Skiing Styles Offer Varied Options for Every Skill Level

From downhill to backcountry, find your mountain groove

Skiing has evolved into many disciplines that vary greatly. You can glide along at your own pace in the beautiful backcountry, fly over the mountain with downhill speed, or go wild with freestyle skiing. 

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Man cross country skiing
Getty Images/​Ryan McVay

Also known as "Nordic skiing," cross-country involves skiing over snow-covered terrain. Abbreviated as "xc skiing," cross-country skiers glide over the countryside, rather than speeding down steeply sloped terrain.

Most cross-country skis are long and thin, allowing the weight of the skier to be distributed quickly. Cross-country skiers use poles to propel themselves forward. Cross-country boots are attached to the ski with a binding, but the heel remains free.

If you like speed and a challenge, downhill skiing will provide both. Downhill skiing has more of a learning curve and you will need more of a structured lesson program to get started. Cross-country skiing, because it uses your natural movement, doesn't take as much effort to begin.

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Downhill skiing
Getty Images/​Adam Clark

Perhaps the most popular form of skiing, downhill, or "Alpine," skiers ski down mountains and strive to ski well on challenging terrain.

Downhill skis vary in length and shape depending on the height of the skier and the type of snow they will be tackling. Downhill skiers use ski poles, and their boots are reinforced plastic that steadily holds the foot to the ski.

The average downhill speed of skiers varies by type—skiing speeds of professional athletes can reach upwards of 150 mph but most recreational skiers travel between 10 and 20 mph.

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Backcountry skier
Getty Images/Jakob Helbig

From rolling hills to jagged high peaks, skiers seek out backcountry terrain for solitude, freedom and untracked powder. There has been a recent surge in the popularity of backcountry—also called Randonee—due to open-gate policies at ski resorts, big-mountain freestyle skis, rising lift ticket prices, and advances in ski equipment. "'BC' is where it’s at," says Evo, using the acronym for this skiing form. "The pristine powder, the pillow lines, the majestic tree runs, and no one around to mar the experience but a few of your best friends."

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Freestyle skiier
Getty Images/​Adam Clark

In freestyle, skiers do tricks or jumps. From skiing on halfpipes to "getting air" and soaring over jumps (and then doing tricks in the air), freestyle skiers also ski moguls. Most freestyle skiers ski in normal downhill ski boots, yet some use twin tip skis, which allow them to perform jumps and ski through moguls well. Others use snow blades, which are cross-country skis.

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Adaptive skiier
Getty Images/​Soren Hald

Adaptive skiing uses specialized equipment and/or training to allow people (with disabilities) to experience the benefits of skiing, according to Adaptive Adventures. Skiing is a fantastic sport for people with physical disabilities or visual impairments because it helps to develop balance, fitness, confidence, motivation, and social skills.

The primary methods for adaptive skiing and riding are stand-up, sit-down, snowboarding, and ski bike. Stand-up skiing includes two-, three-, and four-track skis, while sit-skiing includes bi-ski, dual-ski, and monoski.