Section 3: XC equipment/Info
XC-FAQ compiled by I. Stern with input from a whole heck of a lot of
people. Send contributions directly to email@example.com since
Glen's strictly a downhill weenie.
Hey....I resemble that! ..ed
There are various types of skis, each designed for a different style
of skiing. Obviously, if you indulge in all of the different styles
of cross-country skiing, you can easily spend enough on skis to make
up for all the money you save not buying lift tickets!
Cross-country skis have either waxable or waxless bases. There are
advantages and disadvantages which can be more or less important,
depending on the style of ski, but usually you can get any particular
type of ski with either type of base.
Waxless cross country skis have a "scaled" bottom so that they will
slide forward and resist backward motion. These skis are a good
choice for first-timers as they will allow you to concentrate on
striding, skating, poling, downhilling, and other aspects of technique.
They are not so good for going up steep hills, or for unpacked
powder snow. They are great for snow that packs into a wet blob
under your skis.
These skis require waxing, and proper waxing at that, to be useful.
Lemon pledge is the recommended wax as you'll be able to see yourself
but will avoid waxy yellow buildup. No, really: for starters a two or
three wax kit is sufficient (wet snow/dry snow) but other wax systems
exist where every 10 degree change in temperature requires a different
wax. With proper wax, waxable skis are faster than waxless on flat
ground, and can be used to climb steep hills much more easily. With
improper wax, several pounds of snow will stick to your skis with
There are basically three kinds of bindings used on cross-country skis:
three-pin, integral boot/binding systems, and randonee. Backcountry
boots are usually stiffer and sturdier than track boots, and skating
boots have a tall plastic cuff for ankle support.
- Track skis:
These skis are designed for use at "Nordic Centers" and the like
where tracks are prepared in the snow for you. They are light,
flexible, very skinny, do not have metal edges, and are usually
waxless although waxable versions are available as well. You can
go very fast with them provided you don't have to break trail or go
steeply uphill or downhill. It might be possible to do telemark
turns with these, but it's difficult because of the lack of sidecut.
These skis are used in classic diagonal racing and for light touring.
Racing track skis tend to be waxable.
- Skating skis:
These skis are designed for use with the skating technique, which
looks sort of like Rollerblading on snow. These skis use only glide
wax, not grip wax, and are never waxless. Skilled racers go faster and
easier in most conditions using this technique, so adherents of classic
diagonal racing hate it. Skating skis are shorter and stiffer than
track skis, and the tips are rounder. They are single-cambered.
Skating skis are never used with three-pin bindings because the binding
width would interfere with the technique.
- Backcountry skis:
These skis are designed for use on backcountry trails, where you
may be breaking trail, may be carrying a pack, and may find untouched
powder bowls just begging for a few turns. They are heavier and
wider than track skis, but lighter and narrower than downhill or
telemark skis. They are usually double-cambered and have metal
edges and good sidecut for telemark turns and control on the downhill.
Both waxless and waxable versions exist.
- Telemark skis:
These skis are designed for use at lift-served ski areas, for
people who want to use telemark technique down the hill but are too
lazy to ski up it first, and for people who don't mind the extra effort
to climb with these skis, in return for a better downhill run. They
are a bit longer and narrower than downhill skis, but basically look
a whole lot like downhill skis with cross-country bindings. They are
better for telemarking downhill than backcountry skis, but it is harder
to ski uphill with them because they are heavier and have less camber.
These skis are usually waxable. Three-pin bindings are usually used.
These are schizophrenic skis for people who can't decide if they're
into cross-country or downhill. They are usually used with a
randonee binding, which is used with an alpine (downhill) boot, and
allows the heel to be free for uphill climbing but locked down for
downhill skiing. They are essentially lighter alpine skis.
Since you need different skis, boots, and bindings for each different
kind of cross-country skiing, naturally you need different poles as
well! Well, it's not quite that bad: basically you have cross-
country poles, which are longer than downhill poles, and skating
poles, which are even longer and very light (and expensive). There are
also telescoping poles, which are used by ski mountaineers because they
can be lengthened to cross-country length for the uphill, and then
shortened to Alpine length for the downhill. They can also be extended
and connected together for use as an avalanche probe. Skiers who do
lift-served telemarking usually use Alpine ski poles.
The most common type of binding, it usually consists of a metal
or plastic plate that the front of the boot fits into; three holes
in front of the toe fit over three pins on the plate, and the top
of the plate locks down to hold the toe in place. A heel plate keeps
the foot in a straight line on the ski, but doesn't hold the heel down.
Cable bindings are a type of three-pin binding (used with the same
style boot) which hold the toe down with a wedge rather than with
pins; the boot is retained by a cable which goes around the heel.
Boots and bindings of this style range from light-duty plastic
bindings and low-cut boots for track use, to heavy metal bindings
and stiffer leather and plastic boots which are better for
telemarking and carrying loads.
