Cross coun­try ski­ing es­sen­tials start with the feet

The Southern Berks News - - FIT FOR LIFE - By Bob Frye ev­ery­bodyad­ven­

Don’t be fooled by the ob­vi­ous. Cross coun­try ski­ing re­quires three es­sen­tial pieces of gear. And skis, of course, count as one.

But they’re not the most im­por­tant one. That would be boots.

“You’ve got to take care of your feet first,” said Joe Trieb­sch, a ski in­struc­tor from REI in Pitts­burgh. “That’s the most im­por­tant thing.

“You can put on any skis af­ter­ward. Pretty skis, not so pretty skis, beat up skis, not beat up skis. But the boots have to fit well.”

A few cross coun­try ski boots re­sem­ble high-top ten­nis shoes, like a bas­ket­ball player might wear. Many look more like hik­ing boots than any­thing else. Some ap­pear to be a high-tech cross be­tween the two.

What’s im­por­tant is get­ting a pair that fits and is com­fort­able.

“You can read all you want about skis on­line. But boots, you re­ally have to try those on to get the right ones,” said Er­ica Smith, op­er­a­tor of Lau­rel Ridge Cross Coun­try Ski Cen­ter in the Lau­rel High­lands, east of Pitts­burgh.

Af­ter boots, would-be cross coun­try skiers can move on to choos­ing the other two es­sen­tial pieces of gear, skis and ski poles.

Skis come in all va­ri­eties, based on how, when and where they will be used. They all share some things in com­mon, though.

For starters, in decades past, skis came in many, many sizes. And all re­quired wax­ing, with the type of wax needed tied to a whole host of fac­tors, from snow type, be it wet or dry, to tem­per­a­ture and more.

Now, skis come in just four sizes, with which ones the right ones for an in­di­vid­ual re­lated to their weight, height and, to a lesser ex­tent, level of phys­i­cal fit­ness.

When in doubt, opt for the larger size, Trieb­sch said.

Most mod­ern skis are “wax­less.” Ski­iers need not prep them for spe­cific con­di­tions.

It’s still good to coat them with a glide was be­fore head­ing out, to make them per­form more ef­fi­ciently while also pro­tect­ing them, Trieb­sch added. But the days of need­ing a dozen or so dif­fer­ent kinds of wax are largely gone.

As for poles, look for those about armpit height, said Tim Palmer-Ben­son, ed­i­tor of XCoun­trySki-Ver­mont. Any­thing too tall or too short will cause prob­lems, he said.

“You’ll have dif­fi­culty be­cause you’ll un­bal­ance your­self. You’re go­ing to lean too far for­ward,” he said.

Once equipped with those es­sen­tials – boots, skis and poles – it’s time for the fun to be­gin.

That’s a big part of the sport’s at­trac­tion, said Ch­eryl Ritts, an­other in­struc­tor with REI Pitts­burgh.

“You can just throw your skis in your car or go out your front door, de­pend­ing on where you are, and you don’t have to pay any­thing. There are no lift fees like with down­hill ski­ing,” Ritts said.

“Once you in­vest in the equip­ment, once you have ev­ery­thing you need, you just go out and glide.”

There are two places to do it, in gen­eral: groomed and un­groomed trails.

The for­mer are trails that have been packed down via use of ma­chines to cre­ate op­ti­mal con­di­tions.

“They won’t have as many wet spots. They’re main­tained, so the snow will lay on the trail bet­ter and stay longer,” Smith said.

Un­groomed trails are just what they sound like, paths through woods or fields where skiers may have to forge their own way.

In places, 6 to 8 inches of snow is plenty for ski­ing. In oth­ers – think those un­groomed trails that maybe don’t get a lot of main­te­nance even in sum­mer – 12 inches might be a min­i­mum, Trieb­sch said. That’s to pro­tect skiers and skis from roots and rocks.

“Know­ing the ter­rain where you’re go­ing be­comes re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant,” he said.

There’s noth­ing like ski­ing through the win­ter woods, though, said Ritts.

Cross coun­try ski­ing has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing phys­i­cally de­mand­ing. And it can be, she said.

But it isn’t nec­es­sar­ily pun­ish­ing ei­ther. It is what you make of it in terms of ex­er­cise.

And no mat­ter what, it’s al­ways lovely.

“You can de­ter­mine how hard you want to work. You can just glide through the woods nice and slow and stop whe3n­ever you want. Or if you re­ally want a work­out, then you can re­ally push your­self,” Ritts said.

“Ei­ther way, it’s fun sport, and it’s very quiet and peace­ful. It’s beau­ti­ful.”

Bob Frye is the Every­body Ad­ven­tures ed­i­tor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or [email protected]­di­ See other sto­ries, blogs, videos and more at ev­ery­bodyad­ven­


There are three es­sen­tial pieces of gear for cross coun­try ski­ing. In or­der of im­por­tance, they are boots, skis and poles.

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