Cross-Country Skiing: Selecting Equipment

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With the abundance of options available, choosing the right skiing equipment can be overwhelming. Sorting through the myriad of skis, boots, bindings, and poles is a challenge for beginners and experienced skiers alike. Steve Hindman, author of Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness, offers some tips for finding the equipment that matches your interests and skill level.

Light touring—equipment for casual outings in the park, on the golf course, on snow-covered roads, and on groomed trails.

  • · Don’t be oversold—skis between 50 mm and 70 mm wide at the tip, a system boot, and binding will keep everything light and flexible so you can ski instead of plod. Avoid metal edges and adjustable poles.
  • Choose widths in the middle of 50mm and 70mm spectrum for maximum versatility. If you expect to ski mostly at groomed areas, go narrower. If most of your days will be spent knocking around wherever you find snow, go wider.
  • Avoid buying backcountry system boots and bindings—they are unneeded and add unnecessary weight.
  • Find a boot that fits, and then buy a binding to match.
  • Choose a pole that is comfortable and easy to use. Choose an elliptical basket sized for where you want to ski (bigger for more snow, smaller for less).

Track skiing—when light is right. Equipment for skiing on machine-groomed trails.

Classic Equipment—for the traditional diagonal stride

  • Go with a lightweight track ski or a citizen-racing ski. These are less expensive, a little easier to ski on, and offer almost as much glide as high-end racing skis.
  • Opt for system boots and bindings rather than three-pin boots and bindings.
  • Choose either manual or step-in bindings according to your preference. Step-ins are convenient but manuals are lighter.
  • Be careful when wearing stiffer plastic soles—they’re slippery and dangerous in icy parking lots. Wearing them in rocky parking causes scratches, which will attract ice and snow to stick to the sole while skiing.
  • For high-performance skiing, select low cut boots with an unrestricted forward flex.
  • Don’t feel obligated to buy pricey boots—less expensive boots (combi, pursuit, performance, or sport boots) are a great choice for the majority of classic skiers.
  • Avoid soft, squishy boots. They are heavy and lack control on the trail.
  • Put what extra money you can into light, stiff poles. Less expensive stiff poles tend to be heavy. Spend money on the pole shaft before paying for fancy handles and straps.

    Skating Equipment—for moving over the snow with a motion similar to ice or roller-skating.

  • Avoid buying cheap racing skis. The magic of skating is hard to feel on skis more than one or two notches below the best.
  • Buy a basic waxing iron and a small selection of waxes. Wax your skis for glide every second or third day you ski.

    Combi Equipment—can be used for both skating and traditional skiing.

  • Avoid skis made for both skating and classic. They are not worth buying.
  • Choose combi boots for extra support while classic skiing.
  • Buy combi bindings if you want classic bindings that are more resistant to forward flex.

Backcountry Equipment—tools for cruising through the park or climbing a mountain. This is the broadest category of equipment. If you are new to skiing, be sure to rent before you buy to understand the wide variety of options available.

  • Go with full metal edges if you make turns on icy slopes. Choose partial metal edges if you want extra security touring in icy conditions but do not go around seeking slopes to make turns on.
  • Match the boot to the ski. A wider ski requires a higher, stiffer boot.
  • Select boots that are at least ankle high, but don’t over do it. The heaviest boots are needed only for traveling in extreme terrain and carrying heavy loads.
  • Choose backcountry system bindings for all backcountry tasks short of ski mountaineering and steep telemark descents.
  • Opt for plastic telemark boots and cable bindings for extreme terrain and ski mountaineering.
  • Choose pole baskets large enough for the snow you expect to ski in. Size fixed-length poles to fit easily beneath your armpit.

- Adapted from Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness by Steve Hindman (The Mountaineers Books, $19.95 paperback)