Cross-Country Ski Gear Buying Guide
Cross-country skiing (aka Nordic skiing or xc skiing) is a great way to get outside and burn some calories during the winter months. In our xc ski gear guide, we’ll get you up to speed on the different types of cross-country skis, ski sizing, boots, bindings, and poles.
Types of Cross-Country Skis
There are several types of cross-country skis to choose from, and the one you choose depends on the type of skiing that you plan on doing. Here are the most popular types:
Classic Cross-Country Skis
These are what everyone thinks of as traditional skis. These skis are designed for groomed trails and will typically have a layer of sticky wax at their base that allows you to grip the snow when you’re skiing. Sometimes, manufacturers utilize “fish scales,” which is a pattern at the base of the ski that allows for an increased sense of traction.
As a rule of thumb, more traditional cross-country skis have a tendency to run a bit longer than many newer models. In any situation, camber, which is effectively the ski’s suspension, is most important on a set of classic xc skis because it helps distribute your weight so that you can glide more easily. Ideally, the camber of your ski will allow the section of the ski that you’re standing on to lift slightly when you ski, which will increase glide.
The classic Nordic variety of ski is very versatile; you can use it for following trails, speeding along in a race, or for simple recreation. Just keep in mind that this type can vary in camber, weight, and length, so know what type of skiing that you plan on doing.
If you really want speed, then skate skis are the way to go. These are also some of the most responsive cross country skis because of the fact that they are shorter and more maneuverable in the snow. On this type of ski, the sidecut, which is the slight hourglass shape that you can find on classic cross country varieties, is almost completely absent. This is because this feature can make a skate type of ski harder to set on edge and control during skiing.
These skis also have a lighter form factor and have tips that are very narrow. These features help the ski glide and maneuver, which are the two most important attributes of the skating variety of cross-country skis.
Additionally, when it comes to camber, skating skis have a tendency to be flatter than traditional cross-country skis. In fact, whereas traditional skis usually require half of your body weight, the camber on skating skis should usually match your exact body weight so that the skis are as flat as possible. This increased flatness allows skiers to push off of the edges with a heightened amount of efficiency.
These types are often called touring skis. As a rule, use these when you’re planning on traversing across snow that hasn’t been packed down or groomed. This means that these are the type that’s best used when exploring the backcountry as the name suggests.
Backcountry types of xc skis have a wider tip that allows them to more easily float on the snow. Also, these tend to have a softer camber so that you can ski with a heightened amount of grip on unpacked snow. For this type of ski, it’s all about control, which is why the sidecut is very pronounced. One of the best features of this Nordic cross-country variety is that they can be used even on deeper snow; just remember that this type is a bit heavier and wider than other types of xc skis.
Wax and Waxless Cross-Country Skis
There are two types of cross-country skis: waxed and waxless. Skating skis are the primary type that is designed to be used exclusively without grip wax. For this type, the camber is there to provide traction over the snow. Touring and traditional skis, on the other hand, can be found either way, so let’s take a look at the difference between the two.
When you have a waxable cross-country ski, grip wax, which is also known as kick wax, is applied to the centermost area of the ski. In addition to this, a glide wax is applied to the tip and tail of the ski’s body so that you can more effortlessly glide over the snow at faster rates. These waxes are great for the majority of skiing conditions, and waxable skis are almost always preferred by racers due to the added speed and performance.
Having said that, waxable skis are also considered high-performance skis, and as a result, experienced xc skiers tend to also love this type. Kick wax performance really varies based on the temperature and the conditions, but as a general rule of thumb, you should apply it to your skis before every ski session.
Fish scales, also known as waxless skis, are very beginner-friendly because there’s isn’t much upkeep involved with keeping them skiing-ready. These are called fish scale skis because of the very pronounced patterning that is present at the base. Also, waxless skis won’t slide backward because of the unique pattern that grips the snow tightly.
On some newer models of xc ski, manufacturers are also including a removable “ski skin” that has a set pattern that can add surface area and provide faster glide. It’s important to understand that waxless skis actually require glide wax on the tips and tails so that riders can control and accelerate with more ease. Fortunately, this need for wax is very occasional compared to waxable skis.
Cross-Country Camber and Flex
When you’re Nordic skiing, it’s absolutely crucial to have a ski with the right attributes. Camber and flex are two of these attributes that will directly affect your ski trip.
It’s easiest to understand camber when you think of it as the suspension of the ski that directly correlates to skier weight. The actual camber is shaped somewhat like a bow, and this bowed area flexes when you press down on it. For the most part, most cross-country skis feature a Nordic-style camber that includes a two-part construction that helps the ski vary the level of grip on the snow.
Think of it this way: when you’re out skiing and you need grip, all you have to do is firmly place your weight down on both skis equally. This causes the ski’s bowed section to press down, which will flatten the ski to its base causing it to grip more firmly to the snow.
