Cross-Country Skiing Terminology

Cross-Country Skiing Terminology

Glossary of terms related to competition-style classic and skate cross-country skiing. For information about specific ski techniques, please refer to the following Guides:


Athletic Position

The athletic position, or athletic stance, is a universal body position that forms the foundation of all cross-country ski techniques.

  • Feet shoulder width apart 
  • Flexion at the ankles, knees and hips
  • Neutral spine and head position
  • Weight is typically slightly forward on the base of the foot and the heel is lightly weighted.


Base Wax

A type of wax applied to the kick zone prior to applying kick wax. It improves the performance of the kick wax and helps it last longer.



The bow-like flex in the construction of a cross-country ski. Both classic and skate skis are cambered. If you lay a cross-country ski on a flat surface only the tip and tail of the ski will touch. The mid-section of the ski will not touch the floor because of the camber (flex).

The camber is important when fitting a ski to a skier. If your skis fit properly, when you stand on them with your weight evenly balanced between the two skis the midsection of the skis will float above the snow. This reduces friction and improves the glide. To move forward, you have to push down on the ski to flatten it against the snow.

The camber of the ski should match the skier's weight and skiing ability. This is why professional fitting is so important.

A skier might have a collection of skis with slightly different cambers, each suited to different snow conditions.

Classic Track

The double parallel groove laid in the snow on a Nordic ski trail, used by classic skiers. The tracks can be made by skiers skiing in the snow, or by machine grooming and track-setting.

Cycle Length

This is a bit of a confusing term in XC Ski Nation. Kim uses it to describe the distance, measured in meters, covered in one stride cycle. Chris thinks of it as the length of time, measured in seconds, of a stride cycle. Apologies.


A variety of waxless classic ski where the grip zone is imprinted with a series of grooves and ridges that adhere to the snow when the skier pushes down and backwards. The pattern of the grooves and ridges may look similar to the scales on a fish.


Glide versus Glide Phase

Glide refers to any time the ski is gliding on the snow. Glide Phase refers to the part of a stride cycle where the skier is only gliding and not pushing with either the skis or poles.

To understand the difference, consider the uphill skate skiing technique called V1 Skate (USA) or Offset technique (Canada). Although the skis glide continuously in this technique, there is no glide phase because there is never a time when the skier is not pushing with the skis and/or poles.

Glide Wax

Wax that is typically ironed into the base of the ski to improve the glide. Glide waxes are rated for different temperatures and types of snow.

Glide wax is applied to the entire length of a skate ski. On a classic ski, glide was is applied the tip and tail region, but not the grip zone.

The equipment needed to glide wax skis can be costly and requires space to set up because there is a special table and form that holds the ski. Many Nordic ski areas have public wax rooms with tables and ski forms.

Some skier enjoy waxing skis, while others prefer to outsource this task to their local Nordic Ski shop.

Grip Wax
Grip Zone

A grip zone is a feature on the base of a classic ski. Skate skis do not have grip zones. The grip zone is under the foot. It extends from the back of the binding plate, forward a few inches ahead of the toes.

The purpose of the grip zone is to stick to the snow when the skier pushes down and back on the ski. On traditional classic skis, sticky kick wax is applied to the grip zone. Waxless skis have a special imprint or material in the grip zone that sticks to the snow when the ski is compressed.

The two major types of waxless skis are fishscales and skin skis. Skin skis are fast becoming the most popular type of classic ski.



The term kick is used in classic and skate skiing to describe the action of pushing down and back against the ski. The kick flattens the ski against the snow, giving you something to push against.

The kick is about driving force into the ski and ground in order to move the body forward. The action has no relationship to the forward swing of a leg, like you might use when kicking a ball.

A Classic Kick sets the grip zone on the base of the ski against the snow. The ski comes to a stop, giving the skier a platform to push against.

To kick a skate ski, the skier pushes down on the ski while rolling it onto the inside edge. That action helps set the inside edge of the ski into the snow so the skier can push against it.

Kick Wax

A special type of wax applied to the grip zone of a classic ski that adheres to the snow. Waxes are specialized for different temperatures and snow conditions. There is a wide variety of kick wax brands and products available.

Ideally, the kick wax you select will provide both good grip, when the ski is pressed against the snow, and good glide when there is less pressure on the ski.

Kick Zone

See Grip Zone


Related to kick wax, but instead of being a solid wax, klister is gooey and usually comes in a tube. It is best for icy conditions or warm, wet snow. It is quite messy to work with, but provides excellent grip in the right conditions.


