How to select equipment for cross country skiing

By Roger Lohr

©SIA 2007-8

To select appropriate Nordic ski equipment, you must first decide a few things. Where will you ski — on prepared tracks or blazing your own trail? Do you want the optimal performance a waxable ski offers, or the convenience of waxless skis? Do you want the speed and excitement of a skating ski, or the serene kick-and-glide of a classic ski?

Here are some tips to help you make those decisions:

The right ski for the right terrain
For machine-groomed trails at a Nordic ski area, you'll want equipment that will feel very light and responsive.

For off-track skiing — which can range from a local park to backcountry mountain wilderness — you'll want heavier and wider ski gear for stability and control.

Use the "paper test" to see if a particular pair of skis supports your weight effectively for both gripping on the uphills and gliding on the flat terrain or downhills. Here's how to do it: On a hard floor surface, you should be able to slide a piece of paper under the skis when you stand evenly weighted on both of the ski centers. When all of your weight is applied to one ski at a time, the paper should be unable to slide.

Match your boot to your ski; go for comfort
Any Nordic boots that match your ski category and comfortably fit your feet are fine. Have the bindings professionally installed on the skis. Be aware that the bindings must be matched to the type of boots that you select as they come in different integrated systems.

Your boots should feel just like running shoes. Try on the boots wearing the socks that you plan to wear when skiing. A liner sock under a winter sock will provide extra warmth and comfort. The liner will help draw perspiration away from your feet, help prevent friction blisters and keep you warmer with an additional layer. Consider footbeds or fitted insoles if you have problems with your feet.

Picking a skating ski, poles and boots
Nordic skating ski equipment gives higher speed and performance than classic Nordic ski equipment. When you select skating equipment, you'll want to consider stability (ability to control high-speed turns) and speed (how far you glide on a ski).

To select skate skis, use manufacturer size charts, which correlate skiers' weight and height to ski lengths. If you already own classic skis, one rule of thumb is to take 10 centimeters (cm) off your appropriate classic ski length.

If a store has a sophisticated flex and/or pressure testing device, they really will be able to know the exact flex and pressure characteristics of a ski. This can be useful even for a beginner in selecting a ski that is just right for a skier's size and ability. It is safe to select a medium flex for your weight.

Skate poles are longer than the poles used in classic skiing. They should reach the cleft of your chin while you are standing in shoes or ski boots on a floor.

Skating boots have features to stabilize your foot and ankle and increase the responsiveness of the "push off" phase. Skate boots also are stiffer than classic boots, because you will want the boot to flex only enough to aggressively drive the ski.

If you find the high-end skate boots too restrictive, lower-end skate or combi boots (boots for both skating and classic Nordic skiing) might be a better choice. Classic boots generally are too flexible and cut too low to give a skier a strong push-off and good support during the skate gliding phase.

As with classic ski gear, always have your skate-ski bindings professionally mounted.


Roger Lohr has been cross country skiing since 1972 and began telemarking in 1977. He is the Regional News Editor for Cross Country Skier magazine, writes for GearTrends, is the editor for xcskiresorts.com and conducts the annual national visitation research for Cross Country Ski Areas Association.