Conversely, when you aren’t applying all of your weight to the skis when you’re gliding, the camber section keeps its bow shape, which allows the ski to glide effortlessly over the top of the snow.
It’s important to understand that body weight and intended use is very important when judging the needed camber for a ski; if your camber is too soft or too stiff, you’re simply not going to be able to control it as well. Additionally, when the snow is unpacked, it’s good to have a softer camber so that you can experience increased grip.
Flex is an important aspect of a cross-country ski that directly correlates to the way that the ski turns and the amount of speed that it can achieve. The flex of a ski can either be soft or stiff; with stiff flexing skis being better during high speeds on firmly packed snow and softer flex being preferable when you are going more slowly on softer, unpacked snow.
Cross-Country Ski Shape
When it comes to xc skis, you’ll typically find two distinct shapes that help decide which type of skiing the ski is more suited for. These two shapes are sidecut and reverse sidecut.
When a ski has a sidecut shape, it’s usually best for when you expect to be doing a lot of skiing in the backcountry. Typically, this means that you’ll be skiing over areas that are packed down and groomed as well as skiing over unpacked and freshly fallen snow.
When you’re working with skis that have a sidecut, they will be wider in the tip area as well as in the tail area. This feature will help you keep on the top layer of the unpacked snow. Nordic-style skis or touring skis typically have a sidecut because of the fact that they are designed for a mixture of frequented and unfrequented areas. For this type of ski, you’ll find it much easier to make turns.
Unlike sidecut skis, reverse sidecut skis actually have a thicker middle section. As a result, you’ll find that these are great when you’re skiing around on a groomed area. This is because the middle is thicker and the camber of the ski lets you glide more easily when the snow is packed down and well-used. With such a wide waist, you’ll find that you’ll experience much more glide when you’re skiing with a reverse sidecut ski.
Cross-Country Ski Sizing
Your weight is the main factor in determining the length and size of the cross-country skis you should get. As mentioned before, camber works best when it is directly measured against your body weight; too much weight on a softer camber will mean that you simply have too much traction and you won’t glide as easily. The reverse can also be true: if you weigh too little for the skis you’re using, you just won’t get enough traction on the snow that you’re skiing on.
Of course, the type of skiing that you’re doing will also affect the sizing as well. Skating skis have far less camber than traditional cross-country models and are also much shorter than this type as well. Also, when it comes to touring skis, you may find them shorter than traditional cross-country skis because you want the most amount of mobility as you tackle the backcountry courses.
When shopping for xc skis on The House.com, we also include a link to the cross-country ski sizing chart on each product page, right under “select size”. But keep in mind there can be many factors determining the right size ski size for each person. Always feel free to call us at 800.992.7245 with any questions.
Cross-County Ski Sizing Chart
|Skier Weight (lb)||Skier Weight (kg)||XC Ski Size (cm)|
|100 or less||45 or less||145 or less|
|210 and up||95 and up||185 and up|
XC Ski Bindings
The bindings of your cross country skis are how your skis attach to your feet. Typically, these consist of relatively complex devices that are able to attach to your ski boots and bind them directly to the top of the ski itself. When a problem occurs, these bindings are designed to quickly release so that you don’t get injured in the process.
The bindings are very important in cross country skiing because they not only protect you from injury, but they are the main point of contact between you and the ski, which means that they have to be responsive and easy to control. In cross country skiing, there are three systems of binding: NNN/NIS, SNS Profil, and SNS Pilot. The three systems are, for the most part, not compatible with each other, so know which type of boot you have in order to get the right cross country ski.
Classic XC Ski Bindings
In the most traditional form, classic ski bindings utilized a New Nordic Norm/NIS system that clamps to the toe bar of your ski boot as well as two ridges that match the sole of NNN/NIS compatible ski boots. This system is still utilized today, but there are also the SNS Profil and SNS Pilot systems to consider as well.
SNS Profil utilizes the same toe bar clamp system, but it also has a singular central ridge that matches a groove along the underside of SNS Profil-compatible boots. Additionally, with SNS Pilot systems, there are actually two bars that act as points of contact for a more stable cross-country skiing experience.
Skate Ski Bindings
Typically, with skating ski bindings, you’ll have a choice of any binding system. This means that there can be a single anchor point, like the SNS Profil or NNN/NIS systems, or it can have a dual point of contact styling like with the SNS Pilot system. NNN/NIS and SNS Profil are typically quicker and easier to attach because they have a single bar system, but with the dual points of contact of the SNS Pilot, users of all skill levels will be able to experience better stability and efficiency.
Backcountry Ski Bindings
When you’re tackling the wilderness on backcountry skis, you should certainly consider backcountry ski bindings that are designed with the New Nordic Norm Backcountry (NNN BC) styling. These are very similar to the NNN/NIS touring ski bindings, but like the skis themselves have sections that are wider and more rugged so that you can traverse the ungroomed areas of the course that you are skiing on.
