Cross Country Skis FAQs

What are the differences between Classical Skis and Touring Skis?

Length and width. Classic skis are sometimes longer and always narrower offering the skier greater speed and performance. Touring skis offer more stability and versatility in skiing un-groomed terrain.The shorter “new school” light touring skis offer better maneuverability.

What is the difference between Light Touring Skis and Touring Skis? 

Light Touring Skis are narrower (up to 60mm wide) cross country skis that can be used with SNS or NNN bindings and boots. Touring Skis (60mm+) require BC or 3-pin bindings and boots to handle the torque of these wider and heavier skis.

What are the advantages of wax-less skis?

In one word, convenience. Wax-less skis give the skier grab-and-go convenience, meaning he/she does not have to wax before skiing. Wax-less skis have much less ski care and maintenance associated with them due to the waxless pattern. They offer worry-free and spontaneous skiing, particularly in regions that experience wide temperature fluctuations.

What are the advantages of wax-able skis?

Wax-able skis, if waxed correctly, offer a higher performance level in kick and glide than wax-less skis. Kick is instantaneous and solid (if done correctly) and glide is longer, faster and smoother. Wax-able skis are less forgiving during the kick phase, which can be an advantage for those skiers looking to learn correct classical technique.

What is side-cut?

Side-cut is a series of measurements across the width of the ski starting at the tip section, moving to the mid section (or waist), and finishing with the tail section. There are usually 3 measurements in centimeters, and they read from tip to tail like this: 43-42-43. Skis with four measurements are providing a tip measurement to highlight a specific tip design.

What is “hourglass” side-cut?

A term given to side-cut profiles where the waist, or mid-section, is narrower than the tip and 60-50-55

What is “pencil cut”?

Pencil cut is a term referring to a straight side-cut where the widths do not vary along the length of the ski. ie: 44-44-44.


What do the Base Index numbers mean?

They are proprietary standards of each manufacturer to differentiate the quality of ski base material. The higher the number the greater the quality (and speed). These numbers do not  correlate between manufacturers. An Atomic base index number cannot be directly compared to a Rossignol (or any other manufacturer) base index number.


What should I wear for a ski tour?

This is a huge question that varies depending upon where you live, how long your tour will be and what kind of terrain you expect to cover. Here are some general principles to get you started.

  1. Layer your clothing with base and mid layers that wick perspiration away from the body. Outer shell layers are critical for wind protection and when the temperature plummets.
  2. Carry extra layers with you while skiing, and have them easily accessible for quick adjustments.
  3. Start off the tour feeling cool with minimal layers, so you can warm up into it, rather than overheating early.
  4. Strip layers as needed, and add layers when stopping for longer breaks.
  5. Extra hats, buffs, gloves and even socks are lightweight ways to add insulation if needed.

Ski Pole Sizing

Nordic ski poles are measured and labeled as their total length from end-to-end in centimeters. From the end of the tip to the end of the handle/grip. This is not the functional length since the basket is usually at the snow surface and straps hang down a bit from the top of the handle.


Advantages of Longer Poles (with good technique)
:: Can help bring the hips forward in both skate and classical techniques
:: More effective double poling
:: Touring Skiers will get more support in deeper snow when the skis are riding higher than the pole plants
:: Can help engage core torso muscles with V1 on hills

Advantages of Shorter Poles (maintaining good technique)
:: Easier to engage core stomach muscles with V2
:: Easier to maintain balance with diagonal stride in classical technique
:: Easier to bring hands forward in all techniques, and get poles perpendicular to snow
:: Easier to clear poles when contouring slopes while touring in deep snow

Longer Pole Method: Good for racing, and skiers who prefer longer poles.

Skate Poles: Convert your height to centimeters. Multiply by .9 or .91 depending on preference and terrain. Equals your pole length in centimeters.

Classic and Touring Poles: Convert your height to centimeters. Multiply by .83 to .85. depending on preference, purpose and terrain. Equals your pole length in centimeters.

