FAQs about Classic Cross-Country Ski Gear

Snow covered mountains with evergreen trees

This article featuring frequently asked questions about classic cross-country ski gear is a “greatest hits” list I’ve compiled about classic xc ski gear. I’ve been asked these questions (and more) frequently enough to warrant collecting them in one convenient article.

Please note, however, that the answers I provide are succinct and abridged. Like any art, the gear and technique of classic cross-country skiing form an integrated whole.

So, although the answers I provide here are accurate they don’t necessarily show you the whole picture.

Support Tahoe Trail Guide with a financial contribution via PayPal (single contribution) or Patreon (reoccurring contributions). Your support of Tahoe Trail Guide is very much appreciated!

Support Tahoe Trail Guide
Become a Patron!

If you want a greater understanding of the subjects in question, read my other articles in the Cross-Country Skiing Explained series. And, be sure to consult other resources regarding classic cross-country skiing.

Lastly, this list of questions regarding classic cross-country skiing is focused on actual gear. If you’re looking for information about waxing your waxless cross-country skis, read FAQs about Waxing Your Waxless Cross-Country Skis and Waxing Your Waxless Cross-Country Skis: Introduction.

Please note that this article is a work-in-progress. I’ll add relevant questions and answers as they arise.

Blue skies and beautifully groomed cross-country ski tracks
Classic cross-country skiing at Tahoe Donner Cross Country on December 14, 2019. © Jared Manninen

What length of classic cross-country skis should I use? How long should my classic cross-country ski be for my height?

The proper length of your classic cross-country skis is primarily based on your body weight. This weight should also include the clothing and gear you’ll be carrying while you ski.

Every model of ski and ski length made by every cross-country ski manufacturer will have its own unique weight recommendation. Therefore, you can’t assume that one size will meet all of your needs or be the same for every ski appropriate for you.

For example, I run 179 cm skis in the off-track/backcountry variety, but use a 192-196 cm classic track ski.

Your ski length can also be influenced by your height. However, this is really only if you’re exceptionally tall and thin or short and rotund.

For example, too short of a ski for a very tall person and too long of a ski for a very short person will negatively affect either person’s technique.

For more information, read Cross-Country Skiing Explained (Part 2): Geometry of Classic Cross-Country Skis.

Cross-country skis in the snow
These backcountry cross-country skis are 179 cm in length and appropriate for my body weight. However, the track skis that I use at groomed resorts are between 192-196 cm long. © Jared Manninen

How long should my classic cross-country ski poles be?

Generally, I recommend using classic cross-country ski poles that come up to the middle of your shoulder. Stand the pole upright next to you. Where the ski pole strap exits the ski pole grip should measure to a height somewhere between your armpit and the top of your shoulder.

The official measurement, according to World Cup standards, is 83% of your height in centimeters.

Also note that five centimeters in length difference, whether a little shorter or taller, is not a big deal. My preferred length of classic xc ski pole is 140 cm. However, I could use either a 135 or 145 cm length ski pole and be just fine. I’ll have to adjust my hand position (as it holds the ski pole) in those alternate sizes, but I could do it relatively easy.

For more information, read Cross-Country Skiing Explained (Part 6): Classic Cross-Country Ski Poles.

Cross-country skier holding xc ski poles
Note how the strap of the handle is midway between the top of my shoulder and armpit. This may seem tall, but it’s the appropriate length pole for classic cross-country skiing. © Jared Manninen

Why are classic cross-country ski poles so tall? Why are xc ski poles so much taller than downhill ski poles?

Classic cross-country ski poles are designed to provide a means of propulsion and forward movement. Although they can help with balance, they’re primarily used to help you go forward faster.

In order to provide seamless propulsion, classic xc ski poles should enable you to swing your arms as you’re skiing in a natural fashion. Your arms should have a slight bend in them as they swing from the shoulder.

Angle your hands in a way that the ski pole tips land, while skiing, at your foot or behind your foot.

For the average cross-country skier (i.e. not a World Cup competitor), your ski pole tips should never land in front of your feet.

If classic xc ski poles were significantly shorter than 83% of your height, you’d be hunched over uncomfortably while trying to use them as designed.

If the classic xc poles were much longer than 83%, you’d end up angling the ski poles nearly parallel to the ground. This would cause the tips to plant at too shallow of an angle to provide any real bite into the snow.

For more information, read Cross-Country Skiing Explained (Part 6): Classic Cross-Country Ski Poles.

