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Cross Country Ski Equipment

Nordic Skis
Backcountry Skis
Telemark Skis
Storing Your Skis Off-Season


Nordic skiing or is a style of skiing done on more gentle terrain like a tour around a meadow or over a small ridge. This style of ski (sometimes called a touring ski) is also used in pre-made tracks often seen at cross-country ski resorts. Touring skis feature the classic technique of gliding from one leg to the next in a straight line. The arm opposite the pushing, or kicking, leg pushes off the ski pole for added propulsion. Touring skis come in different lengths. lengths. The new "short skis" are growing in popularity because they are more stable and easier to turn. They are about 25% wider and 25% shorter than traditional skis and have the same degree of flotation. Flotation is how stable the skis are in deep snow. Short skis can be used on groomed trails but they also can be used on terrain that has not been groomed or packed. Narrower skis are designed for performance and speed and provide less flotation. They are designed for groomed trails and packed surfaces. Long skis are generally faster on soft snow. The longer ski produces an easier and faster glide and spreads the load out so there is less friction between the ski and the snow's surface. On groomed trails, speed is determined more on proper base preparation and waxing.

When looking for a Nordic or touring ski you will have the choice of wood or fiberglass (foam core wrapped in fiberglass.) They will come in waxable or waxless varieties. Also, the use of climbing skins are an option for the waxable ski.

  • WAXLESS NORDIC OR TOURING SKIS: If the temperatures in your area stay around freezing, then waxless skis may be the best. The middle of the ski or what they call the kick zone is covered by patterns in the base of the ski that grip the snow. Even though your skis are waxless, their base needs treatment to help them glide. By adding a glide wax to the tips and tails or wiping a liquid or paste-base preparation along the entire length of the ski you will enhance the glide and prevent snow buildup in the kick zone of the ski. Waxless skis are usually more sluggish than waxable skis, but this only noticeable if speed and performance are important to you. Many skis come with a fish-scale pattern on the bottom that helps you climb and glide forward, not backward.
  • WAXABLE NORDIC OR TOURING SKIS: Carefully conditioned, waxable skis can be used for any type of snow and weather. The performance of the ski is dependent on the type of wax you use and the temperature of the outside. A kick wax can be applied to the smooth base of the waxable ski to grip the snow crystals and provide traction. Keep your skis clean by removing built-up wax because old build-up wax can slow you down. Citrus-based wax remover is effective to remove old wax.
  • CLIMBING SKINS: Skins work on the same principals as the fish-scales on the bottom of a waxless ski, but more effectively. Climbing skins help you climb hills with less effort. Attached to a ski by either straps or an adhesive backing, they are slightly narrower than the width of a ski. You can buy them in two lengths. The first is full-length which purpose is to stay on the skis for all-round skiing in the backcountry (more control on icy, hard-packed snow) The second is kicker skins, meant mostly for climbing long hills and can be easily removed when you don't need them. Climbing skins are made of mostly mohair and angora goat hair although non-natural skins such as nylon and plastic are becoming more popular. Natural skins seem to be better for colder, drier snow seen in the Rockies and synthetic skins are better in the wetter, more slushier snow often seen in the West.
  • HOT WAXING SKIS: Hot waxes, often referred to as glide waxes, are applied with an electric waxing iron. Many skiers simply buy a cheap, non-steam clothing iron as a dedicated waxing iron. Place skis bottom-side up on a workbench or counter. A ski vise helps make the waxing job easier by keeping the skis in place. Press the stick of wax against the vertically-held iron about a half-inch away from the ski's bottom surface and drip hot wax over the entire length of the ski. Then iron the wax droplets along the ski with light strokes until the ski base appears wet. Keep the iron moving. If the wax starts to smoke, your iron is too hot. After the wax has cooled at room temperature for 20 minutes, shave off the excess wax with a plastic or steel scraper. Remember to shave out the grooves. You might want to postpone the scraping until after you reach your ski destination. The thick wax coat helps protect your skis when carried base-to-base on the way to the trails. Some skiers with waxable skis take a slightly different approach to hot waxing their skis. They do not apply hot glide wax to the center third of the ski, called the kick zone. Instead, they melt a cold temperature grip wax, such as Swix Special Green, over the kick zone. They then scrape the entire ski and apply the appropriate kick wax over the center third at their skiing destination. Give waxable skis a try. They allow you to "adjust" your skis' performance to accommodate snow conditions and changing temperatures, resulting in a more efficient kick and glide. Waxing does not need to be difficult. Some manufacturers make a two-wax system- one for wet snow, one for dry snow. This simple system makes a great "first waxing kit."


A recently popular sport that has developed from Nordic skiing is ski skating. Skate skis are similar to racing skis. Ski skaters use much lighter and shorter equipment and skate instead of using the kick and glide method. They can do this because of are enforced edge on the inside of the ski that allow them to dig into to the snow as they push off his or her back leg. To support the skier's ankle during the pushing phase, the boots are stiff. Skater use their poles for balance and maximum propulsion. The poles are taller and stiffer than touring. Skating is done on groomed trails or groomed roads and skaters can cover this terrain quickly.


These skis are made for cross-country skiers that want to "get away from it all." Backcountry skis allow you to hike in the backcountry, climb up the uphills, and ski down the downhills. The skis are designed to stand up to the rough conditions and are used by winter campers and mountain hikers. To support skiers and their gear, the skis are wider than Nordic skis for better flotation and have metal edges. Boots and bindings are very sturdy and the poles are shorter because an alpine tourist uses their poles for both balance and propulsion, particularly if the terrain is uneven and steep. If you are an Alpine- downhill skier and want to try the sport you can use some of your present equipment. An alpine touring attachment is available that hooks your heel into the bindings when you need to make downhill turns. This attachment works with a normal pair of Alpine touring bindings and allow you to lift your heels when climbing. The weight of the equipment and the rigid boots of downhill skis will prevent you from going on long backcountry excursions. If you plan to really take up the sport and do longer excursions, real alpine touring or backcountry skis is a better choice.


Telemark skiing is popular because the equipment gives you the flexibility to climb and to descend with some kind of stability and proper form. You see telemark skiers practicing at downhill ski resorts... those graceful skiers doing deep knee bends as they carve every turn. Until the past few years, it was popular for telemark skiers to find an old pair of downhill skis, slap on a pair of three-ping telemark bindings and head down the hill. Recent advances in ski design have resulted in telemark skis that turn quicker and edge differently than downhill skis. Buying modern telemark equipment is definitely worth it in the long run because they are stable enough to allow both parallel and telemark turns, giving you more options and control than on Alpine or downhill ski equipment.

STORING YOUR SKIS IN THE OFF-SEASON: A layer of hot wax or a liquid or paste-base preparation applied to skis will add an extra layer of protection during the off-season. Don't store you skis in a hot attic or over the garage because heat makes skis brittle. And, don't put them in a damp, moldy area because the edges may get corroded. Keep your skis in the bedroom closet or under the bed. How about the broom closet?


Older, traditional bindings have your ski attached to the boot front with three pins on a toe plate that match three pins on the boot. Modern bindings use a step-in clamp at the toe and are easier to use. They also provide two raised rails that fit into grooves along the boots's sole that add better steering control and stability.


Boots today require little break-in time. The boot should be roomy enough for foot movement as you raise and lower your heel with each glide. Even with a heavy sock, circulation should not be hampered, but the fit should be fairly snug.


Properly sized poles should reach to the top of your shoulder when your arm is at your side. Poles help to propel you, and at this length you can keep them at the most effective angle for proper technique.

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