Classic Vs Skate Skiing – Which Cross-Country Skiing Is Best? (Gliding & Kicking)

by Kenny Jarvis | Updated: October 27th, 2023 |  Skiing Articles

If you are into skiing but your passion goes beyond downhill, then cross-country skiing could be the next step. Cross-country skiing comes in different styles.

For a beginner, classic skiing would be the better option, as it is easier to learn and less physically demanding. As you progress and build your stamina, you could try skate skiing and then decide for yourself which one you prefer.

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Classic and skate skiing are the two most well-known forms of cross-country skiing. Read on to discover more about the techniques, equipment, and terrain and which form would be best for you.

Classic Skiing Explained

Classic Technique
Photo by Christine Alder under CC BY 2.0

Classic or cross-country skiing has a long history compared to skate skiing. It is also known as "traditional skiing."

Key Takeaway: Classic skiing can take place on both groomed and ungroomed tracks.

However, keep in mind that ungroomed tracks are not safe for skiing at higher speeds. Classic skiing uses different techniques, with the diagonal stride being the most popular.

Essentially, diagonal striding involves moving the legs and arms in opposite directions. Typically, if your right leg leads, you will kick back producing the force to move you forward. At the same time, the right arm will synchronize and swing forward.

This skiing technique enables skiers to drive themselves forward. The diagonal stride technique gives the impression that you are almost walking on your skis.

At the outset, you place your entire weight on a single ski. Then, with a quick kicking action, you transfer your full body weight to the other ski, making your way forward.

Classic skiing naturally has elements of gliding and kicking. In fact, gliding and kicking are integral parts of cross-country skiing in all its types.

The Difference between Gliding and Kicking

In cross-country skiing gliding occurs when your ski is in contact with the track and the ski continues over the snow. The ski will keep moving forward smoothly over the snow but will start to slow down as the friction between the ski and the snow causes a loss of momentum.

So, the skier has to alternate between kicking and gliding to maintain forward motion.

At first, a beginner skier might struggle to glide on a single ski, so gliding on two skis may be the better option until you establish a better balance to ski on just one ski.

Kicking Technique

When you hear "kicking," you might think of kicking a ball in a soccer game but ski kicking is entirely different. In skiing, kicking means moving your leading foot back and/or down, so it can propel the ski forwards.

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Key Takeaway: Classic skis need to be treated with a specialist sticky wax to perform correctly.

This wax enables skiers to perform their kicks properly and it is consequently called kick or grip wax.

This wax is applied to the base of the skis in much the same way as conventional wax is put on. However, this wax is different in that it can be made to temporarily stick to the snow, providing the purchase to force the skier forward.

What is Skate Skiing?

Ski Course
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Skate skiing has something of a reputation for being challenging and more difficult to master. Many skiers call it touring skiing and using it on groomed snow is mandatory for the skier’s protection. Skate skiing is ideally suited to flatter areas of terrain.

This type of cross-country skiing is perfect for those looking for an aerobic workout, as it requires good flexibility and physical fitness. However, despite being more difficult to learn, you can get around just fine if you are familiar with the techniques of ice skating or alpine skiing.

In skate skiing, the skis move from side-to-side, contrary to the traditional parallel style. To pull away in skate skiing, you need to lift your leading ski off the snow, and then move it quickly to the side.

In this instance, your body weight will be on the other ski at first. Then, the roles reverse as you start with the other ski.

Skate Skiing Versus Classic Skiing

Both classic and skate skiing are not categorized as a part of alpine skiing, but they are grouped together under the heading of cross-country skiing. There are some similarities between classic and skate skiing but there are just as many differences, which come down to skiing technique, speed, gear, and overall experience.

Speed Factor

The speeds achieved in skate skiing are routinely faster than traditional classic skiing. As your skating skiing skills improve, you can often achieve speeds higher than 18 miles per hour. Whereas, even in ideal circumstances in classic skiing, you won't reach much more than 10 miles per hour.

Motion Techniques

Another big difference between the styles is the way the skis are manipulated. In classic skiing, the skis remain parallel to each other. Skate skiing, on the other hand, includes moving the skis in a V-shaped method. The V-shape technique allows skiers to push themselves forward more quickly compared to the parallel or diagonal one.


Another big difference between these types of cross-country skiing is the equipment. You can’t go skate skiing with traditional skis and vice versa. Generally, traditional skis are longer and thinner.

The poles of skate skis are longer than classic ones. In fact, you need a pair of poles that reach up to nose height.

A pair of boots with low or mid-cuffs and a flexible base are ideal for classic skiing, while you will require high cuffs for skating. For skate skiing don't get boots with soft outsoles, as they will make your legs more vulnerable to torsion.

Skiing Terrain

For skate skiing, it is best to keep to groomed runs and wide open areas, as this allows you the freedom of more speed and more graceful performance.

Classic skiing can take place on both groomed and ungroomed terrain, but you need to take care, particularly in deep snow areas for your own safety. Classics skiing offers greater versatility so you can perform a diagonal stride on a narrow trail, which just wouldn't be possible with V-shape skating.

Most of the time, classic skiing takes place on cross-country ski tracks that have either been carved out by other users or dressed by a machine.

What Should I Choose, Classic Or Skate Skiing?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as in so many ways it comes down to personal choice. Factors to think about include your physical shape, fitness, experience, and preferences.

Also, the type of skiing trails you have on your doorstep can be pretty decisive in making a choice. Some tracks are only made for skate skiing and vice versa.

If you are looking for the easiest style to start off with, then classic skiing is the way to go. The basic motion looks like traditional jogging or running, so it is easier to transfer these existing skills onto the snow.

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Photo by Christine Alder under CC BY 2.0

Generally, classic skiing is a lot easier to pick up compared to skate skiing.

Advice: Classic equipment is usually more affordable than skate skis and poles.

If your fitness levels are limited or you're healing from injuries, skate skiing may be too demanding for you. Skate skiing does require excellent aerobic fitness and good muscle tone.

The physical effort associated with skate skiing requires good balance and in particular, working the muscles around your hips. Your upper body is also involved with skate skiing, much more so than in classic or traditional skiing.

This isn't to suggest that classic skiing is a walk in the park! In fact, it will also put pressure on your knees, ankles, and hips at the same time. However, regardless of your choice, cross-country skiing is a great winter activity, combining fitness, the stillness of nature, and some amazing views.