Can You Downhill Ski with Cross Country Skis?

Can You Downhill Ski with Cross Country Skis

Are you wondering whether you can use cross-country skis for downhill skiing? Worry no more, as you’ll learn everything you need to know about cross-country skis in this article!

When people hear or think about skiing in the snow, the image that usually comes to mind is downhill skiing. 

Most people don’t realize that there are different types of skiing, and cross-country skiing is one of the oldest forms of skiing. 

Downhill and cross-country skiing may seem like similar ways of skiing, but they actually differ in so many ways, from the equipment used to the riding style. 

Cross-country skis are not designed for downhill skiing, but downhill skiers can use them in some situations. 

If you are looking to get started in downhill skiing, I wouldn’t recommend using your cross-country skis. The best thing to do is get a set of downhill skis specifically designed to help you ride down the hill with maximum fun and safety. 

Similarly, downhill skis aren’t appropriate for cross-country skiing, and there are reasons for that. They are not designed for the task and might wear out quickly when used in cross-country endeavors. 

Here, we’ll look at the differences between cross-country and downhill skis and help you understand why you shouldn’t use them interchangeably. 

How Are Downhill Skis Different From Cross Country Skis?

How Are Downhill Skis Different From Cross Country Skis

If you are just getting started in skiing, you may not know that there is a huge difference between cross-country and downhill skiing. 

The two skiing styles differ in many ways, and they require skiers to use different types of skis and gear for success and great enjoyment. 

Downhill skiing is the most common type of skiing, and it’s usually done in ski resorts’ groomed runs where skiers ride down the mountain on their skis. 

With that said, downhill skis are specifically designed to allow skiers to ride on descents and steeper slopes but not ski uphill or walk across the snowy terrain. 

If you have been on a ski lift, the shuffle that downhill skiers do when hopping onto the chairlift might have seemed inconvenient. Trust me, it is always an awkward shamble, and some people end up falling, especially when getting off the lift. 

On the flip side, cross-country skis are designed with more versatility to help skiers move around on flat terrain and walk uphill with ease. 

Cross-country skiers are a bit heavier than downhill skiers, given that they often have long skis and backpacks for their skiing gear for easier maneuverability.

Another notable difference is that cross-country skis usually come with a metal ridge that helps in ascending. 

The metal ridge provides the extra grip and balance that cross-country skiers need when walking across snowy surfaces and terrains. 

Can You Use Downhill Skis and Cross Country Skis Interchangeably?

Can You Use Downhill Skis and Cross Country Skis Interchangeably

If you are a fan of both cross-country skiing and downhill skiing, you might be tempted to use your skis interchangeably. But this isn’t a great idea. 

The best thing to do is look for skis ideal for downhill and cross-country skiing. And in this case, alpine touring skis are your best bet!

Alpine touring skis are a perfect blend for cross-country and downhill skiing, as they allow skiers to ski downhill and move across the terrain comfortably and efficiently. 

Depending on the skiing style you like most, you may want to invest in a good set of skis that works best for the particular terrain you want to ski. This way, you will enjoy the sport to the fullest. 

For example, if you love the adrenaline rush you get when riding downhill at high speeds, then you should definitely consider getting a good pair of downhill skis. 

However, if you are a diehard cross-country enthusiast of cross-country skiing, I recommend getting a decent pair of cross-country skis that will help you navigate rugged terrain easily.

A high-quality pair of Nordic skis will let you explore different terrains and ski at your ideal recreational pace. You won’t have to worry about falling or getting stuck when snow conditions are harsh. 

It’s essential to keep in mind that using downhill skis for cross-country endeavors can be incredibly exhausting since they are not designed for walking uphill or across flat terrain. 

Most expert skiers will tell you that it’s definitely worth it to invest in skis that are perfect for the specific type of skiing you enjoy. 

And if you can easily access snowy surfaces or live near a snowy mountain, your skis will always ensure that you get a rewarding experience. 

As with cross-country skiing, using the wrong pair of skis to ride down the mountain will not lead to a great experience. You can use your Nordic skis to ride down, but only for short distances. 

If you usually downhill ski with your family and feel that sometimes you need a leisure adventure to the backcountry, you can grab an affordable set of cross-country skis. 

And you don’t have to get a new pair when working on a low budget, as you can always find some second-hand options that will keep you going for more than a few years. 

Why You Shouldn’t Downhill Ski with Cross-Country Skis

Why You Shouldn't Downhill Ski with Cross-Country Skis

For cross-country skiers looking to get started in downhill skiing, you may not see the need to buy another set of gear for the new style. It might feel convenient to use your cross-country skis to learn downhill skiing. 

