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Loppet 101: Common XC Ski Terms

Like a lot of sports, cross-country (XC) skiing has a language all its own. If you’re new to the sport, or just thinking about giving it a try, knowing some of the XC ski terminology will go a long way toward making you feel more comfortable asking questions at the ski shop or during ski lessons. To help decode it, we’ve put together a short list of some basic XC ski terms you might hear next time you go skiing.

Classic— classic skiing is the original form of XC skiing

Skate—XC skiing technique with movement similar to ice skating.

Glide wax—both classic and skate skis use glide wax which, as its name implies, helps your skis glide over the snow. 

Kick wax—a sticky wax used only on classic skis in the kick zone which is the area covering the center of the ski. Kick wax helps the ski grip the snow and propel you forward

Fish scales—This term refers to classic skis that, instead of using kick wax to grab the snow have a pattern have a pattern in the kick zone that resembles fish scales. This is a good introductory ski and the most stable, although the extra stability does make them slower than other types of skis.

Skin skis–instead of scales or kick wax in the kick zone, skin skis have something that’s kind of like a little rug to grip the snow. These are typically more expensive than skis with fish scales but if you don’t want to deal with kick wax and plan to ski a lot these are worth the investment. 

Camber—that slight curve you see in skis is called camber. You’ll notice more camber in skate skis than in classic.

You probably have an idea what the following terms are, but there are a few details about them you may not know.

Bindings and boots—There are three different types of XC ski bindings so if you’re buying boots and bindings separately be sure that they are compatible with each other.  Here are the binding types you’re likely to come across:

NNN–New Nordic Norm—If you’re buying new skis, these are the most common. 

SNS—Salomon Nordic System–Similar to the NNN but SNS boots won’t be compatible with NNN bindings. There is an older version of this binding with the same name that isn’t being made any more, so be sure to know which version you’re looking at.

3 pin–an old school recreational touring binding. 

Poles—Skate skiing requires longer poles than classic.  If you’re skiing classic, your poles should be long enough so they reach top of your shoulder. If you’re skate skiing, the poles should be long enough to reach your upper lip. 

This list is just the tip of the ski term iceberg, so keep checking back as we add more to the list!

Loppet 101: We created the Loppet 101 series to provide helpful tips and information for people just joining our community of runners, skiers, mountain bikers and outdoor adventurers. If there is a topic you would like to see covered, we’d love to hear from you! Send us a note at