Can You Use Cross-country Skis for Downhill Skiing?

Sometimes, taking up a new hobby can be expensive. Take skiing, for example. Even the most modestly priced cross-country skis are likely to approach $300. As a result, the thought may have crossed your mind to kill two birds with one stone with that investment and use your cross-country skis when hitting the slopes. But can you use cross-country skis for downhill skiing?

You cannot use cross-country skis for downhill skiing. The two types of skis have markedly different designs, making cross-country skis unsafe for downhill purposes.

With that said, there are a couple of exceptions. Cross-country skiing will likely involve some minor downhill slopes from time to time, requiring the skier to navigate this terrain in their cross-country skis. In addition, extremely skilled skiers may be able to ski modest downhill slopes in cross-country skis. However, for the majority of skiers, cross-country skis are not at all recommended for downhill purposes.

Are Cross-Country Skis Good for Downhill Skiing?

Cross-country skis are not good for downhill skiing. Downhill skiing, sometimes referred to as alpine skiing, requires a thin, sharp ski that allows the skier to quickly cut and turn at high speeds.

In addition, downhill skis need to be attached to the skier’s foot via a full boot so that skis are not shed during a high-speed tumble. It is okay for the downhill skier to have their entire foot encased in the ski because the force of gravity moves the skier downhill, with no foot dexterity required for generating motion.

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Cross-country skis have none of these features. They are a wide, flat, heavy ski designed to slide across flat terrain at low speeds. Furthermore, cross-country skis only encase the toe, as the cross-country skier needs to be able to move their heel to activate the calf muscle to initiate forward propulsion, similar to walking.

In fact, while downhill skiing is often referred to as an “extreme” or “action” sport, cross-country skiing is more closely related to hiking, with the design of its skis reflecting as much. 

Can You Use Downhill Skis for Cross-Country Skiing?

Just as cross-country skis are not good for downhill skiing, neither are downhill skis good for cross-country skiing.

Having the entire foot trapped in the boot of a downhill ski makes cross-country treks nearly impossible. The cross-country skier needs to be able to lift their heel to trigger motion while keeping the ski in contact with the snow. 

When lifting the heel in a downhill ski, the entire posterior section of the ski is lifted from the ground, making cross-country skiing in downhill skis akin to walking on pins.

Can you use backcountry skis for cross country skiing?

Can You Do Cross-Country Skiing Downhill?

There will undoubtedly be some times when a cross-country skiing course features some downhill grades. When this is the case, the cross-country skier needs to focus on their technique to keep from wiping out.

Like walking downhill, the cross-country skier should contract the posterior muscles in their legs, such as the calves, hamstrings, and glutes, and recline the body slightly to prevent too much forward momentum. They should also use their poles to regulate speed and remain safe while going downhill.

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However, this type of technique is meant for navigating modest downhill slopes on a cross-country course and is not sustainable over the long distances and steep grades of alpine courses, for which downhill skis will be necessary.

What Type of Skis Are Used for Cross-Country Skiing?

Cross-country skis are similar to snowshoes and are designed to allow users to create their own motion to slide across flat and moderate-grade snow. Some of the key distinguishing features of the cross-country ski include:

  • Open heeled
  • Flat
  • Wide
  • Heavy

It should be noted that cross-country skis are typically used with longer poles so that the skier has more leverage when using their upper body to initiate propulsion. 

What Type of Skis Are Used for Downhill Skiing?

Downhill skis are designed to go fast and allow the user to quickly cut through snow and make sharp turns. Some defining features include:

  • Full boot mount
  • Light
  • Narrow
  • Slightly curved tip

Final Thoughts

If you just bought an expensive new pair of cross-country skis, you may be thinking that “a ski is a ski” and are good to use your cross-country skis for downhill purposes.

However, while you can navigate some modest downhill slopes in cross-country skis, they are not good for use in traditional downhill skiing, as the open heel and more cumbersome design can create major safety issues when traveling downhill at high speeds.

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