How to Choose Cross Country Ski Gear

In cross country skiing (also known as “Nordic” skiing) your skis, boots, and poles form a bond with your body that allows you to swiftly glide your way through a snow-covered forest, so making sure you have the right equipment for your outing can mean the difference between an unforgettable day exploring and a day that deters you from ever clicking in again. So how do you choose the right cross country ski set up for your upcoming expedition? It all depends on the type of skiing you’re about to embark upon.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Types of Cross Country Skis

There are three main types of cross country skis which correspond to the type of skiing you’re hoping to do: Touring, classic, and skate. Each ski type will aid you in a different skiing technique and on a different set of surfaces.

Touring

Touring skis can be used on groomed or ungroomed trails. They are also known as “backcountry” skis because of how rugged they can be. Generally, these skis are longer, light in weight, and a little bit thicker in width to provide more stability to skiers who decide to take on ungroomed trails. If you’re looking to utilize your skis both on groomed trails at your local XC ski center and on your local hiking trails, investing is a pair of touring skis is highly suggested. Those looking to tackle steeper and deeper conditions should also look at purchasing skis with metal edges.

Classic

Classic skis are used on groomed trails that provide a track set, grooves within the snow that your skis glide through. Track sets can be found at your local XC ski center. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a range in stiffness depending on the performance you are looking for.

Skate

Skate skiing is used on groomed trails. These skis are long, narrow, lightweight, and have a stiff flex to help transfer power from one stride to the next. This technique used for skate skiing resembles that of ice skating.

GO: Cross Country Skis | Boots | Bindings | Poles

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Length

It is a common misconception that you pick your skis based off you height and that the taller you are, the longer your skies should be. This is untrue in many cases. The length of your ski is going to depend on your weight. You need to be able to evenly disperse your weight across the ski properly to get the best kick, which transfers your power to the snow.

However, there will be many instances where your weight may fall into two different length skies. In this instance you want to factor in your ability level. The longer your, ski the faster you generally go. Those who are beginner to intermediate you may want to go with the short size in your weight range so you have more control. Once you get to the upper intermediate and advanced they you will upgrade to the longer version in your weight range.

This basic chart should give you an idea of the right length ski to have, but once you pick out a specific ski, pay attention to the recommendations of the specific manufacturer:

SKIER WEIGHT CLASSIC SKI LENGTH SKATE SKI LENGTH
100 – 110 lbs 180 – 190 cm 170-180 cm
110 – 120 lbs 182 – 192 cm 172-182 cm
120 – 130 lbs 185 – 195 cm 175-185 cm
130 – 140 lbs 187 – 200 cm 177-187 cm
140 – 150 lbs 190 – 205 cm 180-190 cm
150 – 160 lbs 195 – 210 cm 185-195 cm
160 – 180 lbs 200 – 210 cm 190-200 cm
>180 lbs 205 – 210 cm 190-200 cm

 

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Camber and Flex

The camber and flex of your cross country skis plays a huge roll in the performance you’ll get out on the snow. Both of these factors are usually determined based on your weight too, so don’t be bashful when asked—It could be the difference between an enjoyable easy gliding day or a day that makes you feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle.

Camber

Camber refers to the upward curve in the middle of the ski, seen looking from the side. Classic skis tend to have more camber, while skate skis tend to have less. This is because classic skis require grip on the snow while you transfer your weight forward into your next gliding motion, and skate skis rely mainly on pushing from the edge.

To determine the camber, place both skis on the snow, click in, and the ski should level out based off your weight with the part under your foot just “kissing” the snow. Too much camber and not enough contact with the snow will result in a day of minimal grip on the snow and a lot of slipping when trying to glide forward. Too little camber and too much contact with the snow and you’ll stick like glue to it, requiring extra effort to glide forward.

