Why practice cross-country skiing?
The health benefits of cross-country skiing are well known and documented, but the other advantages of this sport, when compared to alpine skiing, are not having to wait in line for long minutes to get on a ski lift. or buy an annual ski pass. Once the initiation is over, you can even ski around your neighborhood soccer field.
It is also a great opportunity to do a good cardiovascular workout and work a host of muscles in your body; from the pectorals to the abdominals through the adductors and the calf muscles.
How to choose cross-country skis, but above all the right type of classic cross-country skis?
First, cross-country skis are divided into two large families: classic cross-country skis and cross-country skis for skating (a more difficult technique that will not be covered in this article).
The different types of cross-country skis are grouped into the following three categories: classic skis for marked trails, touring skis (backcountry) and hybrid skis. Some skis may fit into more than one category, and some may not. Each type of ski has its strengths and is adapted to a specific use. Before making a choice, it is important to dissect each of the categories and imagine the environment in which you would like to ski.
Classic cross-country skis for groomed trails
The most common are the classic, long and narrow skis, which are perfect for skiing on mechanically marked trails, in resorts and in parks. Even if their size varies slightly from one pair to another, classic skis are all suitable for marked and groomed slopes. Intermediate and advanced skiers will appreciate the speed of narrower skis while beginners should start with wider models for greater stability and balance.
The debate between waxable and waxless skis continues to divide the cross-country skiing community. Waxable skis are undeniably the most adaptable to the riding conditions, which means they can offer better traction and a higher level of glide. On the other hand, today’s technologies allow for waxless skis – fitted with directional scales or skins – that have a comparable level of performance. In addition, these skis require very little maintenance. No wax to apply before each ride (just apply once or twice a year on the gliding surface), because they are ready to be used at any time. They perform well in all snow conditions (freezing, sticky, etc.).
There are also slightly higher-end classic cross-country skis designed for racing and performance and offering a higher level of skill.
Backcountry cross-country skis
At first glance, off-trail touring skis, also called backcountry cross-country skis, look just like alpine skis. Wider than conventional skis, touring skis offer a larger gliding surface, which allows you to stay above the snow, minimizing sinking in powder. If you plan to spend several hours cross-country skiing with a rather heavy backpack and in a place like the Adirondacks, for example, cross-country skis are the best choice. On the other hand, these skis are not designed for groomed slopes, so do not bring them to a ski resort, because you will find the time long.
You will also notice that they have metallic edges. These will allow you to attack the climbs and descents on uneven or icy terrain. Since there are no pre-made tracks to guide your skis through the snow, start by skiing short distances and tame the trail. This will save you from falling into a small ravine or coming face to face with a shrub.
Hybrid cross-country skis
Halfway there are hybrid cross-country skis. Similar to touring skis, they are shorter and have metal edges to better control the ascents and descents. They are wider than conventional skis, for increased stability, but narrow enough to enter the marked trails. If you like ski touring or exploring off-piste trails, but don’t want to stop skiing on piste (skis must be no more than 65 mm wide to slide on a marked trail ), this model of skis will suit you perfectly. Beginners will appreciate the shorter format and metallic edges of hybrid skis, even if they slide less quickly than the other two types of skis.
How to choose the right cross-country ski length and width?
Most people who had a bad first experience cross-country skiing had bought used, unfitted cross-country skis. Remember to have your new cross-country skis (the camber) and your boots properly adjusted before attempting your first cross-country skiing experience.
As for the length, the trick of stretching your arm above your head to determine the right ski size is outdated; don’t trust it. Nowadays, cross-country ski manufacturers make models of different lengths depending on the weight of the skier. It is therefore essential to weigh yourself before going to the store.
Also consider the camber which designates the free space between the ski and the snow, when the ski is flat on the snow without weight. Consult the recommendations of the manufacturers to find the camber adapted to your weight, your height and your level.
Beginners will want to choose cross-country skis with shorter and wider scales (for more stability) as well as a low camber, ideal for gliding outings on soft snow.
How to choose the right cross-country ski boots and poles?
As for the boots and the length of the poles, they will depend on the technique you use to ski. Poles for skating – a more difficult technique – are generally longer than those for classic walking. Do not hesitate to ask a specialist in the store who can advise you.
Above all, first find a cross-country ski boot that suits you before buying your pair of skis. With a boot that is too small or narrow, you will have cold feet on colder days. With a boot that’s too big, you’ll probably have to bandage blisters. Don’t forget to bring a pair of warm ski socks when shopping to validate the fit as accurately as possible when trying on your boots.
Which cross-country ski bindings should you choose?
There are several types of bindings, hence the importance of choosing them carefully; SNS Profile, SNS Pilot, Prolink, NNN, Turnamic.
Some have heel pieces, others unique rails. They are sometimes compatible with certain specific brands of cross-country ski boot soles or sometimes compatible with the majority of brands.
Do not hesitate to seek advice when you reach this stage.
What cross-country skiing accessories will enhance your experience?
1. Wax for waxless skis
When the weather is mild, apply the product to the entire bottom surface of the cross-country skis to prevent the snow from sticking. On days when the temperature drops below -20 degrees Celsius, coat the base of the ski with wax to get better glide. This will also allow you to protect the base of your skis.
2. A compact scraper
Get your hands on a small and affordable scraper; it will allow you to remove snow from the base of your skis and bindings. You can also use it on waxing skis to scrape wax or remove excess from your base.
3. Ski socks
Don’t underestimate the value of a good pair of socks that will prevent frostbite and keep you warm. Socks made of merino wool or synthetic fibers are essentials to wear during a day of cross-country skiing. Above all, avoid cotton socks. When you wear your socks, make sure your feet fit comfortably in each of your boots and that you have enough room to wiggle your toes and not cut off your blood circulation.
4. Cross-country clothing with good breathability and weather-appropriate insulation
Choose pants and a coat made of synthetic insulating materials that wick sweat well and dry quickly. Depending on the weather outside, you may prefer to practice the technique of the multi-layer system which consists of layering different textiles to preserve your body heat or removing them if you are too hot.
5. Protective gloves
Having cold hands is not pleasant, so bring a good pair of gloves that will not hinder your movements, but will keep your extremities warm while you ski.
Finally, don’t forget that cross-country skiing is an activity that will help you stay in shape and adopt good lifestyle habits this winter, without breaking the bank. All you have to do is choose the place and the right tracks to perfect your technique.