Michigan Travelist

Every winter, one of the activities I mostly look forward to doing is cross-country skiing. It’s hard to beat the feeling of being outside in the winter, appreciating the calm and beauty of the season gliding through the splendor of Michigan’s woods. Cross-country skiing (also known as Nordic skiing) is great because it can be done in many parks, golf courses and resorts and don’t require purchasing expensive lift tickets. You can usually find less crowded areas to ski, and be closer to nature as well.

This year, maybe because of the pandemic, I’ve had many people ask me about skiing, cross-country skiing and other snow sports. I also noticed a significant increase in the number of skiers out in the woods, many beginners giving the sport a first try and I couldn’t be more excited. So I decided to write an easy beginner guide to help anyone interested in getting started on x-country skiing.

Cross-country skis differ from downhill skis as they are built for more movement and leave your heels free. There are also different types of Nordic skis depending on what type of terrain you will be using them. I’m going to focus on the three of the most basic and recognized types of cross-country skis:

– Classic or touring skis: made for use in groomed trails using a forward and back striding technique almost like you’re walking/running on skis. They can be longer or shorter, narrower or wider depending on whether you will use them for recreation or for speed/racing.

– Skate skis: also made for use in groomed trails, these skis are usually lighter, narrower and shorter than classic skis. They are faster and stiffer, requiring a better technique as they are less forgiving than classic skis. The name skate skis because the technique resembles that of an ice skater, and are great for use in frozen snow covered lakes as well. They are not designed for striding as classic skis. They are a lot of fun and my daughters love them, but they’re usually not a beginner’s best fit.

– Backcountry skis: made for the adventurer woodsman or woman that want to go on to explore wild trails in deep non groomed snow, making their own tracks as they go. They are  beefier and shorter than classic skis to allow for more stability and flotation in deeper snow, and they often have metal edges for better grip in icy condition and better maneuverability in difficult terrain.

Next, you need to find the best gear. Cross-country skiing is a full-body workout and, differently from downhill skiing, you need a lot less bundling. In fact, here you need to be careful not to overheat (overheat = sweat; sweat in cold temperatures may stick to your skin, cool you down fast and lead to hypothermia). 

The best advice is to dress in layers. If you are warm before you start you’re too warm for cross-country skiing. The first layer, or base layer, should be form fitting but comfortable, not tight. It should be made from materials that wick moisture away, like polyester or merino wool. The second layer is your insulation. How warm and think depends on how cold the day is. A fleece pullover, a puffed vest or lightweight puffed jacket are good examples of second layers. If it is extremely cold, you may require two layers. The third and final layer, or outer layer, can be a soft-shell or a hard-shell jacket, depending on conditions. A soft-shell jacket is usually more flexible and stretchy and although they’re often water-resistant they won’t protect you from heavy snowfall. In more extreme conditions, a hard-shell, breathable jacket may be your best option.

Below are some of my favorite brands and styles of cross-country base layer.

Next, you’ll need cross-country leggings or pants. Depending on the weather, a good lined, water resistant pair of leggings is enough. For colder and/or stormier days, add an outer layer, wind resistant and waterproof. Cross-country gear should be stretchy and flexible enough to allow good movement. Here are some good base layer and outer layer bottom options.


Finally, accessories make a world of difference when x-country skiing on a cold day. Hats, earmuffs and gloves help keep you comfortable but remember you will warm up pretty fast when you start moving on the trails. A good waterproof fleece pair of gloves should be enough. If it is extremely cold, go for mittens. Here are some options I found on Amazon that would work well.


To buy your equipment, it is always better to go in person and try it on or have it fit by people who know what they are doing. If you already know your size or style you want to buy, Amazon has a great selection of ski gear with great prices. You can check it out here.

These are the basics. I hope you enjoyed it. Did we leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below. Have fun!!!

Sharing Michigan's beauty with the world.

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