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Cross Country Skiing Benefits For Runners

Cross Country Skiing for Runners by Hollie Sick for Run Tri Bike

During the winter, many runners find themselves searching for alternative ways to exercise. Whether that’s hitting the gym for weightlifting, using the elliptical, or even running on the treadmill, sometimes the weather prevents us from running outside. 

Many runners have also taken to cross-country skiing. For those who might be confused, Cross Country Skiing is also known as Nordic Skiing. The names are interchangeable. However, it’s different from downhill skiing.

What is Cross Country Skiing?

Cross country skiing is a type of skiing where you glide over snow using special skis and poles. It is almost like running, but on skis. Unlike downhill skiing, you don’t have gravity to push you along and must use your own strength and core to propel you through the snow.

Cross country skiing is great because it’s not too hard on your body but still provides a fantastic workout.  Some argue that cross-country skiing is the most challenging sport that exists.

Why is Cross Country Skiing Good for Runners?

Low Impact

Unlike running, cross country skiing provides a low-impact workout, reducing stress on the joints. This can be even more important during the winter months when cold weather makes joint pain more pronounced.

Full Body Workout

Did you know Cross Country Skiing is one of the hardest workouts? Cross country skiing engages both the upper and lower body, providing a workout that can improve overall fitness, strength, and endurance. It can improve muscle development, which can help reduce injury risk.

Cardiovascular Benefits

Cross country skiers are known to have some of the highest VO2 Maxes of any athletes. That is because it is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, helping to improve heart health and increase lung capacity.

Improves Balance and Coordination

The dynamic nature of cross country skiing requires balance and coordination, helping to improve both. Working on balance and coordination can help both running form and efficiency, making it easier to run faster with less effort. 


Adding cross country skiing to a winter training program can provide variety, helping to keep workouts interesting. Burnout or injury happens when we do the same thing over and over, so by mixing it up, you’re able to keep things interesting. Doing any type of cross training adds variety which can help prevent burnout or injury.

Mental Health Benefits

Like running, cross country skiing can boost mental health. Most runners like to be outdoors, so by adding cross country skiing, you can get a workout done even when the weather isn’t conducive for running. Just because it’s cold and snowy does not mean you have to stay indoors.


Cross country skiing can be a social activity, providing opportunities to connect with other athletes or enjoy family time. Like running, you’re able to cross-country ski with many people, turning what might be a boring workout into something social and fun. You may meet people from all walks of life on the cross country skiing trails.


How Do You Start Cross Country Skiing?

First, you need to decide between two types of skiing: classic and skate.

Classic is more like walking or running on skis. It is usually the choice of beginners because it is much easier. Skate skiing is faster and looks a lot like ice skating on snow. It’s fun to try both, but starting with classic is usually the choice of beginners. Skate skiing does take more coordination.

Finding a place to ski is next.

Look for cross country ski centers, golf courses, or parks with snowy trails. While technically you can cross country ski anywhere with enough smooth snow, it can be very challenging for beginners without groomed trails.

Cross country ski centers often rent out equipment, so you don’t need to buy everything. It can get very expensive if you need to purchase your own gear. Plus, going to a ski center means you’ll have well-groomed trails, which is essential when you are first learning. Often, there are cross country ski centers near downhill ski areas.

Learning to ski well takes practice.

Like running, it takes time. If you are able, consider taking a lesson from a professional who can help set you up for success. Even if you don’t feel like you look “good” or “smooth” skiing, you’re still getting a workout in.

When adding skiing to your running routine, start slow.

Replace an easy run with an easy ski session and see how it feels. You don’t have to worry about skiing the same length of time as you usually run; just focus on getting proper technique, moving, and having fun.

In conclusion, cross country skiing presents a unique and exciting opportunity for runners looking to add variety to their winter training routines. Whether you’re seeking a low-impact workout, a full-body exercise, or simply a fun way to stay active outdoors, cross country skiing has something to offer.

By incorporating cross country skiing into your routine, you not only help your running but also enjoy the mental and social benefits that come with connecting with others who also enjoy the outdoors.



Hollie is a runner, hiker, swimmer, residing in California. She has worked in run specialty for nearly 8 years and has fit hundreds of people for shoes. Outside of the running world, she enjoys the general aviation world, her two cats, and spending time with her spouse.