Imagine the clean fresh oxygenated air, scented of pine, and snowflakes
beckoning you to venture out into snow-hushed woods for play, health, fitness and
adventure. No wonder nordic skiing is the top family winter activity.
What does it take to get involved in the way of commitment or co$t? The answer is: next
to nothing, whereas benefits are unparalleled – fresh air and fun in the snow.
Before venturing into the great outdoors here are some words to get you started.
Pick a nice day when you have plenty of time, no pressing engagements, and set yourself
free. Choose a trail that is well within your abilities. Plan to take twice as long to complete
the return leg of their journey. Carry food, water, an extra layer of clothing and a small
The reality is that cross-country skiing has experienced a quiet revolution in that it has come
a long way. Today's equipment rivals the stability of some Alpine gear with significantly
better glide and prices.
Choose poles of shoulder height for classic, or chin to nose height for skating. The baskets
for back-country skiing are wider than those used on groomed trails. Beginners should not
spend more than $50 on poles.
Choose a ski boot with as much care as you would a winter walking boot. I recommend a
high cut style which comes above the ankles for either classic or skating. Ensure that they
are comfortable and supportive.
Modern binding systems offer positive connection to the ski and great control and stability
have replaced the antiquated three-pin bindings.
Wood has been superceded by lightweight synthetics for skis. Wider xc skis are used to
provide the buoyancy needed for deep unpacked snow. Whereas, racing skis(skating or
classic) are designed for groomed trails. Moderate light back country touring models are
ideal for most people. Expect to pay $150 for a new entry-level ski
The best factor used to determine proper ski size is weight, and not height . A ski store will
be able to measure the degree to which you compress the camber of the ski and ascertain
which pair is best for you. Most men ski on 190-195 cm skis (skating) whereas women use
180-190cm (skating). Add 5cm length for classic.
Wax-less skis have fish angled scales on the running area underneath so that they provide
momentary grip when the skier pushes on the snow. Waxable skis perform the same
function but are much faster in the end. Special paraffin based grip wax is applied
underneath the ski kick zone (generally the middle third of the ski).
PREPARATION AND WAX
Grip wax is chalked on underneath the middle third of your classic skis and rubbed in with
a cork. No grip wax is required for skating, instead a special glide wax is applied on the
entire ski base by first melting it on with a warm iron and scraping off the excess. It is best
to watch the shop do this initially, for those attempting this for the first time. Choice of wax
is best kept simple. Every wax is labeled for the appropriate temperature and humidity. Use
as recommended on the package.
WHERE TO SHOP
Visit a cross-country ski specialty shop where you can be assured of good quality products,
pricing, service. A professional can choose a pair right for you, and can take time to explain
the technology and its care. A specialty shop can provide the complete package: ski, boots,
poles, clothing, accessories, wax and in most cases lessons, videos, books, a map of
where to go and local trail conditions.
WHAT TO WEAR
Wear clothing that is functional and comfortable. So woolen knickers and long colourful
socks are best left in the retro closet. Jeans are definitely out! The key is to dress in layers
for warmth and to regulate temperature more easily. Start with long underwear made from
synthetic fabrics like polypropylene that wick moisture away from the skin. Buy some wind
proof briefs and save in a lot of grief. A middle layer of medium thickness is recommended
for the upper body. Choose wool or synthetic fabrics again. Avoid cotton. The outer layer
should offer resistance to wind and snow and allow body moisture to escape. Lycra or
Gortex are good choices here.
Your choice of warm mitts or gloves offer better feel and control of the poles. Wear a hat
because most of your heat escapes out of the top of your head. A thin balaclava
underneath the toque will protect your face and ears from the wind. Sunglasses (with UVA
and UVB protection) are important to not only thwart snow blindness but keep the eyes fro
watering in the cold wind.
Technique has a lot to do with the quality of the experience. All skiing techniques share the
same fundamentals: decisive weight transfer forward on to a flat gliding ski with
coordinated, balanced and efficient movement. It is easy to think of techniques as different
gears for varied terrain and conditions.
The most familiar nordic technique is that of diagonal stride, alternatively referred to as
classic or traditional technique. It is characterized for most people, as walking on skis that
evolves into stride and glide. (I apologize to aficionados for an overly simplistic explanation.)
Diagonal stride is adapted for single track trails. The skis glide in parallel down the tracks
Good grip under a properly cambered ski in the kick zone is essential to achieve traction.
The wax's job is to adhere to the snow for a moment in time, stopping long enough to use
it as a platform to be able to transfer the weight forward on to the other ski.
The movement involves into a push from one ski, weight transfer, glide onto glide onto the
other ski and then recover. The motion is supported by opposite arm polling. The arms
work individually and alternately with the legs.
The kick referred to in diagonal stride is not a kick in the strict sense of word. In skiing you
want to momentarily compress your ski onto the snow so that you get sufficient grip to pull
back with your ski and move your body forward of that position. You will want the snow to
remain on the ground and your body to glide over it.
Ski skating is the choice of most “freestyle” racers today. It combines a double polling action
of arms with decisive weight shift to propel the skier forward onto a balanced and flat ski.
Skating is significantly swifter than diagonal stride but takes a fair bit more effort to begin
and therefore is well suited to a fit person taking up skiing for the workout. There are half
a dozen skating techniques to befuddle the beginner.
The initial propulsion in skating comes from a decisive weight transfer
on to a flat glide ski assisted by the first phase of the double poling motion, and a
unweighted push of the free leg.
The second propulsive phase occurs when the hips, arms and trailing
free leg recover forward together. Your weight is shifted onto the free leg as it continues
past your centre of gravity and forward onto the snow.
The upper body motion within for skating is the much same as it is in double
poling. Your weight drives the poles through the motion with the stomach, back, shoulder
and arm muscles progressively. The arms should be shoulder-width apart and are bent 90
degrees. The poling action is a pull, not a push.
A magazine, book or video can provide hours of off-snow stimulation, whether you are keen
on brushing up on technique, delving into the latest information in physical conditioning or
just staying motivated. There are few new products on the horizon that deal with modern
cross-country skiing. (www.xczone.com)
CLUBS AND GROUPS
It is common for ski lessons or camps to be arranged through ski specialty shops, resorts
or at ski centres. For a longer term solution or if you are looking for motivation and
encouragement join a club or training group.
Together, Lise Meloche and David McMahon have 50 years of skiing experience, 17 years of which is racing at a World Cup Level. Lise Meloche has done over 200 World Cup races, finishing top-ten 21 times (including 7 World Cup Medals.) She has nine (9) National Championship titles, third place ranking placing on the World Cup circuit in 1986, leading to the 92 and 94 Olympics, and a World Cup Gold Medal. David McMahon was National Biathlon Champion in 1993, twice overall Canada Cup winner and 5 National Championship medals and finished third at the World Summer Biathlon Championships. They have since taught over 7000 people to ski fast and more efficiently, and coached athletes at the Olympic Level. Several of the athletes with whom they have personally worked, have won World Loppets, World Cup, World Championship and Olympic Medals! Look them up in Who's Who in Canadian Sport, Volume 3 1999 by Bob Ferguson ISBN 1-894282-00-0 For any additional information please visit www.xczone.tv