Dressing for Nordic skiing is definitely an art form. If you wear traditional ski gear, think puffy jacket and insulated pants, you’ll end up overheating within the first five minutes. On the flip slide, wearing running tights and a light jacket on a day when the mercury drops below zero is a sure way to feel like a human icicle.
To help avoid both temperature extremes, and to have the most enjoyable cross country experience possible, we’ve put together the following primer on how to dress for classic and skate skiing.
Nordic Skiing – Layers Are the Answer
The key to dressing for cross country skiing is wearing multiple layers that provide versatility while on the track. According to Patrick Coffey, former White Pine Nordic Director, “I like to dress lighter so you can layer and have more options as you heat up. Think of yourself as an onion—you can take off your jacket and have a vest underneath with a baselayer or midlayer under that.”
The reality with cross country skiing is that you’re going to sweat because it’s such a great workout. The more you can manage that, the happier you’ll be. That means choosing synthetic fabrics since they wick moisture away from your skin to keep you from getting cold and clammy. Cotton is the Nordic skier’s nemesis, since it absorbs water and holds it next to your skin.
Nordic Socks – Wool is the Answer
Since cotton is out, that means wool is in when it comes to choosing the best socks for cross country skiing. Choose a midweight option, even if you traditionally have cold feet. “Heavy weight socks don’t allow you to get a good feel for the ski,” says Patrick. Plus, since Nordic boots need to be snug to give you the power that you need to kick or glide, when you crank down the boots over heavy socks, it cuts off your circulation. And since you’re working hard, you really don’t need super thick socks.
Worried about the itch factor of wool? Smartwool makes soft, breathable and non-scratchy merino wool socks that don’t irritate even the most sensitive skin. Case in point: I can’t wear wool anywhere else on my body, but Smartwool socks are my favorite for all of my winter outdoor activities.
Nordic Ski Gloves – Keep Your Fingers “Just Right”
Believe it or not, your hands can sweat when Nordic skiing, especially if you’re wearing a traditional winter ski glove loaded with insulation. Patrick, who was previously a U.S. Biathlon Coach in chilly Lake Placid, swears by combining glove liners with cross country ski gloves. “This combination provides good articulation and helps me relax my hands while skiing,” he says. And if his hands get warm, he can take the liners off and just ski in the gloves.
If it’s particularly frigid outside, or if your hands are always cold, we recommend wearing cross country ski mittens. One of our favorite styles is the lobster claw, which admittedly gives you a bit of an “under the sea” vibe—but once you wear a pair, you’ll be a believer. A combination glove and mitten, this hybrid allows your fingers to warm each other like mittens, but with the articulation of a ski glove.
Sunglasses, Not Goggles
Too often, first time cross country skiers make the rookie mistake of wearing traditional ski goggles. Do yourself a favor and invest in a pair of polarized sunglasses instead. Unlike goggles that retain heat against your face and cause fog, sunglasses fit snug to give you enough wind protection and air circulation to keep them fog-free. And since the light reflection from the snow is so intense at elevation, polarized sunglasses keep you from squinting and improve clarity.
Nordic Specific Baselayers
Now that you have the accessories dialed, let’s get to the basics of dressing for cross country skiing. Since I started skate skiing, I have been reluctant to wear long underwear since I’m pretty much a polar bear and would rather start out cold for fear of overheating. But then I discovered the Craft baselayer system at the White Pine Nordic Center. Ultra lightweight and super soft, these have become my favorite next-to-skin baselayers. The fact that they come in really fun colors with contrast stitching doesn’t hurt either.
Nordic Jackets & Pants – The Last Layer
If you only want to invest in one Nordic-specific clothing item, other than the all-important gloves, then start with a jacket or pants. Many men prefer a lighter-weight Nordic jacket paired with a vest. Patrick says, "vests are such an awesome way to regulate your temperature and keep your core warm without having the wind blow through you."
For women, look for a cross country ski jacket that has flattering lines. According to Susan Spencer, White Pine Nordic Center’s Softgoods Expert, “Bjorn Daehlie has moved away from their traditional red, royal, and black color combinations and is introducing fun pinks with orange contrast stitching, which is pretty forward-thinking of them.”
Last, but not least—when purchasing Nordic ski pants, look for those with a wind block layer in the front. “Wind chill is called wind chill for a reason,” says Patrick.
Many women shy away from Nordic ski pants since they're not always very flattering. In that case, Nordic tights are another option, especially when paired with a cute down skirt for an après ski beverage. But on cold days, tights just won’t cut it. Try women-specific Nordic ski pants like the Salomon Momentum pants. “They fit great and make your butt look cute,” says Susan “because the seams on the back just work.”
The most important thing when dressing for Nordic skiing is to choose the right combination of layers for your personal body temperature. “Some people run like a furnace and some run like an air conditioner,” smiles Patrick. No matter what side of that continuum you're on, stop by the White Pine Nordic Center and check out our apparel selection. Our experts will be happy to get you outfitted in style.
Liz Yokubison, Editor, jans.com and whitepinetouring.com
This post was updated on August 24, 2022