Unlike traditional NNN models, there are both manual and automatic release systems on the NNN BC variety. Manual makes it so that you won’t accidentally lose your connection to the ski in deep snow; you have to manually disengage the lock in order to separate.
XC Ski Boots
It’s important to understand that cross country ski boots come in a European sizing structure, which means that it’s possible to find fractions in the cross-country ski sizing chart for ski boots. While this can be confusing, especially for those that are used to U.S. shoe sizes, it can be quickly overcome by simply measuring your feet to the European standard. As with any type of footwear, sizing standards definitely differ from boot to boot, so if you can try your boots on before a purchase, do so.
It’s just important to understand that you’ll need to have as snug a fitment as possible when selecting a good pair of ski boots. Also, don’t neglect warmth; it obviously gets very cold during cross-country skiing, so go warm when you can. Always remember that your boots need to be compatible with the binding system on your skis.
Classic XC Ski Boots
One of the standout features of classic cross-country ski boots versus other types is that they are a lot softer feeling. This is because these boots need to offer a good amount of flex for you to be able to skate freely on groomed snow. With this type, you’ll have an easier time rolling up onto your forefoot so that you can move forward with relative ease. These boots are all about comfort, so try to find boots that are cushioned, resistant to cold, and have enough foot support for a full day’s worth of cross country skiing.
Skate Ski Boots
The first thing that you’ll notice about skating ski boots is that they are much stiffer and offer a stronger and more supportive ankle area than traditional XC ski boots. In fact, these often have an internal cuff made of durable material that allows the rider to feel more support at the ankle area. Since skate skiing is the fastest type of cross-country skiing, stiffer boots that allow for more control are typically preferred.
Backcountry Ski Boots
For an even higher degree of support, cross-country skiers that typically traverse the backcountry area choose Nordic touring boots. These are heavier and can be even stiffer than skate ski boots. This makes them very supportive when you are traversing the more unpredictable backcountry areas. Also, with this stiffness, there’s a higher degree of power transfer, which means that turning and adjusting your trajectory can actually be easier in ski boots designed for the backcountry.
Additionally, since the conditions vary so much, these boots are also the most insulated against weather. They are almost always completely waterproof and are designed for optimal heat capture because backcountry skiers typically go for longer outings in general.
XC Ski Poles
With cross country skiing, the ski pole is one of the most important components for your trip. Unlike downhill skiing, you’ll definitely need to propel yourself uphill, over more difficult to ski snow, and keep your balance more easily.
Ski Pole Length and Sizing
The size of your ski pole is going to vary based on the type of skiing that you are doing. If you’ll primarily be doing traditional cross-country skiing, then ski poles that reach up to your armpits will be the best for your outings. This will ensure that when you have your arm straight in front of you, your arm and the pole will form a 90-degree angle, which will help your stride become much more fluid. Of course, if you want a faster race-worthy stride, then you can go even longer.
If you’re planning on doing a little backcountry skiing, then you might want to consider an adjustable pole. You’ll be able to adjust the sizing of the pole so that you can more easily navigate hills and the various terrain conditions that you’ll encounter as you ski.
As mentioned before, when you’re going for speed, a longer pole is typically the way to go. For a skating ski experience, you may want a ski pole that reaches all the way up to the chin or even the lower lip. This will help you increase your speed and actually increase your maneuverability as well.
XC Ski Pole Construction and Material
When it comes to the construction of a ski pole, every pole is constructed of a grip, the shaft itself, the baskets, and the straps. The shaft and the grip are fairly self-explanatory, but not everyone understands the other components.
The basket, which is the device at the end of the shaft, is designed to stop the pole from sinking too deeply into the snow. There can be two types of baskets – the in-track touring baskets are designed for groomed snow, while the powder baskets are made to help you navigate unpacked snow.
The straps on the ski pole cradle the outside of your hand and allow for a better power transfer to the pole itself. Usually, these are made of nylon, but there are other materials that can make the strap more stretchy or firm in order to vary the overall performance.
When it comes to the material of the poles, you’ll usually find that most are made of:
- Aluminum – Aluminum is a nice lightweight metal that is also very durable. You can expect this type to hold up under pressure and give you a good amount of push. This material has replaced fiberglass as the most common ski pole material.
- Carbon Fiber – These poles, which are made of carbon fiberglass composite, don’t bend and dent like aluminum poles. They are also lighter than the already lightweight aluminum poles and are favored by experienced skiers.
Cross-country skiing is a great sport that builds the core and also fosters a sense of adventure. We hope our cross country ski gear guide has answered some of your questions about the sport’s gear, and we also hope that you found it to be an entertaining read. If you have any questions or comments, please use the comments section below.