Cross-Country Skiing and Ski Touring: Whats the Difference?

14. November 2016 —
Guenter Kast
The View from the top.

What is the difference between cross-country skiing and ski touring? To help clear things up, we are laying it all out, so you know what and how for each; the “where” is already settled: it’s Iceland!

Hotel Siglo
Hotel Siglo, where you will stay on the "peaks of Siglufjordur" tour

Ski touring (AKA Alpine Ski touring) 

Hike up, ski down. When hiking, skins are attached to the bottom of the ski to provide traction on the walk up. Skis detach at the heel to facilitate movement in the French "Randonée" style and when you reach the top, you lock down the heels, remove the skins and ski down.

Ski touring uses wider, shorter skis and there is no or very little mechanical assistance such as ski lifts and other infrastructure as in more conventional alpine skiing. In ski touring, you will never see a snow machine and you are very likely to get a first run on virgin powder. Here, the mantra is "earn your turns" since you put in the hike to get yourself up there and a lot of skiers prefer ski touring  to conventional alpine skiing with lifts because it affords access to remote locations, incredible views and most importantly, almost nobody else.

In Iceland, you can see from peak to fjord and spend several days touring the north taking in some the finest ski touring this side af anywhere. Focus on fjords of the north or the east or for a really special experience, get taken around on a schooner around the westfjords over 6 days

Jan Zelina
Skier, fjord and sea

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross country skiing "Langlaufen" in German or "long Walking" is an entirely different ball game; cross country skiing requires almost no infrastructure save for the huts where the travellers/skiers will sleep as they pass along their journey on most flat land. Skis are longer and more narrow, and the purpose of cross country skiing is to cover large amounts of  flat territory with relative ease. Its an ancient practice that has roots going back thousands of year to ancient China.

The "Kick and glide" is the primary technique, means of movement and control of speed.  The heel disengages facilitating the kick. Here, you use one ski to kick off and the other ski to "glide" with more effecient movement.

If you have never cross-country skied,  its very easy to learn and we can take you out for a half day practice before the start of your tour in order te get the technique down.

Róbert Þór
The Sprengisandur Traverse

Epic Cross-Country Adventures!

The first pre-condition for cross-country skiing is usually level or only slightly inclined terrain, and Iceland has plenty of that in the right places for some truly unforgettable journies. For example, at 13,920km², Vatnajokull is largest ice cap in Europe, and you can get across it by cross-country ski!

Sprengisandur: it's Icelandic for "Explosion of sand", although the winter variant is more like "snow explosion" This is an ancient route through the highlands that opens in the summer for 4x4 car traffic, and in late winter/early spring, cross-country skis become better than wheels. Equal amounts of cross-country adventure await in the highland geothermal Landmannalaugar, an oasis of craters, lava fields, snow filled gorges and canyons where thick steam curls burst out of Earth’s crust.

Live to Ski

Now that we have laid out the essential differences between these two different but related winter activities, it's in your hands. Go out there and grab some huge snow this winter. We'll take you there!

Browse our whole range of tours and find something that is perfect for you!

About the Author

Joseph content writer for Icelandic Mountain Guides

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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