Is Cross-Country Skiing The New Running?

March 2022

With Vasaloppet set for the first Sunday of March, we examine the rise of Cross-Country Skiing

Salomon, image source

Vasaloppet (Swedish for 'the Vasa-race')  is an annual long distance cross-country ski race, held in the province of Dalarna, Sweden. The course is 90 km (56 mi). Legend suggests the race was inspired by the journey King Gustav Vasa made from Mora to Sälen when he was fleeing from Christian II's soldiers during the winter of 1520–1521.  The modern competition started in 1922 and has been a part of the Worldloppet events since 1979. Today the event attracts nearly 16,000 participants from across the globe and many more partake in the week long series of long-distance cross-country skiing races of varying distances. The event is gaining notoriety across the globe as ISPO dubs it one of  

“the 7 most spectacular cross-country ski races in the world.”

Vasaloppet, image source

The Cross-Country Skiing Boom

Vasaloppet and other races like it have lead to an increase in popularity of cross-country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing. The sport is a natural fit for trail runners in the winter. Morgan Arritola, three-time member of the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Team and 2010 Olympian, and four-time member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team states

“Cross-country skiing offers a full-body way of staying in shape for running. The neuromuscular training you get from cross-country is top tier.”

Cross-country skiing is a great form of winter cross training for those that live somewhere with snow blankets. This fact coupled with the consumers desire to spend time outdoors post-pandemic has resulted in a surge in popularity of Cross-country skiing, both for training and as a recreational sport. According to the Cross Country Ski Area Association, more than 5.2 million people cross country skied in the United States during the 2019-20 season, a 6% uptick from the previous season. Alex Ingildsen, CCO at LTP Group states

“As newcomers are increasingly drawn to Cross-Country Skiing, this is becoming a top new market. The sport places high demands on apparel due to radically varying temperature subject to the challenges of winter weather and varying levels of workout intensity”

Rossignol, image source

Create an Innovative Layering System  

Cross-Country Skiing is very cardio-centric so participants sweat even on the coldest days, like winter running. Therefore a layering system is key for collections designed to support the consumer during this activity. As Alfred Wainwright wrote  

“There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

Designers should consider the variation in outside temperature from freezing cold days to clear blue skies in spring. As well as varying workout intensity from leisurely lapse to competition level. Outfits must work together to accommodate these variables.  

The basic layering system consists of base, mid and outer layers as a foundation to regulate the wearers temperature and keep them comfortable during the workout. Craft Sportswear go one step further than this, stating on their website  

“All function starts from the inside.”

The brand have underwear designed specifically to wick moisture from the skin via the polyester fibres. The brand advise against cotton underwear which will absorb sweat and create a chill at core level.

Tight-fitting base-layers are key to managing perspiration whilst retaining heat when required. Brands favour synthetic or wool options for optimal quick dry and sweat wicking properties. Odlo’s 100% Merino Warm offers exceptional thermal regulation and odour elimination. The fibre is also eco-responsible.

Strategically positioned breathability is key. Rossignol’s impressive base-layer features micro-perforated panels on the back and under the arms to enhance breathability and maximise temperature regulation while maintaining warmth. The zoned compression helps to improve muscle alignment and balance which can reduce the heart rate and lactic acid build-up, therefore boosting the athlete’s performance.

For cold and windy conditions, Craft Sportswear’s Active Extreme X Wind Top features the best of both worlds with wind-protection in the front and waffle-knitted design in the side and back for maximum moisture transport and enhanced comfort. The Coolmax® Air Technology fabric also works to optimise the body’s natural temperature management in cold as well as warm conditions. 

Elsewhere Gore’s windstopper® base-layer is a winner with consumers. The style features an ultra thin protective membrane which is laminated to a lightweight textile layer, making it totally windproof. The microporous structure made from a polymer PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene). The micropores are 900 times larger than water vapour molecules, allowing perspiration to pass through unhindered. The 100% windproof, yet extremely breathable membrane blocks the wind whilst allowing vapour to escape. This combination of protection and breathability minimises the wind’s chilling effect while reducing the risk of overheating during activity.

