Cross County Skiing vs. Downhill Skiing
The Technical Difference
From a technical point of view, the difference between the two types of skiing is that in cross country skiing only the toe of your boot is attached to your ski. In downhill skiing, the entire boot is attached to the ski by your binding. Cross country skiers can go up, and down, a variety of terrains. Downhill skiers can simply go down the mountain, though at a higher rate of speed than a cross country skier can achieve. What's important though, to a downhill skier, is that thrill of going down the mountain.
Taking on a Challenge
If you're the type of person who likes 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. While cross country skiing, because it uses your natural movement, doesn't take as much effort to begin.
Equipment and Cost
Costs are lower, all the way around, for cross country skiing. Trail passes cost less than lift tickets. For example, a weekend / holiday trail pass at Garnet Hill Cross Country Ski Area, in upstate New York, is $15. The fee to rent equipment (ski, boots, and poles) is also $15. At nearby Gore Mountain a one-day weekend/holiday lift ticket is $61. Ski equipment can be rented at Gore for $25 per day. As you can see, there is quite a difference in pricing.
Cross country ski equipment is more reasonable too, and you will need less of it. You won't need high-end ski parkas or expensive ski boots. A few layers, including a sweater and wind resistant jacket, will suffice. Cross country ski boots are a bargain compared to downhill ski boots, which need to be fitted. Skis are much less expensive too.
There are over 500 cross country ski areas in the United States. Cross country skiing trails are also available in many parks. Downhill skiers can't just ski anywhere, they need to visit a ski resort, which may not be as close to home as they would like.
You're less likely to be injured seriously if you fall while cross country skiing. Like any high activity level sport, downhill skiing can be dangerous, but, if you take the proper precautions you will be able to ski safely.
Your Definition of Fun
It would be hard to convince an avid downhill skier that cross country skiing is as much fun as alpine skiing. It's more leisurely, it's more low key, and more relaxed. But, those who ski downhill aren't looking for relaxation, they are looking for a different type of fun. They're not interested in a leisurely stroll through the park. Rather, they want to move, and they want to take on the challenge of the mountain.
Try Both Disciplines
There are options for those who aren't sure what type of skiing is for them. Spend a day or two trying both. In both cases, you'll be able to rent equipment and if you go midweek, you will save on lift / trail tickets and equipment rental fees. Then decide which type of skiing is the sport for you. Or, you can even do both!