- Integral systems:
There are three major types of integral systems which are mutually
incompatible. NNN (New Nordic Norm) is a system in which the three
holes in front of the boot toe are replaced by a horizontal metal rod
which is locked into the binding by a lever. The heavier-duty
NNN-BC (Back Country) system moves the rod under the toes, rather than
in front of it, which many find to be more comfortable than either
standard NNN or three-pin systems. Both NNN and NNN-BC boots and
bindings are made by a variety of companies.
The third system is Salomon's Profil system, a version of which is
used by most racers. They also make a backcountry version. Profil,
like NNN-BC, has the pivot point under the toes rather than in front
of the boot. There is also an older Salomon system, SNS, with the
pivot in front. A few other companies make Profil-compatible boots.
All three of these systems partially interlock the sole of the boot
with the surface of the binding under the foot, reducing or (for the
Profil) eliminating the role of the heel plate. You must use a boot
compatible with your particular binding type.
These bindings take a standard DIN downhill boot, but have a hinge
at the heel which can be released for free-heel climbing, or locked
down for downhill skiing. They have release capabilities, like
downhill ski bindings.
Skins are long strips of stuff which are affixed to the base of the
skis to aid climbing steep hills. They are usually made of nylon or
polypropylene (or mohair, if you're rich) with directional "fur" that
allows the ski to slide forward but not backward. The ski-side is
coated with an adhesive (some brands come pre-coated, others don't)
which sticks to the base of the ski, which should be fairly clean and
dry and free of sticky wax. The tip of the skin has a loop which goes
over the ski tip; usually there is no attachment at the tail, just
the glue, but you can buy "tail-fix" kits which provide a hook for
the back end of the skin. (Duct tape works too.)
There is a brand called "Snake Skins" made by Voile which are made of
flexible plastic, and attach with straps rather than with glue.
They don't absorb water and freeze (good), but don't climb as well as
"normal" skins on hard snow and have little forward glide. They
are less expensive than other skins.
Using skins, you can walk up amazingly steep trails. You can also
leave the skins on for the downhill ski, which will slow you down
considerably; this is useful when it hasn't snowed in a while and
the trail has become a slick, icy chute. If you're really desperate,
you could put the skins on backwards and walk, but where's the fun
There are various hut systems in different parts of the USA (and
world), available for public use (for a fee) by reservation only,
and for emergency use. If you use a hut, follow the rules about
cleaning up, splitting wood, and so on. DON'T burn firewood if you
are a day user unless it is an EMERGENCY. DON'T try to spend the
night without a reservation unless it is an EMERGENCY. *This isn't
a joke because death isn't reversible or fun and you can contribute
to someone else's demise.* Don't plan a hut trip unless someone
in your group is proficient in: avalanche awareness, medical emergency,
rescue, bivouac, evacuation, route finding, map and compass reading.
And even then...
- Make sure your skins are in good condition prior to the trip.
Remove/reapply skin glue if necessary.
- Take a tube of skin glue on the trip in case reapplication
- Let your skins dry out between uses by keeping them in a mesh bag
inside your pack (better than a closed container).
- If you expect to need skins first thing in the morning (and no rain
overnight), keep the skins on the skis overnight. This is because very
cold skins and skis don't seem to adhere well once separated.
- If your skins get too wet to stick, wrapping duct tape around the
skis/skins at intervals can keep you going for a while.
- It is dangerous to assume your skins will keep working throughout a trip.
If your safety depends on them working correctly, you're in a bad situation.
Sierra Club huts (California):
Clair Tappan Lodge
P.O. Box 36
Norden, CA 9572
10th Mountain Division huts (Colorado):
10th Mountain Trail Association
1280 Ute Avenue
Aspen, CO 81611
Telemark turns (named after Telemark, Norway) are a turn in which one
ski is slid forward and the knees are bent. The downhill edge of
each ski is weighted (inside edge of lead ski, outside of trailing ski).
In a telemark turn both skis are edged to approximate a long single ski
with variable sidecut. Telemark turns provide good fore/aft stability that
makes them effective in difficult snow like breakable crust and in
powder. Telemarking on harder, icier conditions can be done but requires
more careful edging. The complete three-pin skier should have alpine-style
turns in their repertoire for these conditions (and to occasionally give
the quads a break). Over the past 10 years there has been considerable
debate over pole usage while telemarking. The "telemark is diagonal-stride
going downhill" school-of-thought says plant your uphill pole to assist
in the lead change. This thinking has generally given way to alpine style
pole plants where the downhill pole is planted for timing and to help keep
the upper body facing down the fall-line. Uphill and double pole plants
are still useful when skiing slowly in very difficult conditions.
There are two schools of thought on waxing: some people use a glide
wax such as Maxiglide on the tips and tails, and kick wax in the
kick pocket (under the foot); others use a colder kick wax (which
functions as a glide wax) on the tips and tails, and the temperature-
indicated kick wax in the kick pocket.
