How to Go Downhill on Cross Country Skis

Going downhill on cross country skis can be much more challenging than doing it on alpine skis. Cross country skis don’t usually have edges, which can make it much harder to stay in control at higher speeds. 

I’ve been skiing for decades and have tried nearly every style of the sport. I’ve been cross country skiing since I was a kid, and I know how to control these skis when going downhill.

This post will tell you how to go downhill on cross country skis. I’ll provide you with some tips and tricks to help you stay in control and balance when you are on the Nordic trails while highlighting some other important information along the way. 

Let’s get skiing. 

Initial Thoughts

Cross country skiing and nordic skiing are pretty different from one another. If you have never been on Nordic skis before, you will experience a learning curve when you start skiing on them and notice these differences. 

One of the most significant differences between the two types of skis is that cross country skis don’t usually have edges. This makes it harder to dig into the snow when you want to slow down – which can make going downhill somewhat tricky. 

When learning how to go downhill, you should always start on gentle slopes. You don’t want to go down a long, steep slope if you don’t know how to stay balanced or remain in control. You can easily fall or run into a tree or other obstacle if you do.

How to Go Downhill on Cross Country Skis

Ok, let’s dive into some tips and advice for helping you go downhill on cross country skis. While it might not look that different from going downhill on alpine skis, it actually feels a lot different when you get on the snow. 

1. Go Slow at First

The first key to learning how to go downhill is to start slowly. While many cross country trails are flat, you can find a slight downhill slope to start practicing your balance and technique. Make sure this area is free of other skiers or things you could crash into. 

2. Step Out of the Tracks

If you are doing classic cross country skiing, you’ll be skiing in groomed tracks a lot of the time. When you have to go downhill for a long time, you’ll want to step outside of these tracks so you can better gain control. 

All you need to do is step your skis sideways out the tracks before you start going downhill. Use your poles to help you make this happen, and just side-step until you are a few feet from the groomed track. 

You can also put one ski out of the track and keep once in, as shown in the video below:

3. Use the Snowplow

The snowplow is one maneuver that does translate from alpine to Nordic skiing. Even though cross country skis don’t have edges, you can still make a snowplow shape with your skis to slow yourself down and gain control downhill. 

To do this, simply point the tips of your skis together while pushing your heels away from one another. The more you point them, the quicker you will slow down and gain control. As you straighten your skis, you’ll begin to go fast again. 

4. Focus on Your Form

Your form plays a big role in how much balance and control you will have when going downhill. You always want to keep your knees and hips bent while holding your arms and poles out in front of you. 

Maintaining this form will help you stay ready for anything and better control your skis under your feet. If you have an upright stance, it’s much more difficult to react quickly when you need to turn or slow down while heading downhill on cross country skis. 

Additional Tips and Suggestions

One thing you don’t want to do when going downhill is to use your poles to try to slow you down. I’ve seen plenty of skiers hurt themselves attempting this over the years, and it is not an effective tool to help you ski downhill. 

If you plant your poles out in front of you when going downhill, it can cause you to get shifted out of balance or push your arms and shoulders back uphill in a violent fashion. Both of these things will cause you to fall or get hurt. 

Going downhill on cross country skis takes some time to get the hang of. It’s not quite as intuitive as alpine skiing and will generally feel less stable the first few times you try to do it. Remember to take your time and never go down too steep a slope at first. 

There are cross country ski instructors who can help you improve your technique. If you struggle with going downhill or just want a few more pointers, consider taking a ski lesson. It’s a great way to improve and learn something new. 

Final Thoughts

Cross country skiing is a great experience and a serious form of exercise. If you have never tried it before, I highly recommend giving it a shot to see what you think about it. It’s another excellent way to take advantage of the winter months. 

Keep all of the tips and suggestions in this post in mind when you are out on the trails. If you focus on your form and use the proper slowing down technique, you’ll be able to navigate downhill without worry.

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