Ski Flex

The flex of your skis refers to the bend or give they have as well as the power transfer and kick you get out of them. Stiffer flex skis springboard you forward a bit more than those that are softer. Again, this is determined primarily by your weight. Your cross country ski’s flex comes into play when talking about speed and turning comfort. Softer flex skis, which have more bend or give to them, grip the snow, making it easier to turn on softer snow and at slower speed. Stiffer flex skis provide you with speed and work best when the snow is firmer. If you are looking to get into racing, ski flex will become a bigger deciding factor in your purchase. The flex you choose should depend on the conditions. However, beginners should look into a softer flex ski until they feel more comfortable gliding along.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Waxable vs. Waxless Skis

All cross country skis have a wax base. The wax is what allows you to glide across the snow effortlessly as it reduces the friction created between the ski base and the snow. With cross country skis, there are two types of wax: kick wax and glide wax. Depending on the ski you choose, it may use kick wax and glide wax or just glide wax. Kick wax is what will allow your ski to grip the snow in what is called the “wax pocket” on your ski. It helps grip the snow as you shift your weight from ski to ski. Glide wax does just what you are thinking, it helps you glide. It moves across the snow reducing the friction between the ski and the snow.

Waxable cross country skis allow skiers to apply various types of kick wax depending on the snow temperature or hardness. Waxable skis utilize both glide wax and kick wax to enhance overall performance and are applied by heating up the wax and spreading it the length and width of the ski base.

Waxable skis are desired by many who are ultimately looking to compete or get the most out of their ski on any given day. This is because you can change up the wax you apply to the bottom to fit the conditions outside. Everything from air temperature, snow temperature, snowpack, and terrain can come into play. Don’t worry though, there are plenty of all-around waxes you can use too so you don’t have to keep reapplying wax before every ski session.

Waxless base cross country skis require low maintenance as they do not require the reapplication of kick wax throughout the season. Ridges are cut into the base of the ski that mimics the effects of kick wax. So, don’t be fooled by the naming, you’ll still need to apply glide wax to the base of your skis from time to time. Waxless skis require less maintenance, making them great for beginning skiers and those who want to save the time involved in waxing.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Boots

Your boots are what form the bond between you and your skis. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and performance is important. Don’t forget the fit, weight, and stiffness of these boots to make sure they’re comfortable, but just like the skis themselves, you’ll want to address a few performance factors to find the best pair for you.

Classic Ski Boots

If you’re going to be classic skiing, then you’ll want classic style ski boots. These boots offer more flexibility in the ball of your foot than the other styles. They have a lower cuff, usually around your ankle, for a greater range of motion while striding forward. The soles also range in stiffness to assist with your turning ability and responsiveness. Many boots also feature lace covers to keep your feet warm, dry, and protected while out on the trails.

Skate Ski Boots

Skate ski boots are stiff, responsive, and often feature carbon fiber ankle support to maximize your kick. These boots feature a high ankle cuff, usually Velcro or ratchet system, which assists with transferring power to the skis. Soles are stiff and lacing systems vary to keep your foot locked in for fast skiing.

Combi Ski Boots

Not sure which style skiing you want to take part in? Maybe you enjoy classic skiing but want to get into skate skiing. Combi boots blend classic ski boots and skate ski boots to offer all-around performance no matter which style you’re skiing. Offering a great range of motion for classic, higher ankle cuff for power transfer to your skate skis, and overall comfort, you’ll be out on the trail all day long with these boots.

Touring/Backcountry Boots

If you are using touring or backcountry skis, you will generally look at classic style boots where the flexibility is on the balls of your feet. There are touring/backcountry style boots however. They are often higher around the ankle to keep snow out and provide a bit more insulation for warmth while out on the trails.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Bindings

Bindings are what keep your boots connected to your skis as you glide your way through the snow-covered forest. Bindings are small but essential for all setups. Make sure you are aware of the pattern of your boot before you select a binding to be placed on your skis—Not all boots are compatible with all bindings.