Snowy mountains with carved skiing lines in the snow
People don’t believe that you can actually link turns downhill with cross-country skis, but you can! You just need to know technique, and to put in a lot of practice. © Jared Manninen

Should I buy used or new classic cross-country ski gear if I’m new to xc skiing?

This is the age old question whenever diving into any new endeavor. And it’s usually followed up with…

  • How much should my initial investment be?
  • What if I don’t like it?
  • Will my enjoyment and performance be directly based on how good my gear is?

I seldom recommend to beginners that they buy used cross-country ski equipment. The reason for this is that there are a ton of binding systems out there that are not compatible with the many different styles of xc ski boots available.

You may find a great set of skis with bindings already mounted. However, you may then find yourself wasting a lot of time trying to find a compatible boot for the binding system. And then, occasionally the brand of boot that is compatible with the binding system on your new old skis features a foot mold not compatible with the shape of your foot.

A problem with buying used xc skis is that every model and length of ski manufactured has its own specific weight recommendation. As a beginner, though, how will you determine whether or not those skis are appropriate for your size?

I’ve met many people who have purchased used equipment only to end up using it as decoration for their storage shed or garage. Again, this isn’t to say that you couldn’t find a great deal that would be appropriate for you. I’m just saying that without knowing what it is that you need, your whole buying experience can just be a shot in the dark.

Snow-flocked trees and overcast sky
Cross-country skiing at Grass Lake on December 17, 2019. © Jared Manninen

On top of everything, that great used gear you buy may be hiding significant wear and damage. It can be hard to tell how much damage gear has occurred in its previous life.

Experienced skiers have a better chance of identifying appropriate gear for themselves. Even then, though, I’ve known some experts to have acquired used gear that didn’t work out in the end.

For more info, read Buying Cross-Country Ski Gear, for Beginners (Part 1).

Can I buy one set of classic cross-country skis to use both on groomed terrain and in the backcountry?

This is the age-old question of all skiers.

Why can’t I just have one set of skis to do everything?

Well, the answer is the same as if you asked whether or not you could use a hammer to cut sheet metal and a pair of tin snips to hammer nails. Two different tools for two different jobs.

Technically, however, you could buy one set of skis and make them do everything. However, you wouldn’t have a great time in any one snowy condition. Now, this isn’t to say that you have to buy a dozen different sets of cross-country skis (although, that’s really easy to do!). But, if you plan to ski in both groomed and ungroomed terrain, I recommend buying at least two sets of skis (one for each environment) so that you’ll be able to reap benefits from both worlds.

The problem with trying to make one set of xc skis accommodate groomed tracks (like you’d find at a groomed xc ski resort/area) and backcountry conditions is that groomed tracks are only about 70mm wide. This means that if you want to classic ski in the tracks at a groomed xc ski area, you need a ski that’s skinnier than 70mm. Realistically, though, I don’t recommend anything more than 60mm for groomed terrain because the skis will often pinch on the turns. And, anything less than 70mm is just not going to handle snow in the backcountry that’s deeper than a couple of inches.

Watch this video that I produced for more information about this common question.

Why is there a groove down the center of the bases of my classic cross-country skis?

Most classic cross-country skis feature a single groove down the base of the skis. Some have multiple grooves.

The purpose of the groove(s) is to help the ski track straight.

When pressure is placed on the ski from your body weight, snow is forced into that groove. This creates a ridge that the ski will ride along.

Tracks in the snow made by cross-country skis
Note the prominent line in the center of the photo. This is the ridge of snow created by the groove in the base of a classic cross-country ski. This ridge of snow helps the ski track straight. © Jared Manninen

The concept is similar to that of a keel of a boat. Obviously, though, they are inverse shaped structures. Keep in mind, however, that by enabling your ski to track straighter, it does make it slightly more challenging to turn on the downhill.

For more information, read Cross-Country Skiing Explained (Part 3): The Grip Zone of Classic Cross-Country Skis.

Cross-Country Skiing Explained Articles and Videos

Please note that I wrote and produced the Cross-Country Skiing Explained series of articles and videos with the beginner and intermediate cross-country skier in mind. This is the demographic for whom I most often serve(d) while working in the outdoor recreation industry at Lake Tahoe. I basically treat these articles and videos as extensions of the conversations that I have (had) with those customers.

That said, expert skiers probably could take away something of value from these resources. Just know that I don’t address race-oriented philosophy, technique, or gear selection.

Considerations for buying cross-country ski gear (new and beginner xc skiers)

Classic Cross-Country Ski Components

Waxing Your “Waxless” Cross-Country Skis (for beginner and intermediate xc skiers)