The challenge:

When cross country skiing the temperatures are often low and at the same time we are active, generating heat. So we may heat up while moving but then cool down rapidly on stopping.

Anticipating cold weather, people often overdress. This makes this heating up and cooling down effect more likely to happen. Add in skiing as part of a group: we may stop more frequently than you would when alone. We can see that there are a few things to think about so we stay comfortable.

It can seem like the cost of kitting yourself out for skiing adds up. I will highlight where ski-specific clothes are a good investment. Particularly if cross country skiing is something you enjoy and are likely to do again. In my experience clothes for cross country skiing probably have a greater overlap with other activities than say clothes for alpine skiing and so, depending on your fashion sense, wearing them may not be limited to your ski holidays (or is that just me?).

This is a subject that I could write a lot about! So I’ll publish a further article with more top tips.

Here are the main points in a nutshell:

  • Layers and a rucsac
  • No cotton next to the skin (see note below)
  • Avoid over-dressing
  • Wicking base layer
  • A choice of mid layers
  • Windproof/waterproof breathable shell jacket (with a hood)
  • Outdoor activity trousers – windproof, breathable (see below)
  • Suitable gloves – worth carrying a spare pair
  • Have a hat and sunglasses – eyes and ears protected
  • Buffs are great!
  • Carrying a ‘duvet’ jacket in your rucsac is very useful
  • A dry bag to keep the spare clothes in your rucsac dry
  • We love wool!
  • Alpine ski goggles are best avoided for most conditions
  • Did I mention layers? And a rucsac…

What to wear…

What you choose to wear will of course depend on the weather conditions, the tour you plan to do and on how you are feeling that day. For longer days and mountain tours a looser style of dress is more suitable. Closer-fitting, athletic clothing suits a quick couple of hours ski without much stopping.

In the photo above we show Wenche (left) wearing a looser style of ski clothing suitable for our Ski Safari off track tours and weekly ski guiding (LINKS). Joy (right) is wearing ski clothes more suited to an athletic style of skiing, for example during our Become a Better Skier course.

Temperatures

Yes, it can be cold. We may have temperatures in the region of -20°C. Temperatures around -10°C are considered to be perfect for cross country skiing. This certainly sounds cold, however, for most of the winter in Norway it is a dry cold. This can ‘feel’ less cold than a damp cold. In spite of having lived and worked outside in many cold places I often ‘feel’ the cold when back in the (frequently damp) north west of England.

A note on over-dressing:

We often see guests having an uncomfortable time because they are wearing too many clothes. Or clothes that don’t give them the choice to adjust layers when they are too hot. Carrying a very small rucsac means that there’s nowhere to put spare layers. There will always be time for guests to adjust their layers: it’s important and can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your day.

It is often our beginners who over-dress and yet frequently they are working the hardest, as their skiing isn’t efficient, yet.

To avoid inflexible overdressing we recommend that you avoid padded alpine ski jackets or trousers when cross country skiing. These are designed to keep you warm while sitting on a chair lift or on a restaurant terrace. A duvet jacket layer will keep you warm if needed; they are light and pack down well into your ruxsac.

So, back to layers:

Base layer

A base layer, top and bottom plus socks, in a breathable, wicking fabric will help to keep you dry and comfortable even if you are working hard. Wool makes a great base layer and finely spun merino wool clothing has become popular. See the photo in the gallery on the right. Wool lasts well (see note about clothing care) and doesn’t get too smelly – nice!

Synthetic base layers can also work.

When packing for your holiday it may be worth bringing socks of different thickness to help you get the best fit in your hire boots.

In choosing a fabric and the thickness of your base layers consider how much you heat up while exercising. Ok, I’m going to say it: think about how sweaty you get. This varies person to person, at the risk of TMI, I get really hot when I’m exercising and then cool down quickly and feel cold. I choose thin base layers, except for the coldest days or when I know I won’t be working so hard. I can then regulate with layers on top.

If you choose a synthetic fabric, from personal experience, I’d avoid those that look too ‘shiny’ as I have found that these are more likely to stay damp. Synthetic base layers last a looong time/are almost indestructible (quite literally, see environmental note). After a while, even with frequent washing, they can smell.

Mid layers

Wool or fleece mid layer (s). Thinner layers that can be well, layered, work better (trap more air), are more flexible. They are easier to pack away in your rucsac than one big warm jumper or fleece.

Windproof, breathable outer jacket

On days that are very snowy or windy a hood really is a necessity, so a waterproof, breathable shell jacket can be a good all round choice.

If you do a lot of cross country skiing or like to have more clothing options this is where a cross country ski jacket can serve you well. These jackets are typically made of ‘soft shell’ fabric. Alternatively bring a windproof, breathable cycling/running/hiking jacket. Ideally – one that you can fit layers underneath but, if it’s all you have, you will miss a hood in bad weather.

