Nordic skiing is a very popular snow sport, both in Canada and other countries, since it doesn’t need to be done in a specialized ski area. No lift ticket, waiting in line, or hoping that the ski resort is open and has snow early or late in the ski season required—just the right equipment, snow, open space, and the desire to get a fantastic workout. There’s just something about being out there in the frigid air, the snow glistening around you, feeling your body responding to the terrain, your heart beating in your ears. It’s beautiful, and an amazing whole-body workout.

There are several variations of Nordic skiing, including cross-country, back-country touring, Alpine touring, and telemarking. Nordic ski boots are not the same as downhill skiing boots: the Nordic ski boot’s heel can’t be affixed to a ski. Other boot variations are available, depending on the kind of Nordic skiing you want to do. Here are the basics on Nordic ski boots.

Cross-Country Boots

There are two types of cross-country Nordic skiing boots: leather and composite. Leather Nordic ski boots are generally more flexible, warmer, and more comfortable than composites, which are constructed of hard plastic. Composite boots give greater control, support, and better moisture protection, though. This is an advantage when the temperatures begin to climb, resulting in packed snow melting partially. There are composite and leather combination Nordic ski boots, too.

Back-Country Boots

As their name would imply, back-country Nordic skiing is done on more rugged terrain, so the boots used in this type of skiing are more rugged and supportive of the ankle. They should offer great support for your ankles while turning and descending, which is useful on back-country terrain, where there are no trails and unexpected drops and obstacles are common.

Telemark Boots

Both cross-country and back-country Nordic skiing feature the same kicking and gliding motion, but telemarking has a free heel and bent-knee style. There is also a significant drop-knee motion in turns. Telemarking is done downhill and cross-country, and the boots are basically a combination of Alpine and cross-country ski boots. Their heels are like cross-country boots, but they are stiffer, taller, and also heavier, so they resemble Alpine boots. Their forward-motion flexibility is higher than that of Alpine boots.

Alpine Touring Boots

Alpine touring includes every kind of terrain, such as uphill climbing, steep descents, and flat cross-country. The ski boots for Alpine touring, also called AT skis, are different from other kinds of skis. They allow the person to navigate steep terrain without using a telemark turn, which influences how these boots feel, look, and are adjusted to the skier’s foot. Look for boots that are broader and stiffer than any other kind of Nordic skiing boots, which gives better control while traversing challenging terrain while also encumbered with a backpack. They are similar to Alpine boots in their stiffness, but they feature a lug sole, which is useful for walking through snow. Some boots have power straps, which improve stiffness for downhill descents.