Please note this post is about Classic cross country skis.
Before you go to a ski store…
- Classic/Groomed terrain – If you will be sticking to groomed terrain (i.e. skiing trackset trails), classic skis will be your lightest and most affordable option. Light also means fast! However, light touring skis with metal edges that fit in the track (less than 70 mm wide) are a nice option for greater control on steep or icy sections (especially if you are an inexperienced or infrequent skier).
- Classic and ungroomed terrain – If you occasionally ski on ungroomed terrain or want extra stability on the steeps or icy sections, I recommend light touring skis (also known as compact touring skis) with metal edges. The metal edges will give you a lot more control and confidence, but are heavier and wider, so they are slower.
- Backcountry touring – Touring skis will serve you best for skiing ungroomed terrain as they are wider and provide more flotation (in addition to being more robust and easier to turn). On the downside, they are costly and heavy, and don’t fit in the track, so I would only recommend them for serious backcountry skiers. It is possible to do some touring in light touring skis, but they will not be suitable for all conditions/terrain. Discuss options with knowledgeable staff at your local ski shop.
- BEST TIP FOR GROWING KIDS: Consider “combi” classic/skate skis that your child can use as classic skis to start, and then use as skate skis when s/he is bigger (since skate skis are shorter)!!
- Tip: Rent before you buy to see if you like the skis. Some stores such as Mountain Equipment Coop will allow you to apply your rental cost to purchase! If you are new to cross country skiing, go with someone who can give you pointers or take a lesson your first time out.
- If you select light touring skis, be sure to choose a width that will fit in the track (less than 70 mm wide) so you aren’t slowed down and so you don’t widen the track.
Top: Classic skis, Bottom: Light touring skis
- Waxless Skis: If you are an occasional skier, aren’t racing, or live in a mild climate, waxless skis are very convenient. You don’t need to check the temperature and apply the right wax; you just put on your skis and go. You will probably get more of a workout than the folks on waxable skis as you’ll be working a bit harder to go the same speed. They are less expensive as they are recreational skis, but over time, the scales will wear away and be less effective, so they will need replacing sooner than waxable skis (granted, this would take quite a long time if you don’t ski much). My children started on waxless skis and they were very convenient on warm, Chinook days when the temperatures increased dramatically throughout the day.
- Recommended for infrequent skier or children under 8 years old (Bunnies and Jackrabbits Levels 1 & 2).
- Waxable Skis – Ski racers use waxable skis, for two main reasons: a) they are faster on the downhill (scales on waxless slow you down) and b) faster on the uphill (superior grip + little/no sliding back = faster climbing). All in all, they’re faster. There is a learning curve however, and if you can’t spare a minute to wax each ski (it really is that quick), then waxless would be a better option. The only time waxless skis outperform waxable skis is when the temperatures change dramatically or are quite warm (but you can deal with the former by applying different wax). Waxable skis can get very sticky and accumulate snow in very warm conditions, but if you keep moving, the snow doesn’t stay stuck for very long. When it’s above 0C, you can use Klister and kick wax. I skied in +12 last spring with Klister and it worked quite well! I own waxable junior racing skis, waxable classic skis, and waxable light touring nordic skis.
- Recommended for frequent skiers and children aged 8 & up (Jackrabbits Level 3 & up).
- Skintec Skis: A new kind of waxless ski has synthetic skins attached to the kickzone rather than fish scales. They are faster than traditional waxless skis but not as fast as properly waxed skis. If you don’t think you have the patience to figure out waxing your skis, or hate having to scrape off wax part way through the day to apply a different color of wax, consider Skintec (Skintec is Atomic’s name for this type of ski, other “skin” skis are available). They work in any temperature and don’t need kick wax. You will periodically have to replace the “skin” section. I’m on my second season with my Salomon Equip RC Skin skis and love them! They’re my main skis now.
|Waxless ski base – observe the fish scale pattern|
- Camber – In order for you to have an effective kick and glide, your skis must have the right camber. This is basically the bendiness (flex) of the kick zone. Too soft and you will not glide; too stiff and you will not be able to kick or climb well if you’re inexperienced. Ski shops can help you find skis with the camber that is right for you. They use a really high tech method of slipping a piece of paper under the kick zone while you stand on both skis with weight evenly distributed; the paper should just slide beneath your feet. 😉 They will also need to know a bit about how you ski.
- Tip: If you usually ski with a pack, bring it with you, to ensure that the loaded pack + your weight works with the skis.
- For young children, skis should be soft and have minimal flex, so they can get good grip.
The skis on the bottom have greater camber (flex).
- 2-5 year olds should have skis that are about chin height.
- Older kids can have skis that are as tall as them.
Sidecut is another consideration, but since most classic skis have very little shaping, this was not on my radar when I went ski shopping.
Boots, Bindings & Poles
- Boots – This is a chicken and egg debate. While some people choose their bindings first, I chose my boots first. Why? It is almost impossible for me to find boots that fit! After trying on everything in the store, I finally found a super comfortable pair of light touring boots. I then looked for bindings that would work with them and fit my skis. Boots should be comfortable and snug, but not too tight. Don’t get them too small at the toe! I made that mistake with my first pair of boots and lost some toenails.
- Tip: Try them on with the socks you will wear when skiing. I recommend wool or wool blend midweight, midcalf socks.
From left to right: SNS Pilot, NNN, and SNS Profil boots
|From top to bottom: SNS Pilot bindings, SNS Profil bindings, NNN Manual bindings|
|Poles with velcro closures on the wrist straps (lower) are more expensive, but more comfortable and secure.
I recommend the upper type for young children.
|Cross country skiing is fun for all ages!|
Glide Wax and Kick/Grip Wax
For very warm days, you will need to apply Klister. It makes spring skiing possible (I’ve skied in +12C!) but is sticky, so wrap a plastic shopping bag around your skis to keep your roofbox/vehicle klister-free while transporting skis if you don’t think you’ll have time to clean the skis before packing them.
|Kick wax kit|
Notes Regarding Used Skis
Buy the skis first and then the boots – Get the best skis you can afford, then look for boots that match your bindings. You don’t want to buy the boots first then limit yourself to only a few kinds of skis. Boots are also less expensive than skis, so if you have to buy one item new, it’s better to get new boots.
Camber – Over time, the camber of skis changes, so it is important to check the camber of the skis before you take them. The online specs may say the 175 cm skis are good for 120 pounds, but they may not be anymore (unless the original owner has hardly used them).
Wax – You may need to reapply glide wax if it hasn’t been done for some time. See the Glide Wax section above.
I hope this helps you get started so you can enjoy cross country skiing as much as we do!
Where to Ski
|Bow River Loop, Lake Louise is a skier’s paradise!|
More Cross Country Ski Stories
- The Best Beginner Cross Country Ski Trails in Lake Louise
- Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre
- Amazing Cross Country Skiing at Pipestone, Lake Louise (strong beginner and intermediate level trails)
- Where to XC Ski in Calgary, Kananaskis, and Banff (scroll down to section 3)
- 10 Reasons I Love Cross Country Skiing