From a legging perspective 3/4 length, stopping just below the knee are a good option when paired with windproof cross country ski pants to minimise bulk at the ankle and boot.

Alternatively in milder temperatures, consumers may opt for spandex tights alone for enhanced freedom of movement. Here a full length style is ideal. Use blocking to offer wind-protection and strategically positioned warmth. All fabrics should be brushed on the inside for close-to-skin comfort. Salomon’s XA WARM tights are built for winter adventures featuring a 360° pocket system to stash all essentials. The soft, stretch waistband is brushed and all seams are flat-locked for maximum comfort.

Maier’s hybrid style fuses the best of a legging and a trouser. The Telfs CC tights feature a windproof front and stretch back for free movability. The stormprotec fabric is breathable, windproof and water-repellent. Zip fasteners to the ankle make for easy on/off with footwear.

Craft Sportswear, image source

Sandwiched In-between, The Mid-layer Should Be Designed For Multiple End-uses

Variety is key for mid-layers, use a range of weights to specifically address different temperatures and exertion levels. Like the base-layer, the fabric must be breathable and moisture wicking. Use fabrics that offer good insulation without bulk.  Patagonia’s Nano-Air® Jacket is a good example of this. The style is exceptionally lightweight (a women's medium weighs approximately 10.5 oz) and crafted from a highly compressible material.

For additional ventilation, styles should feature a half zip which allows the wearer to manually release excess heat when needed.

A hybrid mid layer offers consumers versatility as it can be worn underneath a jacket in cold conditions and as an outer garment in milder temperatures. Bogner renowned for classic skiwear offers an innovative hybrid jacket. Combining the best of the fleece with the best of the shell jacket to create something superior. The brands Lucian jacket has an internal micro-fleece lining for extra warmth, and is crafted from a stretchy soft shell. The jacket is treated with a water-repellent coating for protection against the rain, whilst the breathable micro-fleece lining ensures optimum insulation.  

Loeffler’s hooded hybrid jacket is another great example. The style pairs the brands signature fabric transtex® Rib with windshell and PrimaLoft® Active insulation strategically placed to minimise wind exposure whilst offering water-repellency and enhanced breathability.

Loeffler, image source

Outer-layer Jackets Are Built With Breathability Front and Centre

Thicker, bulky jackets designed for other winter sports such as downhill skiing don’t work as well for cross-country skiing as the wearer is constantly in motion and quickly overheats.

For soft shells The North Face’s Apex Bionic Jacket is a crowd pleaser. The style is crafted from a windproof fabric with a non-PFC DWR water-repellent coating which sheds snow and light rain.

Experts suggest a soft-shell is generally better for cross-country skiing as it’s lighter-weight and more stretchy but on occasion the weather will require a hardshell. The Arc'teryx Norvan LT is perfect for these occasions. The performance-oriented hardshell is designed specifically for high-intensity outdoor activity. The jacket delivers windproof and waterproof protection whilst weighing only ounces. The brand have replaced traditional zipper ventilation to the underarm with a unique gusseted design which opens and closes to enhance airflow. The articulated sleeves are strategically designed to increase mobility and comfort.

As cross-country skiers quickly warm up and sweat during the activity, they must be able to shed layers quickly and efficiently. YKK’s QuickFree® zips are ideal for jackets and zip-through mid layers for easy on/off. All layers need to be packable.

YKK’s QuickFree® zip, image source

About LTP

LTP is a Danish owned garment manufacturer for +60 premium brands within active sportswear, cycling, outdoor, urban performance, performance running and sustainable fashion. LTP was established in 1991, and is probably the biggest Sport & Outdoor garment manufacturer in Europe with bluesign setups in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Vietnam.

LTP consists of two divisions; LTP Garment and LTP Furniture producing in ten fully-owned factories.