It’s that time of year again folks: time to dust off your skis and dig out your wooly base layers and socks. But life in the mountains isn’t all about downhill skiing…Now don’t get me wrong, everyone loves a powder day at a resort or in the backcountry, but what about the rest of the time? Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy a wintery day outside without wasting time waiting in lines.
Cross country, or Nordic, skiing is a form of skiing where you use your own power of motion to move, rather than relying on ski lifts or snow cats. Classic cross-country skis are longer and thinner than downhill skis and your foot is only attached to the ski at the toe.
There are different kinds of cross-country skis: classic, compact classic and skate skis, for example. For the sake of this blog post, we are just going to look at classic cross-country skis, since that is our shops specialty.
Classic cross-country skiing is usually done on groomed, track set ski trails. The tracks are deep grooves, cut into the hardened, flattened snow, usually by a grooming machine, like this one:
There are wax-able and wax-less classic cross-country skis: the wax-able skis need to have a temperature appropriate grip wax applied to the centre portion of the ski while wax-less skis have a fish scale pattern in the centre instead.
Back in the good ol’ days, people use to pick their skis based on height. But nowadays, that is definitely not how you pick your ski length. If you think about it, someone who is 5”7 could weigh 100lbs or 250lbs, so it doesn’t make sense that everyone who is the same height is on the same skis. Now, to properly choose your cross-country ski size, you go by weight. The skis are designed to have a specific amount of flex to them and for a set amount of the ski to be in direct contact with the ground, while the centre of the ski is actually off the ground. If you are too light or too heavy for a set of skis, they will not perform at their best and you will actually make your life harder when skiing.
When it comes to cross country ski boots, you should make sure you start off with a good, warm sock. These boots are about as insulated as a winter hiking shoe, so a warm sock will go a long way towards a good day. Most cross-country ski boots are sized in European sizing, meaning in centimeters i.e. a euro size 38 is 38cm long. Once you know your proper ski boot size, write it down or keep it in your phone to reference if you are going to be renting your ski gear. Its important to have the socks on that you are going to actually wear skiing when trying on gear to rent or buy. You don’t want to lose circulation in your toes or cause blisters by getting the wrong size. The boot should fit snuggly, feeling supportive while also not limiting the movement of your foot inside.
Cross-country ski poles are different than downhill ski poles in that they are much longer. Cross-country ski poles should be long enough to fit into your armpits while on the ground. Poles that are the proper length will help you get into the right rhythm of movement while skiing.
So when it comes to cross country skis, there are different types of binding systems and you need to know which one your skis have so that you buy or rent the right type of boot to match since the different binding systems are not compatible. Really old school skis will have a three pin binding system; this system has been around for a while, and to the best of my knowledge can no longer be purchased new. Most cross-country skis now have NNN (New Nordic Norm) or SNS (Salomon Nordic System). As the name suggests, SNS bindings are specific to Salomon (and their subsidiary brand) skis, so the majority of new skis use NNN bindings.
(Binding photos courtesy of ebsadventure.com)
So now that you know the basics of getting fitted for cross-country skis, lets look at where to ski!
Here in Kananaskis, we have absolutely amazing cross-country ski trails. Lots of your favourite summer hiking and biking trails become groomed ski trails come winter. Alberta Parks purchased the ski trail groomers used at the Vancouver Olympics to be used to maintain the trails here! There is a dedicated trail crew who does an amazing job track setting and grooming the trails here. You can even watch a live grooming report here. There are lots of trails that are accessible right from our shop in the Kananaskis Village, or you can drive a little bit further in Kananaskis and head down to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park for even more skiing options! Great skiing is also to be found at Mt Shark, or in Bragg Creek. The best part about all of these trails in Kananaskis? They are free to use! Be sure to get out and enjoy the trails this winter, we will post as soon as they are groomed for skiing! Are you interested in learning how to cross country ski? Book a lesson here!
Over the next couple of weeks, we will be blogging more about cross country skiing; topics to come include:
-How to dress for cross-country skiing
-Tips, tricks and techniques
-Skiing as a family
Do you have any other topics or questions you would like us to answer?
Comment here or send us a message!