However, grabbing your typical cross-country skiing equipment is not the best option. The best thing to do is to get the appropriate downhill skiing gear, which will give you more flexibility and help you build skills quickly. 

If you are worried about the cost, you don’t have to buy new downhill skiing equipment to get started. You can rent some of the pricey pieces like skis or look for used gear to save money. 

Unlike downhill skis, cross-country skis are way less stable when used to ski down the mountain, making it difficult to ride with ease. 

It can also be much more challenging to control your speed when using cross-country skis to ski down the mountain. 

This can be dangerous for you and other slope users since you may not be able to make sudden stops or turn appropriately when needed. 

But you might wonder, isn’t this dangerous for cross-country skiers? Well, the thing is that cross-country skiers move at slow paces, and they rarely need to make sudden stops or sharp turns. 

With such a riding style, cross-country skis aren’t crafted to support perfect sharp turns or stops in mind. That’s why you shouldn’t use them for downhill skiing. 

Types of Cross-Country Skiing

Types of Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a form of Nordic skiing whereby skiers ski across snowy terrain as opposed to following typical ski tracks. 

While Nordic skiing dates back to 6000 BC, cross-country skiing has become popular in the past few decades. 

Many skiers are now embracing this winter recreational sport, as it’s a more affordable and accessible way to glide through the beautiful snowy terrain. 

The good thing about cross-country skiing is that you don’t need much snow to get out and explore the mountain on your skis. 

There are different types of cross-country skiing, which vary mainly in style or the specific technique and gear needed to enjoy the sport. 

Let’s talk about the different types of cross-country skiing and the equipment each style needs for maximum fun. 

Classic Cross Country Skiing

Classic skiing style is a form of cross-country skiing that allows you to glide through the snowy slopes in the most natural walking style you can ever achieve on skis. 

It’s just like the way you would walk naturally in normal conditions, but now with skis attached to your toes and ski poles in your arms. 

The most essential technique of classic cross-country skiing is a short kick that involves pressing the kick zone into the snow for a good kick. 

This technique allows you to create friction and helps you to glide and maintain forward momentum without sliding backward. 

Just like other types of skiing, classic skiing requires you to have skis, boots, bindings, and poles. But you need to ensure that you get the specific type of skis designed for classic cross-country skiing. 

To start with the vital equipment you need for classic skiing, classic cross-country skis are usually designed to be longer with a softer ski flex for better maneuverability.

The glide zone at the front and the back is just the same for most types of skis, but the grip zone is quite different in classic skis. The kick zone uses a sticky grip wax for a good grip and better traction. 

When choosing your classic skis, your body weight is the most essential aspect to consider. You want to guarantee the perfect glide and kick balance. 

Classic skis don’t come with metal edges like most Nordic skis to ensure they are lightweight enough to let you glide on classic trails. 

Another key piece of your classic ski gear is the boots. You should ensure that your cross-country ski boots provide a proper fit with a soft sole. The soft sole comes in handy when it comes to packing and creating a solid kick on snowy surfaces. 

Your classic cross-country ski boots should also be lighter and more stable, so your feet remain comfortable without getting tired quickly as you glide. 

Once you get the proper boots, find some good classic bindings that can fit the soft sole with your preferred binding system.

Lastly, you need to invest in classic cross-country ski poles that will support and keep you steady on the snow. 

Classic cross-country ski poles come in different lengths, and the best one for you should range between 80 to 85 percent of your height. Most experienced skiers prefer longer poles but shorter poles work well for beginners. 

Skating Style

Skating cross-country skiing provides great fun and fantastic speed on free trails where not much guidance is needed, like in other forms of skiing. 

It’s not a difficult riding style, as all you have to do is master the V-style technique. This technique involves pressing the edge of your skate skis into the snow and then transferring your weight onto the other ski to create speed. 

With such a solid gliding technique, you can quickly achieve a high skiing speed of up to 30 km per hour. 

It may be a bit hard to learn the technique at first, but once you master it, you will want to ride on the snow all the time, and you’ll actually get good cardiovascular exercise. 

Skating skis are usually lighter, thinner, and shorter than classic skis, but they are pretty stiff to let you glide safely on groomed trails. 

However, if you are just getting started, a softer skate ski model is your best bet, as it will be more forgiving when you haven’t mastered the skating technique. 

Cross-country skating boots are also different from classic ski boots, and they are much more stable with a stiff sole and an ankle cuff that your feet when accelerating. 

When skating, your upper body provides the most energy, so you need to have poles with your ideal length for an excellent experience on the slopes. 

Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Skiing

If you are after absolute freedom and flexibility on the slopes, you should sign in for backcountry skiing. 

This is the original form of cross-country skiing from the Nordic lands that allows you to ski ungroomed snow and take longer trips with a backpack. 