NNN, or New Nordic Norm, pattern bindings feature two thin ridges that are raised to match the sole pattern on your boot. Boots connect to the binding by a single metal bar that runs across the tip of the boot. The boot to binding paring acts like a hinge as you glide forward in both classic and skate techniques.

SNS, or Salomon Nordic System, pattern bindings feature a single raised ridge that spans the bottom of your boot. Like the NNN pattern binding, the SNS utilizes a single metal bar to connect the boot to the binding allowing it to hinge as you glide along. Note that there is a variation of the SNS, the SNS Pilot, which uses two metal bars to connect the boot to the binding, allowing for superior flex and kicking motion without compromising stability.

NIS, or Nordic Integrated System, is essentially the same as the NNN pattern just attached to the ski in a different way. This baseplate pattern is compatible with the NNN pattern boots.

Courtesy: Fischer
Courtesy: Fischer

Poles

Ski poles will help you propel yourself along the trail while also providing stability for uneven terrain. You want ski poles that have some flex to them, a spiked end to grip the snow for added propulsion and stability, and comfortable hand grips—you’ll be holding these the entire time.

Touring and Classic Ski Poles

When classic skiing, you’re going to want a lightweight and sturdy pole. The pole should reach your armpit when standing flat on a groomed trail. For those who will be racing, you may want to add a few centimeters to the length and look at poles made entirely of carbon fiber. If you’re touring off groomed trails, seek out poles that are durable and have a telescopic option.

Skate Ski Poles

When searching for skate skiing poles, you want to look for ones that are stiff and lightweight. The size of your skate ski poles should be about 90 percent of your height: This mean the tops of them are between your chin and your nose when standing flat on the ground. The length of your poles plays a crucial part in maximizing your stroke efficiency because it allows you to engage your abs and your upper body to generate more speed.

 

Purchasing your first cross country ski package is an exciting time. You’ll have everything you need to hit the trails and take in the snow-covered forest as you slide along the trail. Stop into your local Eastern Mountain Sport and let the experts walk you through choosing the right ski, boot, binding, and poles for your desired cross country skiing technique.


How to Choose Rock Climbing Shoes

In rock climbing, your shoes are your weapon. You go to battle with the rock, but having the right equipment for the right battle means the difference between victory and defeat. So, how do you choose the best shoe for your upcoming expedition? Well, it all depends on the type of adventure you’re about to embark upon. To begin, let’s break it down by which features are the most important and give you the best chance at sending it your first time:

Courtesy: 5.10
Courtesy: 5.10

Shoe Stance

A climbing shoe’s “stance” is basically the shape of it—specifically how much the toe is turned down below the heel. The degree goes a long way to determining control and pressure. There are three main stances: Aggressive, moderate turn down, and neutral. Each better suits a different style of climbing, whether that’s bouldering, crack climbing, or big wall climbing.

Aggressive

Aggressive shoes turn your toes downward while providing maximum heel tension and putting your feet in the power position for bouldering and sport climbing routes. All about precision, aggressive shoes allow you to focus power on the smallest of holds and propel yourself up a problem or route. Due to their asymmetrical shape, they are not meant to be worn for long periods of time, though. Bouldering problems and difficult single-pitch sport climbs are where these shoes excel.

Moderate Turn Down

Moderate shoes provide climbers with less of a camber than aggressive shoes. This allows them to excel in areas like slabs routes, longer multi-pitch climbs, and especially crack climbing. You sacrifice some precision but gain comfort and versatility with a moderately downturned shoe.

Neutral

Neutral shoes are the choice of many beginner climbers because of the all-day comfort they provide. Your toes lie flat within the shoe and get to be more relaxed than with any of the other stances. Don’t be fooled, though. Neutral shoes are not just for beginners and, in fact, are the choice of many big wall climbers looking for comfort while they scale long multi-pitch walls—think El Cap or Indian Creek.