Cross Country Ski Pole Size Chart (Shorter Poles)

This chart is calculated by taking your height in centimeters and subtracting 20cm for Skate and 30cm for Classical & Touring. We regard it as starting point for general and recreational skiing, new skiers, and for skiers who prefer shorter poles. These are the Swix and One Way recommendations. Note: The Classic and Touring  measurements will work for leisure skiers, however we believe more athletic or aggressive skiers will prefer longer poles.

  Skier Height (inches)


 Skate (centimeters)  Classic (centimeters)  Touring (centimeters)
 4’3 – 4’5  110  100  100
 4’5 – 4’7  115  105  105
 4’7 – 4’9  120  110  110
 4’9 – 4’11  125  115  115
 4’11  130  120  120
 5’0  132  122  122
 5’1  135  127  125
 5’2  137  127  125
 5’3  140  130  130
 5’4  142  132  130
 5’5  145  135  135
 5’6  147  137  135
 5’7  150  140  140
 5’8  152  142  140
 5’9  155  145  145
 5’10  157  147  145
 5’11  160  150  150
 6’0  162  152  150
 6’1  165  155  155
 6’2  167  157  155
 6’3  170  160  160
 6’4  172  162  160
 6’5  175  165  165
 6’6  175  170  170

Nordic Ski Bindings 101

Cross country ski bindings can be a confusing topic to sort out. It has caused many frustrations for both new and experienced skiers alike, when one realizes that their new system may not work with their older gear, or worse yet, they bought the wrong boot for their binding system. Let’s get it straightened out here to help minimize any confusion and future problems.


  1. Boots & Bindings MUST be compatible. Unfortunately, cross country ski bindings are not standardized. Boots and bindings from different systems will not work together. If you are upgrading gear, or purchasing used or new, it is critical that you purchase gear within the same system to assure compatibility and to avoid disappointment.
  2. Which binding system do you have? There are two systems of bindings; SNS and NNN. They are not compatible with each other. Most newer boots and bindings will be labeled. If you can’t tell, measure across the boot bar or the binding attachment to determine your system. XC Binding Measurement System

