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While cross-country (Nordic) and downhill (Alpine) skiing share the same name, there are noticeable differences to each discipline. What do they have in common besides their name, and exactly what are their differences? Read on for a full comparison of the two.



In downhill skiing, riders take lifts to the top of a groomed trail, then schuss back down again. Riders have the option of choosing their trails, and can pick the one that corresponds with their experience and skill. Cross-country skiers, meanwhile, are treated to a full cardiovascular workout, comparable to power-walking or even running. In 2017, nearly 10 million people visited ski resorts in the United States alone, making the Alpine version of the sport much more popular than its Nordic cousin. Cross-country skiing is still popular enough to remain a sport in the Winter Olympics, though.



The ski equipment needed for the two kinds also vary. Cross-country skis are, by design, narrower than downhill ones, with a straighter edge. This makes them easier to maneuver over a variety of terrain. Only the toe of the boot is attached to the ski itself, which also aids with flexibility. Since the sole function of downhill skis is one-way travel down steep slopes, their design is heavier and wider, and shaped to attain maximum grip. The boots are much bulkier, and attached firmly to the center of the ski, with clips in the front and back of the boot.


When it comes to choosing a cross-country ski, the choice depends largely upon the body weight of the individual, although other factors, such as the preferred type of terrain, can also come into play. Downhill skis are sized depending on the height of the individual, sometimes with slight variations based on personal preference and ability.



As mentioned above, downhill skiing is fairly self-explanatory—it’s a one-way exercise down the side of a mountain. By contrast, many cross-country skiing trails are entirely flat, although the skis are capable of taking on small hills and dips when necessary. Cross-country skiers can move across the trail in either direction, and are not forced by gravity to glide down the side of a mountain.



Downhill skiing can be a costly sport, with weekday adult lift tickets alone fetching around $169 a day at some Aspen resorts. The equipment is pricier, as well—prices for downhill skis, boots, and poles are in the $400-$900 range. By contrast, cross-country equipment costs about half that, and no lift tickets are required.


Both types of skiing offer a good workout and the opportunity to establish a closer connection with the outdoors, it just depends on your preference.