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The sky is blue, the snow glitters and the trails are prepared – it’s high time to unpack your skis! Cross-country skiing is a varied and at the same time healthy sport that enjoys huge popularity. On this page we explain what distinguishes a classic cross-country ski from a skating ski, how to find the right model and how to take proper care of your ski.

Classic or Skating?

Strenuous endurance sports or gliding leisurely through the snowy landscape? With the choice of technique you determine at least partially the sporting narrative of your route.

To skate, you need a certain basic speed, so this type of cross-country skiing does not work without effort. The classic style, on the other hand, allows you to do both: you can “walk“ along the trail in complete tranquility, or you can really speed up.

There is a suitable ski model for both techniques. The skis are constructed differently, so that you should neither have sporting success nor a lot of fun with the “wrong“ ski.

Fotografie: Inzell im Chiemgau

Classic cross-country ski

It is designed for skiing within a trail which gives the athlete stability. In order to be able to go fast, classic cross-country skis are narrow, long and light-weight.


Skating ski

This model is shorter, slightly narrower and therefore more agile than the classic cross-country ski. This is essential for the sporty and dynamic skating style – but the ski is also more difficult to control.


Cruising ski

Beginners and pleasure skiers often decide for a cruising ski. This type is both wider and heavier than classic or skating skis. Thus it is more stable and it lies better on the trail. Since the cruising ski combines characteristics of classic and skating skis, you can try out both styles with it.


Backcountry ski

It is built significantly wider and more stable – and is therefore perfectly suited for cross-country skiing outside of fixed trails. It also has steel edges so that you don’t lose your grip on hard or icy surfaces. For even more grip you can attach special “skins“ to the ski.

The coating of a cross country ski

The surface of cross-country skis can be divided into different zones. In skating skis, the entire underside consists of a gliding zone, which – as the name suggests – is important for gliding across the snow.

In classic cross-country skis, you can distinguish between the gliding zone and the grip zone. The gliding zone is located at the front and the back of the ski. The grip zone is located in the middle. It helps the athlete to push off dynamically and prevents him from sliding backwards on the ascent.


Over the years, two different types of grip zones have developed:

  • In the so-called NoWax ski, the grip zone is a structure incorporated into the coating of the ski. This part of the ski does not have to be waxed, but simply treated with a special spray to prevent soiling or icing. The advantage of this ski model is that it is relatively easy to maintain and inexpensive to buy. The ski must be optimally adjusted to the size and weight of the athlete so that the grip zone only touches the ground when the ski is fully loaded.

  • The counterpart to the NoWax ski is the waxable ski. Correct waxing is essential in this case, otherwise you will not be able to move from the spot. So-called grip wax is used for this.

Choosing the right ski

The optimal length of the cross-country ski depends on your height. It should be a few centimeters longer than your body. For skating style about 10–15 cm, for classic style 20–25 cm. Note: the shorter the ski, the easier it is to steer; the longer the ski, the better it glides.

The second important factor is the weight of the athlete. Cross-country skis have a so-called “camber“. This means that they do not lie flat on the trail, but curve upwards underneath the binding.

The more a ski arches, the more weight the skier needs to push the ski down in the grip zone. If the skier is too light, the grip zone does not come into contact with the trail and you slip backwards at the slightest incline. Conversely, it is no better: if the skier is too heavy for the ski, gliding is almost impossible.

Which wax to put on your skis

Basically one can distinguish between cold and hot wax. Cold wax can be used as a spray, paste or as rub-on wax. A big advantage in application is that this type of wax only needs to be brushed/polished. Compared to hot wax, ironing and stripping is completely unnecessary. This means that in extreme cases you can still wax your ski when you are already out on the trail. Of course there are also disadvantages: Cold wax is generally not as abrasion-resistant as hot wax, so its lasting time is much shorter on the ski. 
Waxing of cross-country skis
Waxing of cross-country skis
Fotografie: Ludovic Péron, CC BY-SA,

Regardless of which wax you choose: Appropriate tools for application should always be available. For applying cold wax you only need a polishing cloth and a maximum of one brush, the equipment for hot wax is more extensive. 

First and foremost, there is the hot iron, a special device for precise temperature adjustment. This is important because heat can permanently damage the coating. To remove the excess wax, an additional scraper is needed. Often forgotten, but also necessary, is a grooved pencil for the depression in the middle of the ski.

Finally, the base is brushed out. A coarse brush with copper threads and a finer horsehair brush are recommended for this purpose.

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