Guide to Nordic Downhill Skiing – Cross Country Ski Technique

Nordic Downhill Skiing

Credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

Introduction

This guide describes the techniques used by competitive cross-country skiers on the downhill sections of groomed Nordic ski trails. It includes tips for all levels of skier. 

Because this website is about ski techniques used by competitive cross-country skiers, there's no information here about telemark skiing.

Why Downhills are So Challenging

Skiing downhill on cross-country ski gear is more challenging than alpine downhill skiing for a number of reasons. Nordic ski gear is lightweight and less stable, and cross-country ski trails don’t offer as many options for turning as most alpine slopes.

Many skiers are understandably cautious on downhills, and even quite terrified. This sense of fear and caution can hold people back from developing a full set of downhill skills. Paradoxically this makes the downhills more difficult.

It’s better to learn all the skills, even the high speed skills, like Step Turns. That way you can mix and match techniques for the endless variety of downhill terrain you encounter. Downhill skills are also excellent for improving agility and comfort on skis.

Techniques at-a-glance

Snowplow

The snowplow is the easiest downhill technique to learn. The skis are held in a wedge-shape, with the tips closer together than the tails. The skis are angled onto their inside edge and “shaved” against the snow. The increased friction slows or stops the skier. Snowplows are used on straight runs and turns.

Step Turn

Step turns are used on downhill turns where you want to maintain speed or accelerate. The skis are continually picked up and reset to match the angle of the turn. The skier has the option to push off of the outside ski to add more speed.

Skidding

Parallel Skidding is probably the most challenging downhill skill to learn. It’s similar to skidding on alpine skis, but more difficult because of differences in gear. Skidding is often combined with Step Turning in race settings. Skidding can be done on straight trails and turns.

Tuck

Tucks are the easiest and fastest downhill technique. Low tucks are faster. High tucks are easier on tired leg muscles. Tucks are done on track-set turns (classic only) and straight runs.

  • These 4 techniques are used in both classic and skate skiing.
  • Free Skate (skate skiing without poles) is another downhill technique, but it's only used in skate skiing.
  • Step Turns are a cornering technique, used on flats and uphills, in addition to downhill turns.
  • Each technique can be modified as required, for different terrain and conditions.

Top Tips

  • Everyone:
    • If you tuck your poles under your arms during a downhill, point your tips downward, otherwise you might poke someone in the eye.
    • Check for skiers approaching from behind before you step out of the track or make a sudden move across the trail.
  • Beginners:
    • Bring along your skill in all downhill techniques so you don't become overly reliant on the snowplow.
    • Practice Step Turns on flats and side slipping down hills to get a feel for Parallel Skidding.
  • Experienced Skiers:
    • Use parallel skidding and step turns more often.
    • Re-ski hills to increase your confidence.
    • Experiment with adjustments to each technique and various combinations of techniques to improve your speed and safety.
  • In Competition: 
    • If you need to check speed, do it early so you can accelerate out of the turn.
    • It's more important to maintain speed than to take the best line.
    • Think independently. Don't copy the skier in front of you, unless you're certain she chose the best line and technique.

Suggested Articles

Online Video Tutorials

Our other website, XC Ski Nation, has a wide selection of online video tutorials, including courses specifically about Nordic downhill ski techniques. It's best suited to skiers and coaches who enjoy ski technique and working to improve their skiing efficiency.

  • Beginners learn step by step progressions in all techniques.
  • Experienced skiers learn how to optimize each downhill technique and build out their skill set.
  • Competitive skiers learn how to take downhill turns for maximum safety and speed.
  • All techniques demonstrated by World Cup and Olympic athletes. 

XC Ski Nation is subscriber-supported. The subscription fee is nominal and the quality of the videos and clarity of the lessons is unmatched.

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