Trousers

A pair of winter-weight outdoor trousers made from a ‘soft shell’ fabric can be ideal. Again a pair of cross country ski pants may be a good investment. They are designed for the activity and stretch so you can move. They usually have windproofing and they are breathable.

However, for guiding, my favourite trousers are a pair of soft shell outdoor trousers. Mine are ‘Goretex’ softshell and are looser fitting (trap more air with a base layer). They keep me dry and warm, plus they are breathable and worth the investment as I’m outdoors every day.

There are other membrane soft shell fabrics which work well too.

Unfortunately cheaper, plastic non-breathable over trousers aren’t a great everyday choice. Lightweight waterproof overtrousers (designed for active wear, think running, cycling or hiking) are great to have in your rucsac when snow is forecast or if it’s windy. Carrying waterproof over trousers, in case of bad weather or as a light extra layer, is recommended on more remote day tours such as the Ski Safaris.

Hat, gloves/mitts, buff

These are essentials. We lose a lot of heat through our heads so wearing a hat keeps us warm. This is also one of the quickest ways to regulate our temperature. A hat stuffs into a pocket so you can adjust your temperature without needing to take off your rucsac.

Headbands (for men and women) in the warmer weeks keep your ears protected but limit overheating. Maybe it’s time to embrace the fat headband look!

Gloves or mitts?

Essential kit. Cross country ski gloves work well when it’s not too cold (be aware that they are sold for different seasons: winter and spring). Though if you suffer from cold hands you may prefer mitts.

I get cold hands but don’t like mitts for skiing unless it is very cold. I wear a thin pair of merino gloves, which are long and come over my wrists (great design) plus a pair of ‘lobster claw’ mitts (see the photo in the gallery, right). This is an excellent combination.

Carrying a second pair of gloves in your rucsac is a good idea (more on a long day). Wet gloves/mitts feel cold so changing to a dry pair feels like a treat.

Hand warmers are a good choice if you know your hands get cold.

Buff

A really useful piece of clothing! Having something around your neck makes a big difference if you are cold and again taking it off is an easy way to cool down. They are easy to shove into a pocket. They can be worn as an extra hat or to make a balaclava when it’s really cold. See the article on ‘Top Tips’, coming soon.

‘Duvet’ jacket

Synthetic or down (some manufacturers also produce duvet jackets with a wool fill) with a Pertex-type shell are lightweight and pack down small. More about choosing a duvet jacket in the ‘Top Tips on Clothing’ article, to be published soon.

Rucsac

25–30 litres will allow you too swap you layers as you choose. There’s room for a small flask and snack, phone, spare clothes (those layers), tissues, waterproof over trousers, a camera plus other necessities.

We recommend that everyone carries a rucsac so that you can change your layers and get to your stuff when you need it.

Rucsacs don’t need to be heavy. Your guides will be carrying a group first aid kit and emergency items.

Other things to carry, wear or pack:
  • A warm drink and a snack
    I’d say having a snack with you is also an essential. The chances are that you will be working consistently, if not hard, for a few hours. That means that most people need to take on some extra calories – that’s just our physiology. We are all different but the feeling of ‘bonking’ even half an hour away from the hotel is a horrible one. You may not feel hungry. Guests who don’t exercise regularly at the same intensity or duration as cross country skiing may not recognise that they need to eat something. Having a sugary snack works and can also help you to stay warm.
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses
    Even on a low light day, when you see someone with lens that react to light levels you may be surprised how dark they are – indicating how much UV there is.
  • A lip balm with sun protection is nice to have in your pocket.
  • It may be worth bringing your favourite foot care items with you on holiday such as moleskin or Compeed, just in case.
Fabrics

Any fabric has its pro’s and cons. With growing awareness of micro plastics we may choose to avoid/limit synthetic clothing. It releases micro fibres into the water when washed.

Wool is making a great comeback, and in Norway it has never gone away.

Cotton is best avoided in any layer except perhaps a ‘Ventile’ style cotton outer shell, more about that in the ‘Clothing Top Tips’ article to follow. Cotton tends to stay damp and then feels cold especially next to the skin. Wearing cotton for outdoor activities has been associated with many cases of hypothermia.

A couple of tips on taking care of your outdoor clothing:
  • Don’t use fabric conditioner on Merino wool.
  • Be careful with tumble-drying, many outdoor clothes don’t like it, check the care labels.
  • Waterproof shell clothing can be re-proofed with wash-in or spray-on products such as those made by Grangers or Nikwax.

I hope this article has been useful. It is the first in a series of blogs that we hope will be informative.  

If you have any questions you are welcome to contact me, Joy O’Flanagan

Joy O'Flanagan

BASI Nordic Ski Instructor

e: joy@venabu.no