Backcountry skis are designed with metal edges that are usually made of steel. The gliding surface in backcountry skis comes with an integrated climbing skin, while others have fish-scale patterns for extra grip on the terrain. 

These features are essential in various snow conditions as they help you easily climb and walk across steeper terrain. 

Backcountry Nordic skis are stiff and sturdy to help you navigate rough terrain without damaging your gear. 

They are not specifically designed for speed but focus more on giving you the ability to explore the mountain with maximum comfort and safety. It’s the best way to challenge your skill level. 

Similarly, backcountry cross-country ski boots are durable, stable, and warm, with a comfortable fit almost similar to what you get with hiking boots. 

When buying your backcountry boots, you need to ensure that they fit your feet well since the Nordic sport involves a lot of walking on ungroomed trails.

If you plan to do a lot of up and down movements during your backcountry skiing adventure, you should choose bindings with a flat bail as they provide better downhill performance than classic bindings. 

Backcountry poles are a bit shorter than classic-style poles, but they are definitely worth having for agility and flexibility on the untracked snow. If you are worried about the height, you can look for poles with adjustable height. 

Classic No-Wax Skin Skiing Style

Skin skis have recently been established in the market as waxless skis, and they are mainly used for ski touring. 

These skis offer perfect traction on the Nordic lands and have the best gliding properties when exploring hard icy terrains. 

They provide a good grip when going uphill and allow you to reach high speeds when getting down the mountain.

Nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind that waxless skis don’t necessarily mean that you don’t have to wax your entire cross-country skis. 

You only skip the wax for the skins, but the rest of your classic skis need waxing for top-notch performance on snowy trails. 

In general, the ski boots, poles, and bindings needed for this skiing style are similar to those used in typical classic skiing. 

Downhill Skiing vs Cross Country Skiing: Which is Harder?

Downhill Skiing vs Cross Country Skiing Which is Harder

Both cross-country and alpine skiing (downhill skiing) are great winter sports that provide an excellent aerobic workout. 

However, cross-country skiing can be a little more demanding than alpine skiing as it works your lungs and legs more, especially when going uphill. 

Nordic skiing involves pushing your body as you move across the backcountry terrain, but you may not be able to achieve high speeds. 

If you are looking for an exciting form of skiing that will give you an adrenaline rush as you navigate the terrain, alpine skiing is your best bet. 

Downhill skiing gives you a thrill and works your muscles as you ride down the mountain, but it doesn’t feel challenging like Nordic skiing since lift lines take you to the top, and you don’t have to trek your way up. 

But this is not to say that Nordic skiing is a boring sport. The thing is, Nordic skiing is equally, if not more exciting but requires more energy to move across the terrain. 

It’s a great cardiovascular workout that you can really enjoy, depending on your skill level and overall fitness. 

If you are genuinely interested in skiing, I’d recommend trying both Nordic and alpine skiing to see which style works best for you.



Q: Can You Go Downhill on Cross Country Skis?

A: Yes, you can go downhill on cross-country skis, but only for a short period. Your cross-country skis are designed for navigating the mountain and not skiing downhill. 

They are not stable like alpine skis, which makes it hard for you to ride down the mountain for a longer period when wearing them.

Using cross-country ski gear to ride down the mountain can be dangerous for you and other slope users as they deny you the full control you need when skiing. 

Q: Does Cross Country Skiing Help for Downhill Skiing?

A: Yes, cross-country skiing can help you learn downhill skiing faster since it’s more challenging and engaging than the latter. 

Walking up and down on the Nordic terrain can help build confidence in the snow, which will come in handy when learning how to ski downhill. 

Q: Can Downhill Ski Poles be Used for Cross Country Skiing?

A: Generally, downhill ski poles are shorter than cross-country ski poles and may not be ideal for Nordic terrain. 

Cross-country skiing requires longer poles for balance and stability, so you shouldn’t use downhill poles when exploring cross-country terrain.

Q: Are Cross Country Skis the Same as Downhill Skis?

A: No, cross-country skis are not the same as downhill skis. The two types of skis are used for different skiing styles. 

The main difference between the two types of skis is that cross-country skis attach only to the toe of your ski boots, while downhill skis attach fully to your ski bindings. 



Different skis are designed with a specific riding style in mind, so it’s important to get the right equipment for the particular sport you want to enjoy. 

They come with varied designs and extra features like metal edges and varying widths to suit different skiing styles. 

Whether you fancy riding on the backcountry terrain or groomed tracks, you should get the appropriate gear to ensure maximum fun and safety. 

Keep in mind that using cross-country skis to ski downhill may not guarantee you the best experience or safety on the slopes!

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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