1 1/8 inch or 27mm  SNS

1 1/4 inch or 30mm  NNN

1 5/8 inches or 40mm  NNN BC


70mm* Three Pin or Telemark

  1. Differences between Skate, Classic and BC Bindings. Within each system (NNN & SNS) are 3 binding types that are designed for a specific skiing purpose: skate, classic and backcountry (or BC) bindings. Classic bindings are designed to balance torsional control at the toe, with sufficient heel lift to aid in hill climbing and diagonal stride. The amount of lift or flex in a binding is controlled either with a toe bumper or a 2nd axes connection in Pilot bindings (discussed under SNS). In some cases flex is measured with a flex number. The softer the flex (more lift), the smaller the flex number. Classic bindings allow for more heel lift than skate bindings, and they therefore have smaller flex numbers than skate bindings. Skate bindings are designed to maintain a powerful push through the entire skate motion, so torsional control and boot/ski positioning and angles are the priorities. As mentioned, skate bindings are stiffer with higher flex numbers than classic bindings.
  1. NNN Bindings – What you should know? Most NNN bindings are manufactured by Rottefella and are licensed to ski manufacturers. Currently, Rossignol, Alpina, Madshus, and Fischer are using the NNN system. Of note: Fischer switched from SNS to NNN a few years back, so if you have some old Fischer boots use the measuring system above to determine which binding system you will need.
  2. What is the difference between NNN and NIS? NNN Bindings include both traditional mount bindings (screw-in) and NIS bindings. This is important to note so you know that NNN boots are compatible with both types of bindings. NIS bindings refer to bindings which slip onto NIS (plastic) plates which are welded to certain skate, classic and touring skis. NIS integrated bindings offer better edge control, binding position adjustability and weight savings. Most midrange and high-end NNN skis are using NIS Plates.
  3. SNS Bindings – What you should know? The companies using the SNS system are Salomon, Atomic and One Way. The SNS system has two types of bindings; single axis (Profil and Propulse), and double axis (Pilot). Pilot bindings have two connection points between the boot and binding, and Profil/Propulse have one.
  4. What are the differences between these models? Pilot (2 axes) bindings are bumperless (no wearing out) skate and classic bindings. They offer more torsional, and tip and tail control, which can be helpful for skating as well as for new skiers learning any technique. Propulse is a new single-axis, classic binding with a bumper, released in 2010, that offers efficient kick, and more heel lift for hill climbing in an ultra lightweight package. Profil, pronounced Pro Feel, is the original Salomon binding (bumper) and it can used for both skating and classic, and either Pilot or Profil boots.
  5. The Backcountry Binding Story. BC, or backcountry bindings, are used on touring and light touring skis. BC bindings are heavier than NNN and SNS Bindings, and the width of the boot/ski connection is wider, providing greater torsional control over a heavier ski. The wider binding can provide greater support in unbroken or ungroomed snow. BC boots are not compatible with any type of NNN or SNS Binding, and vice versa. Also, NNN BC and SNS XAdv BC boots and bindings are not compatible – they must match their system counterpart. They are used for ski touring in deeper, untracked snow in rolling to flat terrain. They are not designed for ascending and descending steep terrain.
  6. 3 Pin and 70mm Bindings. 70mm Bindings and boots are measured across the front of the contact area of the binding or across the front of the boot. Rather than use an axel and clamp design like the others, 70mm bindings use either a matching three pin/hole design on the binding and boot with a clamp on an extended soul in front of the toe, or a toe retainer bar with a spring-loaded cable and heelbinding. These bindings are used for rugged touring, steeper terrain, and heavier skis, or for skiers who prefer a 3 Pin boot. The 70mm width of these bindings rub badly on 65mm groomed tracks/rails and even in skied-in tracks (not recommended), slowing the ski and the skier’s progress dramatically.

Sizing or Fitting Cross Country Skis

Sizing cross country skis is a bit of a misnomer. Different types of cross country skis are fitted/sized differently. Single camber skis such as Metal Edged Touring Skis are sized by length. Double camber skis, which include all adult skis are flexed by skier weight. Here is a simple breakdown of how different types of skis are sized or fitted.


Sized by Length:

Metal Edged Touring Skis, and all single camber skis, are sized by length. The skier will always be gliding on the grip zone/pattern with these type of skis. See each particular ski model for sizing parameters.

Kids Skis for ages in the 5 to 7 year old range are also sized by length and skier height because the skier’s motor skills have not developed enough to maneuver longer skis.


Fitted by Flex:

Junior Skis (approx. 8 to 12 years old) should be flexed and fitted by the skier’s body weight. Generally, other factors such as height and skier ability will play larger roles with this fitting because of potential skier growth, and because many skier’s weight/height profiles vary widely.
Adult Skate Skis are fitted using compression tests for overall flex, and tip and tail flex to determine optimal skier weights and snow types that will be best for the ski.
Adult Classic and Touring Skis are fitted using half-weight and full-weight compression tests to determine climbing/glide ability, grip zones for hard wax and klister, and glide zones for maximum glide.

Ski Selection & Trail Type

What type of ski (and ski width) is best for the type of skiing you enjoy most?

There are two important questions that need consideration before selecting a ski. The first is “What type of trails do I have access to, or enjoy skiing the most? And the second question is What kind of skiing, or level of exertion, do I prefer when skiing?

Trail type and available trail grooming will dictate the type of ski techniques that can be used, which effects the ski type and ski width. Evaluate and determine the kinds of trails and terrain you will ski. The following is a quick visual reference to help.

Groomed Terrain 

This is a groomed trail with flat “corduroy” on the left and groomed tracks, or rails, on the right. Skate skiers ski on the corduroy, while classic and touring skiers generally ski in the rails. If the majority of your skiing is done on groomed trails, then you can choose between the three ski types (Light touring, Skating,Classical) to match your skiing expectations.

