Cross country skiing essentials start with the feet
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]diallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com
There are three essential pieces of gear for cross country skiing. In order of importance, they are boots, skis and poles.