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Cross-Country Skis

In Quebec, cross-country skiing has always enjoyed popularity with winter sport lovers. Not only is it a relaxing way to discover relatively wild regions, but it is also excellent aerobic exercise. Here are some tips to identify what you need and fully appreciate this wonderful outdoor activity.

BUYING

Before choosing your equipment, you must first ask yourself what type of cross-country skiing you plan to do:

  • Touring or backcountry skiing: This is the traditional method of cross-country skiing, done on mechanically made trails. The skis used in this case generally have parallel edges (lateral profile);
  • Wilderness skiing: This type of skiing is done on virgin snow, often in the forest, on large flat expanses of land or in the mountains. In this case, the tip and heel are wider to improve flotation on the loose snow, and the camber may be less pronounced. Sometimes, the heel has an attachment point to fasten climbing skin (or seal skin) for climbing mountains. Lastly, on certain skis there are metallic squares, which are very useful for tackling uneven ground and hard or icy surfaces;
  • Training skis: used for aerobic purposes, that involve among other things ski-skating on trails especially packed down especially for this purpose. Here the ski is shorter and narrower, with its tips less curved.

Once you have determined the type of skiing you plan to do, you can then choose which ski to use. To find the appropriate model, you must take into account the following features:

Structure

A ski can be cap or sandwich in structure. In the first case, also known as single shell, it’s the shell that gives the ski its shape and its resiliency. The interior is foam or honeycomb style, which provides an ideal balance between solidity and lightness. Carbon fiber reinforcements are sometimes added to improve ski rigidity without adding to the weight. Lastly, the camber in this type of ski is generally more pronounced. The majority of cross-country skis are made using the CAP method.

For sandwich skis, the heart of the structure is formed from a nucleus in hollowed out wood (more solid with a more durable camber) or in foam. This part is then sandwiched between several layers of fiberglass laminates. Most low-end skis use this method of construction.

Base

Generally made of plastic, it can also contain graphite (high-end skis), which reduces the presence of static electricity and improves the glide, especially on dry, dirty or very cold snow. It may include a standard groove to evacuate humidity, found between the snow and base of the ski, but certain models may be grooved according to requirements to adapt the base to specific needs or types of snow.

Lateral Profile (or Dimension Lines)

This is the form of the ski as seen from above. It can have an hourglass shape (wide tip and heel, narrow foot), parallel edges (classic cross-country skis) or delta-shaped (tips slightly wider than the heel). Touring ski fans generally opt for a ski with a neutral lateral profile (parallel edges), whereas those who do wilderness skiing are better to choose a ski with a more pronounced lateral profile (hourglass- or delta- shaped), which makes it easier to turn while going downhill and improves flotation. For ski-skating, skis can have a lateral profile that is slightly hollowed under the boot.

Camber

This is the curve in the ski, when you look at it from the side. It refers to the flexibility of the ski, based on its capacity to resist being crushed under the weight of the skier. It varies according to the type of skiing and snow conditions. It must allow a good compromise between sliding and traction: with a balanced camber, the part of the base located under the boot (retention zone, or adherence zone) must touch the snow when pushing off, but be raised when gliding. Training skiers and more athletic skiers choose skis with a camber that is stiffer to give it a springiness when pushing off.

Skis used for diagonal skiing (classic method of skiing) have a double camber: one for the ski in general and one for the retention zone. The second camber prevents the retention zone from touching the snow when gliding. However, skis used for ski-skating only have a single camber, since they do not have a retention zone. As well, skis with an overly flexible camber quickly become boring to use for skiers who want to quickly progress.

In all cases, the skiers weight is very important, since it determines the level of camber for skis based on the skis length. Lastly, wilderness skiers must take into account the extra weight they will carry on their shoulders in their backpack if this is the case.

Length

To determine the length, some people look at size, physical fitness level, and technical level of the skier, but only the skier’s weight really counts. To choose skis, the skier must not completely flatten out the support zone when he splits his weight between the two skis. He must also be able to touch the ground, when he puts his weight on a single ski.

In general, we recommend skis that correspond to the skiers height. Shorter skis are sometimes recommended for those wanting to quickly learn cross-country skiing whereas longer skis allow a more supple camber.

