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.

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