For groomed terrain only, a ski width between 43mm and 50mm is optimum. The narrower skis are race and performance skis, and the wider skis are light touring widths.

For both a fitness and a touring orientation, a ski width from 50mm to 55mm works well. The narrower widths are faster and more appropriate for fitness. Wider widths are nice for recreational workouts and for skiers seeking more stability.

We do not recommend a touring ski wider than 60mm, or a metal edged touring ski for these types of trails. The skis will rub (or not fit) against the rails slowing the ski substantially.

Skied-in Tracks

This is a skied-in track. These tracks are made by skiers following the same tracks. They are not groomed, which makes them less stable and consistent than groomed tracks. Skied-in tracks are very common in both suburban and backcountry venues.

Light Touring Skis are the best choice for skied-in tracks.  Skis 50mm and wider will work, however skis 53mm to 60mm have the best balance between stability and efficiency, or speed. Narrower skis are good choices for shallower snow depths (4 to 6 inches), and unmaintained parks or golf courses. Wider skis work well for new skiers, and those skiing in deeper snow and backcountry environments.

Untracked Terrain

Snow depth and steepness of terrain are important considerations.

Light Touring Skis with 59mm-60mm widths work well for flat and rolling terrain in  snow up to 8-10inches – not deeper than mid-calf.

For flat and rolling terrain in snow deeper than 10 inches or mid-calf, a touring ski with a width of 60mm or wider will provide the float necessary for deeper snow. BC or 3-pin bindings will be needed for skis wider than 60mm.

For steep ascents and descents in deep, untracked snow, a Telemark or Randonee set-up is your best choice.

** Note: Backcountry skiing is the term generally used to include both Telemark and Randonee skiing. This is not to be confused with BC boots and bindings, which are designed for cross country ski touring and not for steep descents.


Exertion Levels and Skier Expectations

There are a variety of different expectations when it comes to cross country skiing. Knowing what your expectations are will allow you to match the appropriate gear with your skiing style.

In terms of intensity and exertion, skate skiing and classical technique can ramp up to an intensity level as high as you want to take it. These skis are narrow and fast for packed, groomed terrain.

Ski touring can take place on both groomed and ungroomed terrain. The exertion and pace can range from a leisurely walk to an aggressive stride. Wider skis will most likely suit the leisurely skier, where narrower skis will be preferred by fitness skiers. The mid-range widths of 53-54mm are the most versatile for a variety of conditions and intensities. Blending the trail type and snow depth with the skier expectation is the best plan when considering light touring skis.

Deep, untracked snow has a similar intensity level to snowshoeing. Experienced skiers may choose to go with wider light touring gear (60mm max) for the lighter weight and faster potential pace, while new, or less aggressive skiers may choose a wider, more stable BC set-up.

Tips for Ski Selection:
» New Skiers looking for more stability should select skis on the wider end of the ski range for each terrain type. New Skiers should also search for groomed trails and skied-in tracks for more stable ski surfaces to start.

» Pick a ski for the type of skiing you do most often, not the most extreme condition you might face.

» Think about your lifestyle, and the time available for skiing when selecting a ski.  Is skiing after work on skied-in tracks more important than skiing on groomed trails on the weekend, or vice versa?

What Kind of Skier are You?

Defining the type of skier you are is critical to selecting a ski and boot that will meet your expectations, particularly over the long haul.

Adventure/Backcountry Touring: Adventure skiers seek the untraveled experiences involving hiking on skis usually done in deep, untracked snow in flat or rolling terrain. Some skiers use this gear (BC) for maximum stability, however these skis are not designed for efficient kick and glide, and they will not fit in groomed rails. Gear used: Backcountry (BC).

Touring: Ski touring on groomed or untracked trails with snow depths up to mid-calf. Ski touring encompass everything from a leisurely walk on skis, to exploratory tours in pristine natural areas, to a heart-pounding ski tours for fitness. Gear used: Light Touring.

