Can You Use Cross Country Skis for Downhill Skiing?

Cross country skiing and downhill skiing are two pretty different versions of the sport, and you need specific skis and other equipment to do each one. That means you can NOT use cross country skis for downhill skiing. 

I’m a lifelong skier who gets on the snow as much as possible every winter. I’ve had hundreds, maybe even thousands, of days on the mountain, and have experience with both cross country and alpine skiing styles. 

In this post, I’ll explain why you can’t use cross country skis for downhill skiing. You could certainly try, but you’re not going to get far, and you are likely to hurt yourself or other skiers on the mountain. 

Keep reading to find out more.

Cross Country vs. Alpine Ski Design

Cross country skis are designed to handle flatter terrain and allow you to traverse across the snow easily. These skis are lightweight, easy to maneuver, and don’t have edges or bindings to give you downhill control. 

Alpine skis have the exact opposite purpose and are fully intended to be used at high speeds downhill. They don’t give you the ability to easily traverse flat terrain (unless you get a special setup) and have the power to keep you in control. 

Why You Can’t Use Cross Country Skis for Downhill Skiing

If you have ever been cross country skiing before, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the trails are not always completely flat. Sometimes you will have slight uphill or downhill sections, which means you will take cross country skis downhill. 

But there is a big difference between using the skis for very short downhill sections and trying to take them to the ski resort and handle a big, long run. It’s nearly impossible to stay in control at very high speeds downhill on cross country skis. 

This is because the skis don’t have edges, and you use soft boots and minimal bindings. This is all good for cruising along flat terrain, but edge control and the power transfer created by bindings are essential for skiing downhill.

Cross country ski bindings only keep your toe attached to the ski. This helps you move across snow when it’s flat or uphill but severely limits downhill performance.  

It’s very dangerous to try and use cross country skis for downhill skiing. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve tried to go down some longer slopes with cross country skis, but I always fell hard, and I’m lucky that I didn’t get seriously hurt along the way.   


Here are some quick answers to a few common questions relating to cross country skis and downhill skiing. 

Can you use XC ski poles for downhill? 

You can certainly use XC ski poles for downhill skiing if you are in a pinch. A pole is a pole at the end of the day. If you can, you’ll want to get cross country poles that are sized appropriately for your height, which might be difficult to do. 

What is the difference between cross country skis and alpine skis? 

Cross country skis are designed to help you get across the snow by stepping and sliding, and they aren’t built for serious downhill purposes. Alpine skis have edges and are more stiff and wide to let you effectively ski downhill. 

How do you go downhill on cross country skis? 

It is possible to go downhill on cross country skis. You just need to be careful when doing so. Take your time and try to keep your balance, so you don’t slip or lose control when you are going down a slope. But always stick to cross country trails and not the ski resort. 

Final Thoughts

Cross country skis need to be used on flatter terrain, and you can’t use them for regular downhill skiing. The next time you go cross country skiing, just try to take the skis on a small section of downhill terrain, and you’ll see why you shouldn’t use them for this purpose. 

Even though you can’t really use them to go downhill, cross country skiing is still a great version of the sport that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested!

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  • bruce

    You might want to check out some of the metal edged back country XC skis and various Alpine Touring and Telemark bindings.