Wilderness skiers will prefer longer skis for wide expenses (for flotation), but shorter if they are skiing in the forest (for manageability). Lastly, shorter training skis are better in hard show, but longer skis work best in soft snow.

Bindings

Once you have chosen your skis, you have to think about bindings. There are two major families of bindings on the market: SNS (Salomon Nordic System) and NNN (New Nordic Norm), from the Norwegian company Rotefella. Both are equal in terms of quality and price, but each system has its own line of boots, which are incompatible and not interchangeable with those from the competitor.

Skiers who do ski-skating generally go for SNS Pilot bindings. These are a two-axis binding system that makes the ski very easy to manage and control. Given the additional stability from these bindings, some skiers who use a diagonal stride prefer other ones.

Wilderness skiers have the choice between a good old metal cable binding, which allows better control of the ski, as well as better lateral support of the boot, and BC (for Back Country) type bindings , available from both SNS and NNN. These bindings are more economical and lighter, but, above all, effective for short outings.

Boots

Comfort and warmth: these are the first two characteristics to consider when purchasing ski boots, regardless of the type of skiing you plan to do. When trying on boots in the store, make sure that the model has enough inner room to not cut off blood circulation, which would inevitably lead to freezing when outdoors in cold weather.

This being said, you must also take into account lateral maintenance and heel support, without scrimping on boot comfort and insulation.

In general, the boots used for ski-skating must have a more rigid shell and a base (for better ski control) whereas for traditional cross-country skiing, they should be more supple in order to allow a more fluid movement for foot flexion.

Boots used for training skiing will be both supple (in terms of foot flexion) and rigid (around the heel) in order to maintain good overall stability and better handling of the skis.

Lastly, wilderness ski boots come in leather or plastic. The plastic version is generally preferred, given its increased insulation and waterproofness, which allows people to ski comfortably for longer in fields of virgin snow.

Ski poles

Whether made of aluminum, fiberglass, carbon or an alloy of fiberglass and carbon, ski poles must be rigid enough to effectively push the skier–after all, it is the pushing that helps move the skier forward.

Skiers who want performance will opt for carbon (the most rigid material, but also the most costly) whereas those who go out to relax could be fine with aluminum (heavier, but solid) or fiberglass (lighter, but more fragile) poles.

To choose length, we often recommend using tried-and-true formulas: so traditional (or alternative) skiers simply have to multiply their height (in meters) by 0.84, whereas those who do ski-skating will multiply their height by 0.89.

Others prefer to take off about 30 centimeters from the skiers height or measure to his jaw for ski-skating; or take off 40 centimeters from the height for traditional skiing.

USE

It would be so easy if cross-country skis were only used to hurtle down trails or slopes…But they must also stick to the snow to pull along the skier when he moves forward, and especially to climb slight slopes.

To do this, the retention zone for certain skis comes with a anti-backslide system (commonly called  scales), i.e., the small sloped notches that allow the ski to move forward, but that hug the snow at the back of the ski, which keeps the ski in place and gives it slight support, making it easier to push forward.

To optimize ski gliding and traction, and to make them more effective, you must also wax them before each use, with a wax that is appropriate for the outdoor temperature and type of snow in the area.

To do so, you must first use a plastic scraper on the wax before applying on the base (and ideally use a wax remover), and then apply new wax using a piece of cork. To obtain a better traction/glide ratio, apply a glide wax on the heel and tip, as well as a retention wax in the middle of the ski (retention zone or adherence zone). Lastly, for ski-skating, you must wax the entire base using glide wax.


MAINTENANCE

At the beginning of the season, use a wax remover to remove old layers of wax. Next, use a metal (e.g. brass) or plastic brush on the ski base ) to clear outencrusted dirt and open the pores of the base.

Once this has been done, apply warm glide ski wax using an old iron, which will lubricate the base. Next apply base wax along the entire length of the ski: this base layer will last all winter and be used itself as a base on which wax will adhere.

Regularly check for notches or nicks on the base: These will affect how the ski glides and must be filled in using wax or P-tex.

If your ski has notches and nicks, also check for the state of the squares. They must be sharpened and not have any notches. If necessary, file them down or ask a professional to do so.

At the end of the season, cover the skis with a good layer of wax to protect the base from any impurities that may set in during the summer storage season.