Sport/Fitness: This category of skier skis for fitness or recreation and is usually skiing on groomed trails using a specific technique such as skating or classical. Gear used: skate, classic and narrower light touring.

Racer/High Performance: This type of skier is looking for ultimate speed and performance in skate or classic gear for groomed trail skiing. Gear used: High-end skate and classic

Backcountry Skiing: Skiers traveling in deep untracked snow seeking steep ascents and descents, and/or multi-day excursions. Gear used: Telemark & Randone

If you don’t know yet what kind of skier you are, here are a few options to consider. Think about renting skis and taking some lessons to give you a better idea of the types of cross country skiing. If you can’t decide between categories, waxless touring skis can be the most versatile from a trail type and exertion level standpoint.

Ski Flex: Why Is It Important?

Ski flex is the foundation upon which all other factors, such as ski length, skiing experience, body type, and firmness of snow, help guide our ski selection.

For skating, a ski that is too soft will bottom-out creating a pressure zone under foot that makes the ski feel sluggish, slow, and “squirrelly” where the tip and tail pivots around the mid-section. Pick a ski that is too stiff, and you’ve got a ski riding on two pressure zones that again slows you down, and creates an unstable, poor handling ski.

For classic skiing a poorly fitted ski will ride on the kick zone if too soft, or have difficult-to-impossible grip if too stiff. The handling characteristics mentioned above are important here as well.

A well-fitted ski is important for all skiers, not just racers. Ski racers have long known the importance of flex and its relationship with body type and snow surface conditions. But many recreational and performance skiers should recognize its importance as well. Top-of-the-line skis come from the factory with half-weight and mid-flex numbers that give us a good starting point for ski selection. Most ski models, however, do not give us that information which means a reliance on the weight charts (which can range up to 30 pounds per length of ski), if you do not have a flex-tested ski.

At Nordic Ski Source, we digitally flex test every ski, so we can make an accurate ski flex recommendation to all skiers whether they have racing ambitions or not. This recommendation will become the foundation of the ski selection process. We then introduce the other ski selection factors to help fine-tune the actual ski selection decision.


How to Buy Classical Skis

Classical skis differ from touring skis in width and speed. They are designed for groomed trails, and used for fitness, training and racing. They come in both wax-able and wax-less models. The long-term enjoyment of your classic skis is dependent upon having a ski that flexes properly for both grip and glide.


Classical Skis

Ski Width Determines Stability/Speed

Race skis are generally in the 44mm to 45mm range in width. Efficient fitness-oriented classical skis are in the 46mm to 51mm range. In widths that overlap in both classic and light touring skis, classic skis will have longer lengths allowing them to track better, as well as offer more speed. Light touring skis are shorter, more maneuverable, and many times have more sidecut. Both are excellent choices and it may come down to what you are used to, and your expectations. Usually, a beginning skier will choose the more maneuverable light touring version.


Ski Flex Testing Determines Grip and Glide

Next, for both wax-able and wax-less skis we flex test at the skier’s half weight to determine the grip zone on a wax-able ski, and the glide on a wax-less ski.

Wax-less ski flex testing: A digital flex-tester is used to determine the characteristics of a wax-less ski. We flex classical race skis for both hard wax and klister conditions. Hard wax skis have longer and lower bridges than klister skis. Sometimes these correspond to “Cold” vs. “Warm” skis, but that is not always the case. For a universal ski that can be used for both hard wax and klister conditions, we will use a stiffer flexed hard wax ski.

Wax-able touring ski flex: For all wax-able skis we use the skier’s half-weight to map out a grip zone which helps us determine if the ski is too stiff or soft. We mark the bridge (gap) at .1mm, .2mm and .3mm (if necessary) to determine how many layers of hard wax are needed on certain portions of the ski. We also mark the .4mm bridge for the klister zone if the ski has a high enough bridge.

