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 since Glen's strictly a downhill weenie.

Hey....I resemble that! ..ed

3.01) "What kind of skis should I get?"

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.

Base types:

Ski types:

3.02) "What kind of bindings and boots should I get?"

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.

3.03) "Ok, what about poles?"

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.

3.04) "Ok, what about skins?"

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 in that?

Other hints:

3.05) "I've heard there are huts you can ski to and spend the night."

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...

Some contacts:

   Sierra Club huts (California):
     Hut Reservations
     Sierra Club        
     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

3.06) "What is the telemark turn thing?"

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.

Other hints:

3.07) "Advice on wax"

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.

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.

3.08) "Mail order sources"

[Note: this list is compiled by Chuck Amsler, and changes and additions should be sent to him at:]

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:

  1. Skating, track striding, racing
  2. Light touring (in- or out-of track striding)
  3. Backcountry and/or Telemark
  4. Ski Mountaineering



(alphabetical by %-code, shop name) Akers Ski Codes: A, 1 2 3 P.O. Box 280 Andover, ME 04216 (207) 392-4582 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Cross Country Ski Shop Codes: A, 1 2600 I-75 Bus. Loop P.O. Box 749 Grayling, MI 49738 (517) 348-8558 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= 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 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Finn Sisu 1841 University Ave. St. Paul, MN 55104 (612) 645-2443 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 (800) 223-4448 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= 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 (800) ONE-CO-OP (604) 732-1537 (604) 731-6483 FAX


ACCESSORIES ONLY (includes rollerskis)

Nordic Equipment, Inc. Codes: A, 1 P.O. Box 996 Park City, UT 84060 (800) 649-1806 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Team Birkie Ski Education Foundation Codes: A P.O. Box 14286 St. Paul, MN 55114 (612) 645-1203 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.


(Note: these have not been confirmed): Braemar Nordic Ski Centre Codes: A, 1 2 3 4 Mar Road Braemar Aberdeenshire Scotland (033 97) 41242 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= Highland Guides Codes: A, 1 2 3 Inverdruie BY Aviemore Inverness shire Scotland

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