Best Cross Country Skis: The Best Skis for Any Snow Situation

Want to get started cross-country skiing, or find a better pair? Check our guide to finding the best style for what you want to do on the snow.
Two people skiing on the best cross country skis.

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Cross country skiing is not only a great way to stay in shape during those long winter months, it’s also an ideal way to enjoy quiet mountain forests, peaceful river banks, and snow-covered wonderlands.

Cross country skiing—also called Nordic skiing—is accessible for anyone living near snow with a desire to learn. Ski equipment from boots to skis to poles have improved enormously in the past couple decades, let alone centuries, making it easier than ever to do it. And cross country skiing is fun, with all kinds of levels, from intro to Olympic. Buying skis can be intimidating, though. What are the right types and equipment? How do you know the difference between, say, skate skis and classic skis? How do you know what you might want? We break it all down for you, offering advice on the best cross country skis for nearly any situation. After that, all you need is a sense of adventure.

How to Determine the Best Cross Country Skis for You

The cross country skis you want to buy depend on your experience level, what you hope to achieve, and what conditions you’ll likely encounter. Most major brands, such as Fischer and Rossignol have great skis, so you won’t go wrong choosing one of those brands.

Are You Just Getting Started?

If you’re tired of your other winter sports and want to try cross country skiing, don’t be deterred by high prices. Some skis can certainly cost more than a beginner would want. But you can find the perfect skis that allow you to traipse through some of nature’s most stunning wonders without breaking your bank. The ski equipment price tag won’t be daunting, meaning you can step onto the trails stress free.

Best Cross Country Skis for Beginners: Fischer Affinity EF Crown My Style

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A new skier shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get started. You don’t need to be a pro to use these skis, and because they come with bindings, all you need to do is click your boots in and go. But these are also a solid ski for intermediate skiers, so you can keep them around even as you improve. These are the best cross country skis for beginners, which let you have fun without investing a few months’ savings.

Will You Be Classic Skiing?

If you want to try cross country skiing in a traditional way, consider classic skiing. It’s the technique you’ve likely seen on posters of ancient Scandinavians, and will give you an excellent workout. You propel yourself forward with a striding motion, and the skis are designed so that they won’t easily slide backward as you stride.

Best Classic Skis: Fischer RCS Classic Plus Race Ski

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Plenty of the best cross country skis are available, but these Fischer RCS skis offer outstanding grip and glide. They’re on the high end of ski pricing. But if you take care of them, keep them waxed and bring them to a shop for annual maintenance, they should give you decades of speed. And as a bonus, the more you wax them, the faster they will get.

Do You Want to Go Fast on Cross Country Skis?

If you think speed skating looks fun, you may want to try skate skiing. Skate skis are typically shorter than classic cross-country skis, and are designed for going fast uphill and downhill, and making quick, sharp turns. They’re also good for a fast and fun workout. From your arms to your calves, skate skiing will strengthen and define your muscles.

Best Skate Skis: Rossignol X-Ium Skating Premium IFP XC Skis Mens

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This skate ski from Rossignol is worth every penny. Its universal flex and camber excel in a variety of conditions, and the ultralight skis will make sure you’re as fast as you can be on the trails. Keep them waxed and in good condition, and they will stay with you for years. You won’t regret owning a nice pair of skate skis when you’re flying down a hill.

Do Your Snow Temperatures Vary?

It’s cold at the trailhead, but warm an hour down the trail. Your skis stick and then are too sticky, or are perfect then begin slipping. The right wax will help, but finding the best ski wax can be tricky. Or maybe you just don’t want to fuss with wax. Consider classic skis that allow you to have the best of both worlds – you will be able to kick and glide and leave the kick wax at home.

Best Cross Country Skis for Any Condition: Fischer Twin Skin Pro IFP Medium XC Skis Mens

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This Fischer classic skis come with skins on the bottom of them, which means you don’t need to worry about wax anymore. But these are fast. You will be able to kick up steep slopes and glide down the other side. The technology is simple yet has been refined relatively recently so that even the pro skiers are opting for these in certain conditions. The rest of us should think of skins as a way to accommodate for varying snow conditions while leaving the sticky waxes at home.


Questions people often ask about cross country skis.

Q: Is there a lot of maintenance involved with cross country skiing gear?

Cross country skis will require some form of maintenance. You will need to wax them periodically throughout the season depending on how much you’re using them and temperature changes. You may also need to take them to a shop to have the bases flattened. But you can also have a local ski store wax your cross country skis. And don’t be intimidated, once you figure out some of the basics, it’s easy.

Q: What are the different styles of cross country skis?

Cross country skis come in two main styles: classic and skate. Classic skis require some way to grip, such as wax or skins. Skate skis are smooth across the entire base. Skate skiing more closely resembles ice skating on skis.

Q: What length cross country skis should I use?

In general, wider skis will be better for beginners or anyone touring, skinnier skis will be faster. Consult the sizing chart of each ski brand, because they differ.

A Final Word On Shopping For the Best Cross Country Skis

Backcountry skiing is a great way to stay in shape and experience the outdoors in the winter. Decide what you want to do more — classic or skate ski — and then choose the best cross country skis that fit your desires.

Related: Best Backcountry Skis