GO: Aggressively Downturned | Moderately Downturned | Neutral

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Lacing Systems

Believe it or not, the type of lacing system could mean the difference between topping out on a route or taking a whipper. Essentially, it keeps what’s in between your foot and the wall itself secure. The last thing you want is to lose a shoe when you’re three pitches from the top.

Lace-Up

As with traditional shoes, lace-ups make you pull to tighten and then are finished off with a bow or whatever knot you prefer. This system allows you to tighten your shoes as much as you want and at every spot along the lace’s length, allowing for the best all-around foot fit. Laces ensure your foot is completely locked in, wrapping the shoes around like shrink wrap, so you can really feel the wall when you go for the smallest of footholds. The only downside is, you don’t want them coming undone in the middle of a route. Imagine being 500 feet up and having to figure out how to tie your shoe in the middle of pitch seven.

Velcro

Grip, rip, and go. Velcro shoes are built for speed and on-the-fly adjustments when you’re climbing. A majority of aggressive shoes have Velcro straps, as climbers can put them on quickly before going after a bouldering problem or single-pitch sport route. On-the-fly adjustments are definitely a huge plus. 40 feet up a wall and you feel like your heel is slipping a little bit? No problem. Just reach down, adjust the strap to lock your foot in more, and keep sending it! However, compared to lace-ups, Velcro shoes don’t provide the same level of tightness and control. But, depending on the type of climbing you’re practicing, that may not be a concern.

Slipper

Can’t tame your excitement and just want to get on the wall as soon as you get there? Slip-on shoes cut all the time out of lacing up or strapping in. Instead, elastic material simply hugs your foot. That’s not their only benefit, though. They make great training shoes, because they have a softer outsole and midsole and therefore strengthen your feet quicker. Their lower profile also makes them great for thin crack climbs. Go ahead and wedge your foot up in there. Just don’t get your foot in too deep, or you may lose your shoe.

GO: Lace-Up | Velcro | Slipper

Courtesy: La Sportiva
Courtesy: La Sportiva

Outsoles

The outsoles are constantly battling to keep you on the wall or boulder. The rubber is what forms the bond between your feet and the rock. That’s one partnership with which you have to feel confident and trust completely.

Rubber Hardness

When you’re climbing, you have to trust every foot placement you make. Being confident that your foot will hold becomes a mental game, which is why having the proper rubber hardness makes all the difference. Soft rubber will be stickier, thus making it perfect for smearing and slab climbs where the footholds are tiny or nonexistent. They latch onto the rock, providing you with the best traction to top out.

Be cautious, though. Stickier rubbers degrade faster, so, for challenging, more technical climbs, you may want to think about a harder rubber. For gym climbing, crack climbing, multi-pitch big walls, and beginner climbers, you will want a harder rubber for its durability. You can wedge, lock, and heel-hook all day while trusting that your shoes will hold up and perform without question.

Thickness

Feeling the features of the rock while you climb aids in the mental game climbing brings forth. Having shoes with thicker rubber soles—typically between 4 and 5.55 millimeters thick—gives you the control and durability to edge all day. Thinner-soled shoes give you the ability to slab and smear, letting you feel the smallest of holds while you scale upwards. Once you’ve refined your technique and are dialing in your body movements on the rock, you might want to look into thinner soles, which are typically between 3 and 4 millimeters thick.

Edges

Climbing shoes continue to evolve as the limits on what can and cannot be climbed are pushed. Shoes with defined edges on the outsole give climbers the ability to balance on the smallest of footholds. They focus your foot’s pressure on a specific part of the rock as you reach for the next hand hold.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more “natural” feel on the rock while you climb, many brands have developed no-edge technology shoes. In this case, the rubber has a rounded, rather than defined, edge on the shoe’s sides and toes. The technology mirrors your foot more naturally. So, picture it like the way your foot naturally curves with your skin covering it; technology basically recreates this, just with a shoe. This allows for optimal edging, as the technology maximizes the amount of contact your foot has with the rock. However, these shoes tend to be on the higher-performance scale, thus costing more.