- Pay attention to the trailing ski. Don't let it get so far behind that
you can't put a significant amount of weight on it. Exaggerated knee
bends aren't necessary.
- Hands low and in front (just like downhill skiing). Look downhill.
- Pay attention to ankle flex. Especially the lead foot. It should be
flexed forward to stabilize the ankle.
- Think big toe (lead foot), little toe (trailing foot) to get both skis
Many people suggest beginning with a "two (or three) wax system". These
use two hard (solid) waxes and one klister (gooey liquid) wax. The hard
waxes are for new snow -- one for cold/dry snow and one for warmer/wet
snow. The klister is for old snow or snow that has thawed and refrozen.
The next step up is with a hard wax system that uses a color-coded
progression of waxes that correspond to the snow temperature. For example,
in the Swix brand system (the most common US brand), a wax progression
might be: Green, -15 to -8 C (5 to 18 F); blue, -8 to -3 C (18 to 27 F);
violet, around 0 C (32 F); and red, 0 to +3 C (32 to 37 F). There is a
non-color-coded wax called "Polar" for -30 to -15 C (-22 to 5 F), but
who's gonna be skiing when it's that cold?
In the Swix system in addition to the "basic" colors there are
intermediates called "Special" and "Extra". "Special" waxes are geared
towards the low end of the regular wax's range and usually a bit colder.
"Extra" waxes are geared towards the warmer range and often go up a degree
or more. For example, Swix Red Special is recommended for -1 to +2,
Red regular from 0 to +3, and Red Extra from +1 to +3 degrees C.
[Note: this list is compiled by Chuck Amsler, and changes and additions
should be sent to him at: U52809@uicvm.uic.edu]
Local nordic ski shops are great resources in many ways and deserve
your support. This list was compiled because: 1) many people do not
have decent local shops and, 2) even good shops may not stock a wide
variety of skis or some types of specialized merchandise. The list
only includes vendors who publish a catalog that anyone can get by
mail. It does not include shops that will sell gear by phone but do
not publish a catalog (or in a couple cases at least a price list).
"Types of gear" codes are based on the selection included in the
catalog only. Some vendors may have other types in stock. This list
was compiled as a service to the net and based on suggestions by lots
of folks. No recommendations or endorsements of any of these
companies are implied or intended. Caveat emptor.
Percent devoted to nordic skiing:
(A) 60 - 100 % (B) 25 - 60 % (C) < 25 %
Types of gear:
- Skating, track striding, racing
- Light touring (in- or out-of track striding)
- Backcountry and/or Telemark
- Ski Mountaineering
SKIS, BOOTS, POLES, ACCESSORIES (alphabetical by %-code, shop name)
Akers Ski Codes: A, 1 2 3
P.O. Box 280
Andover, ME 04216
Cross Country Ski Shop Codes: A, 1
2600 I-75 Bus. Loop
P.O. Box 749
Grayling, MI 49738
Eagle River Nordic Codes: A, 1 2
P.O. Box 936
Eagle River, WI 54521
(800) 423-9730 order comes with -off coupon
(715) 479-2208 tech info
1841 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55104
Fax: (612) 645-5617
New Moon Ski Shop Codes: A, 1 2
P.O. Box 591
Highway 63 North
Hayward, WI 54843
(715) 634-8685 gets catalog and -off coupon
High Peaks Cyclery Codes: B, 1 2 3
18 Saranac Avenue
Lake Placid, NY 12946
(518) 523-3764 gets catalog and -off coupon
(800) 523-4567 order FAX
Reliable Racing Codes: B, 1
630 Glen Street
Queensbury, NY 12804
Velotique Codes: B, 1 2
1596 Queen St. East
Toronto, Ontario M4L 1G2
(800) 363-3171 (Canada)
(416) 466-3171 '93-94 will be first season they
(416) 465-8156 (FAX) sell more than accessories
Climb High Codes: C, 4
1861 Shelburne Road
Shelburne, VT 05482 small selection of ski equipment;
(802) 985-5056 included since only one other NA
(802) 985-9141 FAX mountaineering supplier on list
Mountain Equipment Co-op Codes: C, 3 4
1655 W. 3rd Ave.
Vancouver, B.C. V6J 1K1
(604) 731-6483 FAX
ACCESSORIES ONLY (includes rollerskis)
Nordic Equipment, Inc. Codes: A, 1
P.O. Box 996
Park City, UT 84060
Team Birkie Ski Education Foundation Codes: A
P.O. Box 14286
St. Paul, MN 55114
They are now selling only Instructional video tapes, including
World Cup Races and Racing and Training technique tapes (as well as
note cards and tee shirts).
Their statement of purpose:
To be an educational resource to raise the ability level and
interest in cross country skiing and biathalon skiing in the midwest.
EUROPE (Note: these have not been confirmed):
Braemar Nordic Ski Centre Codes: A, 1 2 3 4
(033 97) 41242
Highland Guides Codes: A, 1 2 3
Inverness shire Scotland