Dressing for Success in Cross-Country Skiing
Deciding what to wear for cross-country skiing has proven to be difficult for many people. Personally, I can’t help but think of the scene from the movie Step Brothers in which Will Ferrell’s character asks his therapist, “What happens if there is inclement weather? Where do you…? What do you wear?!” When it comes to dressing for cross-country, many people can put themselves into Will’s shoes!
As a veteran on the US Nordic Combined National Team, I have been asked the “What should I wear?” question more than once! The good news is that your apparel does not have to be complicated in order to find comfort. Whether you’re racing or skiing, here are some of the basics of how to dress to avoid being too cold, or more common, too warm!
Cross-country is very much a full body endurance sport, regardless if you are skiing classic style or skate. This means that you need both upper and lower body efficiency. Obviously, the most difficult part is getting both systems to work together. Doing so takes the proper technique, fitness, and equipment. The good news is that the more you ski the better your technique gets. This is simply because the most efficient way to ski is usually also the best technique! So, you have no excuse not to get out and ski as much as possible. Cross country skiing is very similar to cycling in the muscles it uses. The two sports complement each other very well for cross training purposes. However, the same cannot be said for the sports attire. Sure, both cycling and cross-country athletes wear spandex, and on cold days, tights and a jacket. However, in cycling, you’re sitting on the bike, so the individual needs to dress warmer. Cross-country on the other hand, you’re not sitting, so the same outfit that works on the bike can be extremely warm for cross-country skiing.
So let’s get right down to it. In any winter sport, your power lies in layering, and cross-country is no exception. Having the ability to remove a layer while out on the trail, will keep you happy and prevent you from sweating through everything you have, only to freeze when you stop skiing. One should also keep in mind, that you’re not downhill skiing, so that heavy super warm long underwear you’re used to wearing, is probably going to be overkill. So, keep it light. If conditions are cold enough to warrant long underwear, I would recommend a breathable light weight version. L.L. Bean and CRAFT both make great base layers for Nordic skiing at an affordable price. Another option is to wear your race suit as your base layer during training. If that is your plan, I recommend a nice pair of wind briefs to keep your unmentionables warm. CRAFT and SmartWool are two commonly used brands for those. The most common mistake at this point is when an individual wears the long underwear, a race suit, plus their outer wear. Generally, a good rule to go by is if you are wearing an outerwear pant or jacket, do not go more than 3 layers deep including your wind briefs. The upper body is simpler, if you have a medium weight top, just use that and a jacket. If you have a race suit, wearing a light weight base layer under that and a jacket will suffice. The goal is to be slightly chilled as you head out on the course. If you’re warm and comfortable before you start skiing, you’re going to be too hot. So you should be able to ski into a comfortable warmth.
For outerwear, I highly recommend purchasing some Nordic specific pants and jacket. They are not so different than cycling gear, however they are vented in more appropriate places, making them more breathable. Additionally, they are made for the movement patterns of cross-country skiing, which means they’re going to have a little better range of motion and therefore increased comfort. There is no need to spend a fortune, but if you make one purchase for clothing this would be the best place to start.
I saved the hat, gloves, and buff for last. Hats are simple. A light weight hat is going to be best. Something that your head can breathe through, and nothing too warm that will cause you to sweat profusely. Gloves on the other hand can be a little more complicated. Warmth without the bulk is key. A thin glove allows you to grab the poles a little better and will be far more comfortable in the pole straps. However, if you go too thin, and you’re like me, your hands will be cold. I recommend having two pairs of gloves if possible. One for warmer conditions, and one for cold. This way you have a little variety to keep your hands happy. I also would recommend using fingered gloves instead of mittens. Mittens make it a little harder to control your poles. If your dead set on that style however, go with a “lobster” style glove. This leaves the thumb free and groups your pointer finger with your middle finger, and your ring finger with your pinky, but allows the two units to move independently giving you better control on your pole grip. Lastly, the buff is a great way to insulate your neck and keep out any unnecessary drafts. Peaks Coaching Group’s very own Elite/Master Coach Sam Krieg makes some great ones in a variety of designs to suit your personality!
So there you have it. Below you will find links to all the items I have mentioned. Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with any questions!
Lobster Style Glove:
Light Fingered Glove:
Here are some of the common training outfits of World Cup Skiers in which you can see the variety of gloves, pants, jackets, hats and buffs!