EMS-SP-17-CLIMB-002291

Shoe Materials and Fit

It’s important to consider the materials that make up your climbing shoe, as they ultimately help you determine the best size. Unlike regular shoes, climbing shoes are supposed to be tight and a little uncomfortable.

Unlined Leather

Unlined leather shoes expand quite a bit as you break them in—sometimes, up to a full shoe size. When trying on a pair, you’ll want your toes right up against the end of the shoe, with your toes knuckled upward against the leather. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you break them in, your shoes will fit like a glove around your foot.

Lined Leather

Lined leather shoes tend to have minimal expansion when they are broken in—usually less than half a shoe size. The fit should be snug but not too uncomfortable, to the point your toes are curling in. This material also ensures the shoes do not stretch too much in crucial areas, like the toe box and heel.

Synthetic Materials

Synthetic shoes have very minimal stretching. You want the fit to be comfortable from the day you try them on. Synthetic materials also benefit from breathability and moisture-wicking technology, keeping your feet dry and comfortable as you climb.

GO: All-Around Shoes | Bouldering Shoes | Slab Shoes | Steep Shoes

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So, Which Shoes Should I Get?

Big wall/multi-pitch climbing: Comfort is key with long multi-pitch climbs. So, pick a shoe with a neutral stance that utilizes a harder rubber outsole with good thickness. This ensures the shoe not only lasts longer but also performs consistently as you scale 1,000-plus feet over multiple hours.

Bouldering: Get aggressive! Bouldering calls for a Velcro shoe that has a large downturned stance with defined edges to pinpoint small holds and overhung ledges. You’ll want a thick rubber outsole and a shoe made from lined leather or synthetic material. This ensures the shoe doesn’t stretch much and focuses the power where you need it most while also allowing you to strap in and out quicker.

Gym climbing: Look into either a lace-up or slip-on shoe to help build foot muscles. A neutral stance, unlined leather shoe with a softer rubber outsole will help you practice smearing the wall and deliver ample comfort for long periods of time, helping you improve endurance.

Single pitch/sport climbing: Select either a moderate downturned shoe or an aggressive stance Velcro shoe. These help you focus all your foot power and weight on the smallest of holds and let you adjust tightness on the fly. As well, go with a thinner yet harder rubber outsole with no-edge technology. This allows you to really feel every part of the wall, giving you a boost of confidence with every move upward.

Purchasing your first pair of climbing shoes is an exciting time. It’s the beginning of a bond among your feet, mind, and the rock. Stop at your local Eastern Mountain Sports and let the experts walk you through the process of choosing the right shoe for your climbing career. Happy climbing!


The NYCer’s Guide to Fall Foliage Outside the City

Get excited, NYCers, as fall is here! That means brisk air, apple picking (did someone say cider!?), fall brews, and, best of all, foliage! So, where do you go when you want to get out of the city and maximize your fall experience?

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Northern New Jersey/Delaware Water Gap

Prime Foliage: November 5 – November 19

Distance from NYC: 30 minutes – 1.5 hour drive

Often overlooked, Northern Jersey and the Delaware Water Gap have several great state parks to explore, all within an hour and a half of NYC. You can take a stroll around a lake, summit one of the many mountains with views of the city skyline, or kayak down a river with the leaf colors popping above. Visit High Point State Park and hike the Monument Trail, walk around the lake and head up to Pond Eddy to kayak the upper section of the Water Gap, or, my personal favorite, summit Bearfort Mountain via the Ernest Walker Trail.

