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.