Can You Downhill Ski With Cross Country Skis?

by Alaina Johnson | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

If you're wondering whether or not you can use your cross country skis for downhill skiing, you've come to the right place. Downhill and XC skiing may sound similar but they each require different gear and the type of skis are built with specific purposes in mind.

Cross country skis aren't built to go downhill, though they can in some situations. If you're looking to downhill ski, it's best to purchase a pair of skis that are specifically designed for downhill only to have the best experience. Likewise, downhill skis aren't a good option for cross country ski trips for similar reasons — they're just not built for the task, and trying to go uphill in them will wear you out before you reach your destination.

Ski downhill

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What is the Difference Between Downhill Skis and Cross Country Skis?

If you're new to skiing, you may not be aware of the difference between downhill skiing and cross country skiing. These two styles of skiing are markedly different and require different types of skis and equipment to ensure success.

Downhill skiing is done on a mountain, with the skier going downhill. Due to this, the skis are specifically designed to go on descents and not uphill or going across flat terrain. You're probably already familiar with the awkward shuffle people do once they hop off the chair lift.

Cross country skis, on the other hand, are built to be a bit more versatile. They can help a skier move around on flat terrain and they can also go uphill and downhill for short distances.

From a visual standpoint, cross country skiers are often noticeably shorter than their downhill counterparts as this makes them more easily maneuverable. They also tend to be a bit heavier and more rigid so as to be more stable when moving around on different surfaces and terrains.

Cross country skis often have a metal ridge that helps to make it easier on the ascent. The metal offers an enhanced grip on the ice and snow and allows the wearer to climb with more ease by digging into the ice for increased stability.

Can You Use Downhill Skis and Cross Country Skis Interchangeably?

If you find yourself doing both types of skiing, you may want to look into alpine touring skis. These specialized skis are an ideal blend between both downhill and cross country skis and allow the skier to have a more multifunctional day out on the mountain.

Depending on what type of skiing you most enjoy, you may want to invest in the pair of skis that best suits that terrain and movement. If you enjoy the adrenaline of going downhill at fast speeds, a pair of downhill skis will be your best option.

If you're seeking the ability to explore and ski at a more leisurely pace, then a pair of cross country skis will provide you with the ability to do so. Using downhill skis for cross-country trips can be incredibly tiring on the body, as they're not built to go uphill and across flat terrain.

It's best to have specific skis for specific purposes and if you live in a snowy and mountainous area, you'll find yourself getting plenty of use out of them. If you are regularly a cross country skier who wants to hit the slopes a few times in the winter — investing in a pair of downhill skills will be worthwhile.

Similarly, if you usually downhill ski but want to take some leisurely cross country treks with your family — grabbing a pair of XC skis will serve you well in the long run. There are always preowned options that won't break the bank and will keep you going for a few years.

Why You Shouldn't Use Cross Country Skis for Downhill

ski downhill
Photo by Sebastian Werner licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you've been cross country skiing for years and that's the only gear you have, you may be wondering if you can use them to try out the slopes. However, rentals or used gear will be your best option if you're worried about the cost of a new set of skis.

Compared to downhill skis, cross country skis are far less stable and this makes going downhill much more difficult. They're much more difficult to control your speed in and this can make turning and stopping quickly a bit of a challenge.

Trying to use your cross-country skies to go down a big downhill slope can be dangerous as you won't be in full control. This can lead to a bad situation for both yourself and others around you.

In cross country skiing, people aren't moving at fast paces and there oftentimes isn't a need to make a sharp turn or skid to a stop. Due to this, the skis aren't built with these skills in mind unlike downhill skis, which are made to be more nimble and flexible.

Which Is Harder: Downhill or Cross Country Skiing?

While both forms of skiing can make for a great aerobic workout — cross country skiing is much harder on the lungs and legs, especially when going uphill for a period of time. While you get the thrill of going downhill in alpine skiing (also known as downhill skiing), you are riding the chairlift up the mountain instead of making the trek yourself.

In cross country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing), you push your body across areas of the backcountry, and in some areas, it's a form of transportation as much as it is a recreational sport. You won't reach the same speeds as you do downhill, so if you're looking for that adrenaline rush downhill will be your best bet.

Without gravity pulling you down the slope, you're having to put forth a whole-body effort to move from point A to point B. Cross country skiing is referred to as one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise.

At the end of the day, it really depends on your ability level and what you're hoping to get out of your day of skiing. Both forms are highly enjoyable to people and it may be worth trying out each option to see which one is the better fit for you.

Separate Skis for Separate Styles of Skiing

Skier in Yellow

Skis are built with different purposes in mind — whether that be Nordic or alpine skiing. They're shaped differently and have extra features, such as the metal grips on a pair of cross country skis which help the user climb the ice.

Skiing is known as an expensive sport to take part in, as one needs skis, boots, and all of the extra gear and equipment, along with warm layers and goggles. Buying a separate pair of skis may sound like a burden but it will become a necessity if you are trying to go down a slope on a pair of skis that won't allow you to stay in control.

Staying safe on the mountain is a top priority for everyone and whether you're a novice or an experienced skier, you'll want to ensure that your equipment is built for the task at hand and that you have full control over your body and your skis.