Face-Off: Classic vs. Skate Skiing

Classic vs skate skiing nordic face off

Setting the track straight on Nordic pursuits.

The long-awaited battle of cross-country skiers is finally here. If you’re someone who hits the slopes with hard boots and heels attached, then this showdown isn’t for you. Nope, this winter’s face-off is all about our free-heeled, Nordic-dorking friends. Let’s see who runs... er, glides away with this one.

In Nordic skiing, there are more ways to describe a wipeout than you can shake a pole at: header, nose-burner, snow angel, melon, yard sale, sitzmark; the list goes on. And there’s a reason—crashes are part of the experience. On classic skis, learning the forward kick may be a bit tricky, and you can bank on a few butt-plants along the way; but after a couple hours of practice, you should have something to show for it. On skate skis, between the various techniques including V1, V2, and V2 alternate, the learning curve is steeper. You’ll have your work cut out for you, with plenty of time face-down in the snow.
Edge: Classic

In both activities, one can work up quite the sweat, depending on intensity and duration. It’s therefore hard to make a judgment on which has superior cardiovascular benefits. However, the upper-body workout feels more substantial on skate skis, and there’s a higher baseline effort required to maintain momentum. Classic skiers, on the other hand, can dilly-daggle as much as they please and still move forward.
Edge: Skate

Talk about low-speed terror. When first starting out on either type of ski, even small downhill grades feel like the steepest, scariest runs you’ve ever skied. For classic skiers in particular, however, ability eventually catches up to the terrain, and they’re not left with much excitement beyond the rush of a good workout. Skate skiing keeps the thrill alive, however, what with sprinting around turns, cutting close corners, and dodging dogs on the Sourdough downhill. The adrenaline just doesn’t fizzle out.
Edge: Skate

At the competitive level, everybody looks the same in Nordic ski culture, with spandex and stretchy race suits as far as the eye can see. That sort of fashion sense (or lack thereof) seems to have trickled down to casual skate skiing as well. On classic skis, however, one can lean toward more individuality, even if that means donning the same vintage ski coat you’ve been rocking since the ’80s.
Edge: Classic

This category should actually be: Which one is the least goofy. For a newbie, expect to feel like a newborn giraffe with flippers on. Just watch a beginner lesson to see what we’re talking about. When you improve and get up to speed on skate skiing, you’ll start to look much more coordinated. And no matter how good you get on classic skis, you’ll never look as graceful as Bjorn when he zooms around the bend, blonde hair flowing behind his skin-tight race suit.
Edge: Skate

Around Bozeman, there are lots of places to stride it out on skis and get your daily Nordic fix. Right here in town, in fact, are some great spots: Highland Glen, Sunset Hills, Bridger Creek. But however numerous, the options are far from infinite for folks needing groomed trails. On a pair of classic skis, though, any Forest Service trail, logging road, or snowy field offers a chance to put your skinny skis to use.
Edge: Classic

Whether kicking-and-gliding on corduroy or casually exploring the forest, the same sentiment holds true: any type of skiing beats a day in the office. While groomed tracks offer an excellent on-piste experience, skate skiers are limited by both geography and aerobic capacity. On classic skis, remote, all-day excursions are in the cards, and the possibilities for discovery and solitude are endless.
Edge: Classic

Score: 4-3
Winner: Classic
While some might say that neither has an edge, according to our count it’s classic skiing that glides across the finish line first. But it’s hard to go wrong either way. Both types of toothpicks have their merits and are marvelous ways to get outside and enjoy the snow. As always, it boils down to personal preference. Unless your name is Bjorn, that is, in which case you were bred and groomed for a life on skate skis.