skating.

Classic skis?  In hard snow on a flat trail, trying to skate on classic-style skis can work OK.  But in soft snow or up hills, the fun vanishes quickly and you're just struggling on them.

"Combi" skis?  "Combi skis" are supposed to be designed for both skating and classic striding.  The problem with this is that the requirements for good classic striding are already pretty tricky -- because the same ski needs to both grip well and glide well.  Classic striding in imperfect snow can be difficult enough even on the best pair of skis, so any compromise of the design focus on classic-style performance is a bad idea for most of us. 

My advice:  If you really need to do all your skiing on only a single pair of skis, and you intend to do a significant number of days of classic striding (without kicker skins) -- then choose a set of true Classic skis. 

Combi boots are a great idea.  Combi skis are not.

Skis -- size + fit

For adults, the size and fit of Skating skis are determined primarily by

  • weight of the skier's body

Other factors for fit:

  • length of the skier's leg (shorter skis for shorter legs)
  • ability of the skier (shorter skis are easier to manage -- but this is usually already taken care of in the manufacturer's fitting guidelines for non-racing skis)
  • kind of snow the skis will mostly be used in -- stiffer skis for hard snow, versus softer flex and more surface area for soft snow.  (Serious racers often have two pairs: one for hard snow, one for soft.  Elite racers also worry about cold snow temperature versus warm.)
  • terrain (shorter skis are easier in the hills)

Even though "skier's height" is not on this list, many experts ask you to give your height anyway -- mainly to help guess the skier's weight (in case the skier does not give that critical number accurately) -- and also to estimate the length of the skier's leg.

Manufacturer's guidelines

For most models of Skating skis you select your best length (and sometimes flex) according to a table of guidelines supplied by that model's manufacturer -- based on the ranges of the skier's body weight.  Usually there's some overlap in the weight ranges -- so more than one length and/or flex could be suitable -- then the single selection is based on the other factors given above.

How to test fit?

Unlike with Classic skis, there is no simple set of mechanical tests for Skating skis (like standing on them and trying to slide something underneath).  Ski Skating is too dynamic.  Skating skis are not designed to "close" to the ground surface under the full weight of the skier.

Only a tiny number of ski shops is set up with the special equipment to do their own ski flex measurements, and only serious racers are willing to pay for that level of service.  Even if you have some measurements for a ski, like "kg of weight required to close ski to 0.1 mm residual camber" and "mm of camber height under half-weight load", it takes expert knowledge and detailed manufacturers' guidelines and tables in order to interpret the data usefully.

Local shop versus Phone-order versus Web

There are three good criteria for choosing where to buy skis:

  • a local shop that gives you good advice and help in other ways is worthy of your purchase.
  • the more skis a store has available, the better chance they'll have a pair that's a good fit for you and your skiing.  Best bet is early in the season -- or even before the snow falls.
  • you also need a person knowledgeable enough to understand the manufacturer's guidelines -- and interpret them to fit your special needs -- and trustworthy to sell you their best fit for you, rather than unloading whatever is laying around (again, best bet is early in the season).

There's no reason why the best shop for your Skating skis could not be in some other state or province (or other country?).  But it's hard for me to imagine purchasing a pair of skis through a pure automated Web interface.  I'd want to talk to an intelligent human about the pros and cons of the specific model + length + flex of each ski pair which they currently have available -- including perhaps some of last year's leftovers that are not on their website.


A rough guideline is that a pole for Skating should come up to your chin.  Racers might use a longer pole -- even up to their nose -- especially for flat terrain.

There are also manufacturers' guidelines for pole length based on a ratio to your height -- which seem to work reasonably well.

Skating poles are normally significantly longer than poles for Classic.  Serious skiers who do both styles of skiing, own two sets of poles.  But if you really need to use only one pair of poles for both, it's better to select the length shorter for Classic.  

Sometimes serious racers deliberately use shorter poles in training, to improve their skating technique.

see also

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