What Is Nordic Skiing

What is Nordic skiing? Nordic vs cross-country and alpine skiing

What is Nordic skiing? One of the most popular activities in various parts of the Nordic region, Nordic skiing is both a fantastic hobby, and a unique sport.

The very first example of a Nordic race in skiing happened in Norway during 1842, and it’s part of the reason why many people now say Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.

In 1924, the sport even appeared in the Olympics for the first time, and it’s now featured in multiple events, alongside cross-country skiing and slope jumping.

Though downhill skiing is currently regarded the most common type of skiing today, the love of Nordic skiing is extremely strong in the Scandinavian region.

Let’s learn a little more about this amazing sport.

What Is Nordic Skiing

What is Nordic skiing? Alpine vs Nordic skiing

Nordic skiing is sometimes referred to as the “original” version of skiing. It includes any form of skiing in which the toe is the only part of the foot attached to the ski.

Nordic skiing is named for the region where it began (Norway, Finland, and Sweden). The Nordic area is best-known for its long, intense winters, so getting around in the snow is often a necessity.

Thousands of years ago, this prompted people in the Nordic region to use long wooden boards attached to their feet to make travelling across snowy landscapes easier.

The word “Ski” actually comes from the Old Norse word “Skid” which means a length of wood.

Alpine vs Nordic skiing

In the comparison of Nordic vs alpine skiing, alpine skiing involves having the entire foot attached to the ski.

For those with experience in alpine skiing, you’ll know how difficult it can be to move around on your skis when reaching the bottom of a slope if your full boot is attached to the ski.

The decision to keep the heel loose ensures skiers can travel on uphill or flat ground with relative ease. This is crucial for Nordic skiing, where people will often move around on flat ground.

What is Nordic skiing? Cross-country vs Nordic skiing

One of the most common kinds of skiing often confused with Nordic skiing is cross-country. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, in fact.

The truth is cross-country skiing is one form of Nordic skiing. It’s one of the most popular choices, but there are other varieties too, such as telemark and alpine skiing.

Both Nordic and cross-country skiing are very popular in the Norwegian region, as well as various other parts of the Scandinavian space. There are various kinds of classic cross-country skiing which use the Nordic skiing style to give skiers complete control of their movements.

What Is Nordic Skiing

The types of Nordic skiing

As mentioned above, defining Nordic skiing can sometimes be a little difficult, as the term doesn’t refer to a specific kind of skiing, but a style which you can use in a range of different skiing adventures.

Any kind of skiing which involves leaving the heel of the foot free from the ski — or partially free, is a form of Nordic skiing.

Some of the most popular forms of Nordic skiing include:

Cross-country skiing

Classic cross-country skiing involves the use of poles and lightweight skis used on designated tracks made in the snow. This type of skiing is popular among beginners because it’s easy to learn, and you can go as fast or slow as you like.

Cross-country skiing involves travelling through various terrains and across flat ground on your skis, rather than simply rushing down slopes. It can be ideal for building confidence in the skiing landscape.

Cross-country skiing can also include “Skate skiing”, which is a similar style of skiing to ice skating, when you use the ski diagonally to propel yourself forward. You’ll need to follow a specific groomed trail to enjoy this kind of skiing, as it’s not possible to ski “Off-piste”.

The term “Cross-country” can also be used in reference to “Light touring”, which involves a little bit of off-piste skiing where you move away from the more groomed trails in standard cross-country skiing.

Telemark skiing

Telemark skiing is a type of skiing named after a region in Norway. This is similar to cross-country skiing, as you explore various terrains. With Telemark skiing, the experience is often more “Off-road” in nature, which requires the use of heavier skis.

The increased stability of the skis, combined with the use of the loose heel in Nordic skiing methods means travellers enjoying this sport can go up and down hill at the pace suitable for them. You can also glide quite easily with this form of skiing.

Alpine touring

Alpine touring and Telemark skiing strategies often accomplish the same thing. Both designs are intended to allow back-country exploration and ensure you can go through various hills, inclines, and flat expanses with relative ease.

Similar to Telemark skis, alpine skis are often sturdier and better than cross-country skis, though there’s a different kind of heel.

Unlike the totally free heel you’d get with Telemark skis, alpine touring skis have bindings which allow users to maintain a free heel on the ascent, but you can then lock your heel into place when you’re travelling downhill.

What Is Nordic Skiing

What kind of Nordic skiing is best?

Choosing the right type of Nordic skiing for your needs will be a personal process, involving looking at your requirements and your skills in the skiing landscape.

Let’s consider some of the factors you’ll need to consider when making your choice:


Cross-country skiing is probably the easiest form of Nordic skiing to get involved with. It can adapt to skiers of all levels and abilities. You can go fast or slow depending on your needs, and you’ll have access to groomed pistes to help keep you on track.


Your training in downhill skiing won’t help you much with Nordic skiing as the experience is very different. If you’re used to hitting the slopes, you might need to take on some additional training to ensure you’re comfortable with cross-country skiing.

Light touring can be a good transition for beginners if you want to get off the tracks.


One of the biggest benefits of Nordic skiing is it gives you the option to take in some beautiful scenery when you’re on your trails. The off-piste skiing strategy will help you to see more of the Nordic landscape which hasn’t been groomed by the people at the ski resort.

Of course, you’ll still get some beautiful, albeit less natural views from any kind of skiing.


All kinds of Nordic skiing give you a decent amount of variety, so you don’t get bored when you’re pursuing your sport. Classic cross-country is likely to be one of the most varied options because it allows you to determine the speed and intensity perfect for your needs.

Some people do prefer the speed of skate skiing, however.


There are tons of skiing resorts which offer various forms of Nordic skiing around the world. You’re particularly likely to find the skiing routes you want for Nordic skiing in the Scandinavian and Nordic region, however. Make sure your chosen resort has the kind of skiing you like most before you jump in.

Safety considerations

Keep in mind you should always check the safety and stability of the skiing slope or trail you’re going to be using. The safest styles of skiing are generally on groomed tracks, which means if you plan on skiing off-piste, you’re going to need more skill, and extensive training.

Any off-piste skiing also increases your risk of avalanche, so make sure you’re aware of the right safety precautions to take before you begin your journey.

Celebrating the rise of Nordic skiing

Nordic skiing today is a huge part of Nordic culture, and something celebrated all around the world. As the source of the sport and the best place to practice your skills, the Nordic countries have even developed a strong reputation for Nordic skiing events in the Olympics.

Norway in particular may be the best place to visit if you’re interested in Nordic skiing, as the country has won around 368 winter Olympics medals overall outpacing almost every other country significantly.

Norway also set the record for the most medals won in a single Olympics (winter), with 39 medals for 2018.

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