Power-Speed Continuum

Classic and Skate Techniques can be categorized along a power-speed continuum. Power techniques are good for low speed situations, such as uphills. Speed techniques are best for when the skier is travelling quickly.

High speed techniques have long glide phases and shorter pushing phases. Power techniques limit the glide and dedicate more time pushing with the poles and skis.

V1-Offset is an example of a power technique that does not have a glide phase at all. A downhill tuck is the highest speed technique and is all glide, with no pushing.


The type of plastic used to construct or repair the base of a cross-country ski. There are different grades of PTEX material that have different performance characteristics. The quality of the base material has a significant impact of the speed and cost of a ski.


Ready Position

A variation of the Athletic Position used in downhill skiing to improve stability. Feet and hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Hands are held forward. Knees, ankles and hips are flexed and the weight is even across the bottom of the feet.

Recovery Phase

After a pole push or ski push is completed, it swings back or recovers to the start position to begin a new push phase.


Skate Lane

The section of a nordic ski trail meant for skate skiers. The snow is machine-groomed with a corduroy-like surface.


A technique used to slow down or brake when skiing. The ski is angled across the direction of travel and tilted slightly onto the inside edge. The edge of the ski shaves against the surface of the snow, which increases friction and slows the skier down.

Snowplowing and parallel skidding are downhill techniques that use skidding. In a snowplow the skis are positioned in a wedge-shape, with the tips closer together than the tails. In parallel skidding, the skis are positioned parallel to one another.

Skin Skis

A variety of waxless classic ski where the grip zone is inset with a mohair-like strip of fabric. The inset fabric has a nap that is directed backwards. The strip glides smoothly against the snow when the ski is sliding forward. When the skier pushes down and backwards on the ski, the mohair-like fibres grip the snow, giving the skier something to push against.

Stride cycle

Almost every cross-country ski technique is cyclical, so technically there is no start or finish to a technique. Pick any point in the cycle, such as when a pole or ski hits the ground. Fast forward until you reach that point again. That’s a stride cycle.



The frequency of striding and/or pushing with the poles. The number of complete stride cycles per unit time. A high tempo means the skier is turning over their stride cycle at a high rate.


Wax Pocket

See Grip Zone

Waxless Skis

Classic skis that do not require kick wax. Instead of kick wax they have a special material or construction on the grip zone of the ski that sticks to the snow. See also: Skin Skis, Fishscales, Zero Skis

Weight Transfer/Weight Shift

To move forward on skate or classic skis, you need to flatten the ski against the snow to gain traction. Moving your weight over each ski makes it easier to compress the ski.

In Classic Skiing, compressing the ski sets the grip zone against the snow, which brings the ski to a stop, giving the skier a platform to push against.

In Skate Skiing, moving your weight over the ski and pushing down helps set the inside edge of the ski against the snow so the skier can push against it.

"Complete weight transfer" refers to the idea that you have to move your weight fully over one ski, then the other. Other expressions are "full weight transfer" or "fully committing" to a ski.

“Toe, knees, nose” is a related cue and refers to the idea that, seen from head on, a skier’s toe, knee and nose should align vertically, indicating that the body weight is “completely” over the ski. This cue can be useful for drills but should not be taken too seriously. It does not apply to all techniques.

Many ski drills teach complete weight transfer by exaggerating the time spent balancing on a gliding ski. These drills are excellent for developing balance.

Many people mistakenly believe that good technique requires complete weight transfer at all times. This idea is incorrect. A skier needs to weight the ski as much as needed, but no more.

It is more important to move forward than to move from side to side and strict adherence to the idea of complete weight transfer may result in unnecessary side to side motion.

There is always a tradeoff between Tempo and Weight Transfer. Taking the time to get your weight fully over each ski limits how quickly you can turn over your stride cycle. Sometimes a higher stride frequency is more important than complete weight transfer.

A good rule of thumb is that techniques with longer glide phases have more complete weight transfer. Power techniques, used for hill climbing and acceleration, have little to no glide phase and do not require complete weight transfer. Examples are V1-Offset and Diagonal Stride.


Zero Skis

A variety of waxless classic ski where the grip zone is inset with a rubber-like material. Prior to skiing, the material is roughed up with sandpaper.

Zero skis are useful in conditions where traditional kick wax tends to ice up (fresh snow at near zero degrees). You can also apply kick wax over the rubber grip zone to broaden the temperature range of these skis.