Five great questions to ask ...
... when shopping for cross-country skis
This is the year you finally do it: take up healthful cross-country skiing. But to join those apple-cheeked folks swishing effortlessly across the snow, you need equipment that’s right for you. Here’s what to ask your retailer.
What kind of skis should I buy?
Cross-country skis are generally classified as either “classic” or “skate.” Classic skis are what most of us use. Skate skis are popular among speed buffs — short and fast, they allow a skate-like stride.
The kind of classic ski you buy depends on whether you plan to forge your own trails in the back county or stick to groomed trails like those in Gatineau Park. Back-country skis are a little wider to keep you on top of the pillowy snow instead of plunging through. They’re also slightly shorter so you can manoeuvre around trees and rocks and may have metal edges for better control if you hit a tree root or other obstacle.
What’s best: Waxed or waxless skis?
A waxed ski lets you select a wax according to the snow conditions, temperature and other factors. Serious skiers usually prefer this option.
“Recreational folks usually go to waxless skis,” says Taylor Pieprzak, a sales associate at Tommy & Lefebvre on Bank Street. “You don’t have to have all the waxes and scrapers and they are a little less expensive to buy. You just go to the trail, click on your bindings and enjoy the scenery with your friends.”
What’s the right length of skis and poles?
Cross-country skis are geared mostly to your weight. The retailer should do a “compression” test: Get you to try on skis to see how your weight affects the grip zone, the short strip under your foot that actually grips the snow and propels you forward.
Poles should reach your armpit for classic applications and be about mouth height for skate skiing. Pieprzak says that back-country skiers usually use a lightweight aluminum pole that’s stiff enough to help them keep their balance on uneven terrain, while performance or racing skiers go for a more flexible fibre carbon material.
Which boot should I buy?
For classic applications, a boot without too much ankle support, but a stiff sole gives you maximum power and comfort as your foot moves back and forth. If you’re doing a lot of back-country skiing, ask for a boot with a bit more ankle support for the uneven terrain. Skate skiers use lateral foot movement and need a stiff ankle support.
Ski boots should fit snugly, like running shoes.
What about bindings?
Bindings with some flexibility give you the forward-stride freedom you need for classic skiing. For skate skiing, “you want a stiffer binding that snaps the ski back to the boot quickly,” says Pieprzak. As for costs, expect to pay $200 and up for an entry-level package, including skis, bindings, boots and poles.
Taylor Pieprzak, left, helps Mieszko Skavas find the right length of cross-country skis for his size and weight.