A Beginner’s Guide to Cross Country Skis
Cross country skiing is a wonderful wintertime activity that can be much more approachable than downhill skiing or snowboarding. Instead of moving at rapid speeds down steep hills, you travel over flat ground or rolling hills at a slower, more even pace. The techniques employed in this sport are both simpler to learn and come with less risk, making it a more mellow pastime that can be a great choice for the whole family.
The allures of cross country skiing go beyond this approachability though. On cross country skis you gain access to areas covered in deep snow more easily and quickly than you would with boots alone, or even on snowshoes. The woods in the winter take on a new character, and places you are familiar with may have a completely different appearance. Those who seek solitude in nature will find the deepest quiet in the wintertime woods. Cross country skiing makes experiencing the unique aspects of winter wilderness easy.
Table of Contents
What is Nordic Skiing?
It is possible that you have heard cross country skiing referred to as Nordic skiing. These terms are related; however, they are not interchangeable. Nordic skis are any type of ski where the toe is attached while the heel remains unfettered and can be lifted. This allows the skier to easily push themselves across flat and uphill terrain. There are three basic types of Nordic skis: cross country, telemark, and alpine touring.
Basically, all cross country skis are Nordic skis, however all Nordic skis are not cross country.
Style of Cross Country Skiing
While the other styles of Nordic skis have differences solely based on preference, cross country skis come in several designs that are differentiated by the types of terrain that they will primarily be utilized on. Knowing the type of cross country skiing you will primarily be doing is therefore important before choosing a pair of skis.
These skis are typically weigh very little. Longer and skinnier than most other styles of ski, they are designed to be efficient on groomed trails. They are by far the most common type of cross country ski, perfect for someone who primarily plans to explore golf-courses, landscaped parks, and maintained Nordic ski areas.
Metal-edge Touring Skis
Sometimes referred to as backcountry touring skis, this style is shorter and wider than traditional touring skis. They also have deeper side cuts and metal edges, which allows for better grip on icy terrain. These features make metal-edge touring skis better suited for traversing deep powder, and maneuvering steep and variable terrain.
Classic Track Skis
These skis have a stiff flex, and a super narrow and lightweight build. They are made to be as fast as possible on groomed trails and are primarily utilized by cross country ski racers.
Quite similar to classic track skis, the major differentiating factor in the build of these skis is how short are. As the name implies, the technique used to move on these skis resembles skating. They should only be used on trails specifically groomed for this style of cross country skiing.
Waxless vs. Waxed Ski Bases
The base of all cross country skis is designed to grip the snow. This grip is what allows you to move across flat and uphill terrain. To create the necessary friction, skis either use traction or wax.
Skis that use traction on their base are referred to as waxless. The textured underside of these skis grab and push off the snow as you move across it. This allows waxless skis to preform quite well on most types of snow without having to frequently add wax to the base. That being said, these skis tend to perform better with a bit of glide wax added to the tip and the tail. This type of wax is applied by simply rubbing it on though, and can even be put on while you are on a trail.
The ease of care and versatility of waxless skis makes them the more popular choice. For recreational cross country skiers, who aren’t concerned about maximizing speed, they work great. However, in terms of enhancing performance in a variety of conditions they are less precise then waxed skis.
Waxed skis have a smooth base to which grip is added through the regular application of wax. These waxes are designed to maximize performance at different temperatures, and picking the right temperature wax for the conditions that you will be experiencing is crucial. The wrong wax will slow you down and may stop you from being able to move on your skis at all. Forgetting to apply wax can have the same effect. Maintaining waxed skis is therefore a lot of work, however, to some the greater performance they offer is worth it. For competitive cross country ski racers, waxed skis are a must.
Sizing Your Skis
Body weight and height are the main determining factors when deciding how long your cross country skis should be. Manufactures typically provide the proper sizing information; simply look for the specs tab when shopping for your skis.
More advanced skiers may also have preferences based on performance. Shorter skis are more agile and easier to maneuver, while longer skis move more quickly on tracks and float more easily in powder.
Width can also affect performance, especially in powder. Wider skis, with a larger surface area, have more float. However, for anyone primarily planning to cross country ski on packed down trails, keep the width to 65mm or less, as anything larger will have trouble fitting in the tracks.
Basic poles for cross country touring do not have to be anything fancy. They should be tall enough to fit snuggly under your armpits, and have straps that can be secured around your wrists.
Those who are into racing and skate skiing may want something a bit longer, made of lighter material and with specialty grips and straps. These features all work to enhance technique and speed. Likewise, backcountry cross country skiers using metal edged touring skis want poles specifically designed for breaking trail and ascending steep hills. Adjustable length, large baskets, and durability are features these types of skiers should look for.
Choosing Boots and Bindings
The style of boot and binding that you use with your cross country skis should depend on the type of ski that you choose. Each style has a boot specifically designed to maximize the utility of said ski, as well as a binding specifically designed to hold that boot. If you are confused about which boots or binding to choose, talk to a sales representative at your local ski shop. Websites like backcountry.com can also be quite helpful, offering many tutorials as well as the opportunity to chat with experts online in real time.