The red lines are meant to represent the layers of wax needed on certain portions of the grip zone. The blue line is a gap between the bottom of the ski and the testing surface at the skier’s full weight. This area is called residual camber, and it needs to marked and addressed with additional wax for effective kick.


Wax-less Touring Ski Flex Testing

With wax-less skis, we look at the bridge at half-weight to see how much of the pattern is off the surface for effective glide. We have found that the most important characteristic for most skiers is to have the ski compress fully at the skier’s full weight. This characteristic allows for effective grip on uphills and a more relaxed kick in variable terrain. At full weight if there is residual camber on a wax-less ski, the grip/kick will be difficult on uphills and we will look for a softer ski.

How to Buy Touring Skis

The long-term enjoyment of your touring skis is dependent upon having a ski that flexes properly for both grip and glide. We combine the proper flex with a ski width to match the terrain and your skiing expectations.


Ski Width Determines Stability/Speed and Suitable Terrain

First, we will select a ski width that best accommodates the skier’s ability level and the trails and terrain they expect to ski. Beginning skiers who have no previous experience and are not yet comfortable on skis may want to adjust to a slightly wider ski.


Light Touring vs. Touring vs. Backcountry Skis

To keep it simple we call skis that can be effectively skied with NNN or SNS bindings and boots, light touring skis.These skis lack metal edges and are 60mm or narrower in width. BC (backcountry) skis, with or without metal edges, are too heavy for light touring gear. They need BC boots and bindings for torsional control over the heavier ski. Backcountry gear is used for deep snow and rough frozen terrain..


Ski Flex Testing Determines Grip and Glide

Next, for both wax-able and wax-less skis we flex test at the skier’s half weight to determine the grip zone on a wax-able ski, and the glide on a wax-less ski.

Wax-less ski flex testing: Use a digital flex-tester to determine the characteristics of a wax-less ski.

Wax-able touring ski flex: For wax-able skis we will use the skier’s half-weight to map out a grip zone which helps us determine if the ski is too stiff or soft. We also will mark the bridge (gap) with different feeler gauges to determine how many layers of wax need to used on certain portions of the ski.

The red lines are meant to represent the layers of wax needed on certain portions of the grip zone. The blue line is a gap between the bottom of the ski and the testing surface at the skier’s full weight. This area is called residual camber, and it needs to marked and addressed with additional wax for effective kick.


Wax-less Touring Ski Flex Testing

With wax-less skis, we look at the bridge at half-weight to see how much of the pattern is off the surface for effective glide. We have found that the most important characteristic for most skiers is to have the ski compress fully at the skier’s full weight. This characteristic allows for effective grip on uphills and a more relaxed kick in variable terrain. At full weight if there is residual camber on a wax-less ski, the grip/kick will be difficult on uphills and we will look for a softer ski. Different ski models have various designs and/or wax-less patterns.

4 Critical Steps for Choosing Cross Country Skis

Your best ski choice is ski that fits, and one that is designed for your skiing style and purpose.

#1: First, select the appropriate type of cross country ski. Ski type is chosen based on the type of skier you are and the terrain you plan to ski and the technique you plan to use

#2: Select the ski model(s) that are designed for your expectations, and fit within your budget.

#3: Work on ski fit. THE most important factor in your long-term enjoyment of your skis is PROPER SKI FLEX and matching the appropriate flex to the skier’s weight along with a number of other factors. Weight range charts are only a starting point particularly for mid level skis. To ensure an accurate fit, all adult (double camber) skis should be individually flex tested using a flex tester (pictured below). Without this critical information, the purchasing process will be relegated to guesswork.

#4: If you have boots that you would like to use with the skis, keep your boot-binding system in mind while looking at skis. Click here for a complete explanation of NNN and SNS binding systems and compatibility.

Ski brands offer differing ski lengths and design strategies. With our expertise, we can analyze all of the various ski options to pick the flex and length of the ski brand that fits you best. Other factors to consider are listed with each specific ski type.