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Cross-Country Skis (Nordic Skis)

Dynamic, fluid movement that takes you over rolling hills, frozen lakes, and frosty trails, cross country skiing is your ticket to cruise through snowy landscapes. Find out about different styles of skiing and how to choose the right size, shape, and type of cross-country ski.

Photo: Ryan Creary

Track Skiing

This style of skiing is practiced on groomed or track-set terrain, often on or around local ski hills. The skis are fairly narrow, have no metal edges, and are available with waxable or waxless bases.

  • Classic skis are characterized by the stride-and-glide motion that most people think of when they envision nordic skiing.
  • Skating or freestyle skis offer a more aerobic form of nordic skiing that involves a pronounced pole plant and an angled skating motion.
  • High-performance skis, either classic or skating, are designed for those entering recreational races or training for improved performance.

Backcountry Touring

Designed for people who do most of their skiing on ungroomed trails and terrain, these cross-country skis range from wide Classic models to beefy mountaineering skis with full metal edges.

  • Touring skis suit undulating and hilly terrain where there is the possibility of slightly extended telemark-style descents. Shorter and wider than Nordic skis, they also tend to be slightly heavier and more durable. They often have full metal edges to aid in traversing and descending.

Ski Length

  • Classic skis should be taller than you. But, the precise length will depend on your weight and the intensity of your skiing. Ideally you should choose skis in person to find the right combination of length and flex so your skis will grip and glide properly. You can use this little formula for a very general idea of a length that may suit you: multiply your height in inches by 2.6 and add 25 to the result to determine the length of the ski in centimetres. Round up if you are heavier.
  • Skating skis should generally be 5 to 10cm taller than you. Again, you will get better results by having someone check the clearance of the skis as you weight and unweight them.

Camber and Stiffness

Camber refers to the upward arching of a ski in the middle, more specifically its resistance to flattening when weighted. Ski stiffness and the amount of camber varies among ski manufacturers. Ski staff usually consult the manufacturer's suggestions when matching ski length with skier weight.

Torsional or lateral stiffness is the ski's ability to resist twisting. In untracked snow, a torsionally stiff ski will not be deflected by terrain irregularities. However, many people prefer a slightly softer tip that will flow around irregularities on Nordic tracks and is less likely to jump out of a set track.

  • Classic skis have a double camber shape that give them a higher, more pronounced curve underfoot. This curve keeps the wax pocket out of the snow in the glide phase, and engages the snow during the kick phase. The balance of contact and float is critical to the stride-and-glide Classic technique.
  • Skating skis have a single stiff camber, more like an alpine ski. If the skis are too soft you'll lose power through the push phase, and your skis won't glide smoothly. Too much camber will transfer your weight to the tips and tails, making it difficult to set the edge of the ski, particularly when you're climbing.

Sidecut and Dual Sidecut

Sidecut indicates the shape or profile of the ski. The amount of sidecut affects the way a ski tracks (travels in a straight line) and turns. Skis with limited sidecut and a straighter profile (Classic skis) track or glide forward easily. A ski with lots of sidecut will turn more easily but not track as smoothly. Skating skis usually have minimal sidecut: the tips and tails are only slightly wider than the waist. This increases stability in the glide phase.

Dual sidecut describes the shape of high-performance skis that have a wider shovel, waist, and tail. The advantage is more power in the push phase and the ability to easily return to centre during the glide phase.

Waxable and Waxless Bases

Waxable skis are the choice for racers or for high-performance training. Waxing Nordic skis is part art, part science. It takes a bit of patience and some practice, but a well-waxed ski will be a joy to ride, and will be smoother and faster than any waxless ski, especially in consistent temperatures, above or below freezing. Waxing in warmer, coastal climates can be a bit of a challenge.

Waxless skis are virtually maintenance free. They have a textured pattern on the base that grips the snow when going uphill yet allows the ski to glide when going downhill. They are suited to casual skiers or people who just want a pair of skis to keep at the cabin. Some newer patterns are efficient enough to use for all-conditions training skis.