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Your Guide To Cross Country Skiing

©SIA 2007-8
Cross country skiing is a terrific way to enjoy the great outdoors in winter. The pleasures of cross country skiing can take your mind off the stresses of the daily grind, whether you seek the solitude of solo skiing or are spending some quality time with family and friends. It's also a great aerobic activity, enabling you to burn up hundreds of calories per hour without straining joints such as ankles and knees. You'll get a low-impact workout while enjoying the outdoors, and the scenery sure beats the view at your local health club.

But as with any new sport, cross country skiing can seem daunting to newcomers. Novices can be baffled by the variety of equipment choices and even the unfamiliar words. This guide is designed to put you at ease and give you basic information that will help you get started the right way.

Skip to:
  • Gear Up — should you rent or purchase, types of skis, boots, bindings and poles
  • Measure Up — what size do you need?
  • Get Going — where you can take lessons
Gear Up
Before renting or purchasing equipment, ask yourself a few questions: Will you ski two times a year or more? Where do you plan to ski? The terrain and location helps determine your equipment choices. Cross country skiing allows you to choose from a variety of locations. Parks, golf courses, hiking trails or cross country ski areas are all good choices. Determining your projected commitment level will help you decide whether to rent, lease or buy equipment.

Your equipment options include:
  • Renting equipment at your local ski shop or at the ski area. You can rent equipment by the day or week. This is often recommended for first-time skiers. (Note: Some ski shops will apply the price of rentals toward purchasing new equipment.)
  • Leasing equipment for an entire season. This is a good option in areas where it might snow only a few times a year, because rental equipment can be scarce. Some ski shops offer this service and it can especially make sense for children who quickly out-grow gear.
  • Buying used equipment at a local shop or ski swap. Be aware that at garage sales and some swaps, you may wind up with gear that is outdated and inappropriate.
  • Buying new equipment. You might want to consider a package deal that offers a discount when you buy skis, boots, bindings and poles together.
Ultimately, owning your equipment allows you continuity, comfort and control as you progress through skiing's learning stages and can also save you time and money in the long run.

Where you plan to ski the most will influence what type of equipment you use. There are basically several types of cross country skis, designed for different activities:

Traditional In-Track Touring Skis: These skis are often used with a traditional kick-and-glide motion on maintained track systems set by special grooming machines. They also can be used on ungroomed terrain. They have minimal sidecut so the skis will stay in the tracks. (Sidecut refers to the narrowness of the middle part of the skis in relation to the wider tip and tail.)

Off-Track Touring Skis: These skis are often used to navigate ungroomed terrain in parks, open fields and on golf courses. They are wider than in-track touring skis and provide more flotation and stability in fresh snow.

Skating Skis: These skis are used with a skating-type stride on groomed trails. They are shorter, narrower and lighter than traditional cross country skis. The technique is similar to inline skating, except poles are also used. Skating skis can provide the ultimate fitness workout.

Backcountry Skis: These skis are for the more adventurous, who are exploring the backcountry and experiencing variable snow conditions. They can be as wide as alpine skis, for better flotation, and feature metal edges for more control.

Wax vs. waxless: Although more advanced skiers prefer waxing their skis, most enjoy the convenience of waxless skis. If you buy waxless skis, you can strap them on and go.

The boots you choose can make cross country skiing a real pleasure. Comfortable,warm boots are the most important component of the equipment package. Boots should be moderately rigid to resist twisting or deformity.

Look for a boot with some insulation between the inner lining and the outer shell .Classic touring boots that come up over the ankle might be the best choice for new skiers. These boots offer lots of support, warmth and comfort. If you are planning to conquer the backcountry, look for sturdier, more rigid boots that offer the most support.

There are many types of cross country ski bindings available, but the basic concept is the same: Keep the toe and front of the boot locked in place,leave the heel and back part of the foot free to move up and down. Boots and bindings are usually sold together as they must work as a team.

Recreational boots are available in three binding systems: 75mm three-pin (uses three pins that mate with three holes in the boot sole); Salomon system; and Rottefella NNN (New Nordic Norm).

Poles are used to help you with your balance and for pushing off while skiing. Poles can be made from fiberglass, aluminum, graphite or some combination of these materials.

Measure up
Skis are measured in centimeters (cm). Your ski length will depend on your ability, height and weight along with the type of skiing you plan to do most often. A shop employee will help you decide on the appropriate length.

Cross country ski boots are sized in one of three ways — European sizes (numbers in the 30s and 40s), traditional American sizes (generally 6-12)and also "mondo point," which is simply the length of the boot in centimeters .Generally speaking, Nordic boots designed for skiing in tracks or light-duty trail breaking come in European sizing with American equivalents, while telemark and heavier-duty backcountry boots come in mondo sizing (some backcountry boots come in Euro sizes). Because of these various sizing methods, it's important to try on boots before buying them. When trying on boots, wear one pair of medium-weight or light-weight socks and a liner sock made of synthetic materials or silk. The fit should be snug and your heel should remain in place. You should be able to wiggle your toes.

Poles are measured in inches or in centimeters (cm).

Get going
Cross country skiing is relatively easy to learn, but first-timers should still take a lesson from a qualified instructor. Lessons can greatly enhance the experience.This is especially true if you don't have any experience ice skating, inline skating or exercising with a cross country skiing simulator.

Call ahead to the local area or destination resort to find out about beginner lessons and any special deals or packages that might be available. Make the ski school your first stop. Take a group or private lesson.
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