Why visit? Northern NJ and the Delaware Water Gap give you a few options that are very close to NYC. You can even head out in the morning and be back in time for a late lunch with friends. These areas also have smaller crowds, so you may have the trails all to yourself.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Connecticut

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 12

Distance from NYC: 1 – 2.5 hour drive

If you’re looking for a day of hiking followed by a stop for some fresh cider, Connecticut has you covered, as it’s home a bunch of orchards and state parks that provide everything you’re looking for during peak foliage season.  Those looking to stay closer to NYC should check out Sleeping Giant State Park to rock climb the face or hike the Tower Trail, known for views all the way to Long Island Sound, and then drive just 20 minutes to Lyman Orchards for some fresh cider and apple picking. Feeling more adventurous? Head north to Kent to explore their awesome little town, Kent Falls State Park, and Macedonia Brook State Park, and then stop at Ellsworth Hill Orchard & Berry Farm.

Why Visit? Close and very easy to get to from NYC, Connecticut will give you the perfect fall day with friends or loved one. Spend the day exploring, or find a nice B&B and make a weekend out of it.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Hudson Valley, NY

Prime Foliage: October 22 – November 5

Distance from NYC: 1.5 – 2.5 hour drive, or take Metro-North

Leaf colors during prime foliage, hiking right along the river, and small towns with great atmosphere – should I keep going? There are many great places along the Hudson River to explore, from Cold Spring to Cornwall-On-Hudson to Beacon. Each town has a variety of fall activities you can do, and all have access to some great hiking. Local hiking favorites are Breakneck Ridge, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Storm King. Once you’ve conquered one of these mountains, head into town for a celebratory beer, most likely brewed in the area, and a burger, because you’ve earned it.

Why Visit? The Hudson Valley is very accessible for NYCers, mainly because you don’t need a car to get up there. The Metro-North will drop you off right in Cold Spring, so you can explore the town for the day. Couple the ease with the beautiful fall colors while you look over the river, and the group of friends you brought along will be thanking you for an awesome day.

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Catskills, NY

Prime Foliage: October 15 – 29

Distance from NYC: 2 – 3 hour drive

If you want to hike a bigger mountain, but you do not want to drive all the way up to the Adirondacks, head to the Catskills. Mt. Wittenberg, North Point, Giant Ledge, and the Dickie Barre, Peters Kill, and Awosting Falls loop are just some of the great options to take in the fall colors. On top of the great hiking spots and The Gunks, easily offering the best rock climbing on the East Coast, you’re bound to find a fall festival in the area. Most of the ski mountains, including Hunter, Windham, and Belleayre, hold Oktoberfest celebrations and farmers markets. For those not looking to hike or climb, you can take some really beautiful scenic drives in this area, and find a few great breweries for some tastings.

Why Visit? The Catskills have a little bit of everything. The best part is, you can make it a day trip if you stay in the southern parts, like New Paltz. In the end, a fall day here is a day very well spent, and you’ll agree after experiencing it. 

Credit: Michael Martineau
Credit: Michael Martineau

Adirondacks High Peaks Region

Prime Foliage: October 1 – 15

Distance from NYC: 3.5 – 4.5 hour drive

Take in the morning’s brisk and clear air, and then, hit the trails, where you’ll find red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves all around you as you climb in elevation. Emerging above the tree line will fill you with instant excitement, because this will be your first glance at the Adirondack Park’s peak foliage from above. That first view leaves you speechless, and it’s hard to put into words the full effect and beauty of the High Peaks Region during the fall. I highly suggest spending a few days up there, so you can take it all in and fully enjoy everything.

Look around Lake Placid and Saranac Lake for access to the best hiking, paddling, and atmosphere. As there are so many hikes with incredible views, it is hard to only list a few, but Mt. Jo, Cascade Mountain, Indian Head, and Giant Mountain are all among the best. For those looking to experience the foliage without having to hike, take a drive up to the top of Whiteface Mountain via the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway or the gondola to the top of Little Whiteface, for high peaks views without the work.

Why Visit? The Adirondacks High Peaks Region is the mecca for fall adventure. The colors are just incredible, and the towns just add to the experience. Do yourself a favor and head up there for a few days during foliage season, because you will not be disappointed.