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Before choosing your cross-country skis, it is really important to define the specifications of your use and your ambitions on the skis.
The choice of the skis is not only according to your actual skills, but also about your physical conditions, your training all along the year and the technical and physical progression you aim on a long term basis.
For example if you are a regular skier, but if you just ski to get out, you will rarely skis for a single reason, that’s why it is important to clearly define your specifications in order to find the most adapted ski to your aspirations.
Ask yourself a few questions before buying your skis, like find out which type of ski you need to begin with:
Which technique : Skating ? Classic ?
What is my level? Beginner? Advanced? Expert?
What is my physical conditions? 1h of sport a week, 5h a week, 10h a week?
What are my goals? Leisure? Going out with friends? Fitness? Training? Complement of activity? Long distance race?
When will I take pleasure? By going out for fresh air? Intensive training? Long sessions with friends?
Who am I going to ski with? Beginners? Athletes? Childrens? People who like to train in winter?
Why do I want to buy new skis? Do I need them? I love changing gear on a regular basis? I need another pair to complete my training? I want to improve my technique and physical conditions? I need to update my gear if I want to keep improving?
Those few simple questions can help you to identify your needs. According to the technique, classic or skating, there will be differences especially on the physical conditions required. If the classic requires far more skills at high level, it is the most natural and simple technique to practice at the beginning because it reproduces a walking motion with a little glide; it is easier to ski around. Skating requires quite a training and it is not possible to walk while skating. The skier needs to push constantly because he doesn’t have anything to prevent him from going backwards and you have to ski non-stop.
If you begin cross-country skiing and you want to get into skating don’t forget that it will be physically more demanding than the classic style and the sessions will be shorter. You will quickly get the gliding feel on the flat and downhill sections but the uphill will be way tougher. Skating aims for efficiency and speed, classic is a “slower” technique when it is not used in competition, but it will allow you to go way further and save energy, diagonal stride is the main classic cross-country ski technique.
Nowadays there are five categories of classic skis. The choice of your system often depends on your level.
A good glide/kick compromise for beginners and intermediate skiers seeking a long foot support zone to ease the back propulsion of the foot. It perfectly fits beginners and skiers who want to ski comfortably. Those skis are perfect for long sessions at slow pace, the scales slow down the glide. The scale skis are the most common but they actually compete a lot with the skin skis.
Skis with skins have been coming back in the last four years. Their main asset is to provide a glide/kick ratio as good as the scale skis with shorter grip zone. It gives more support to the foot and avoid to slide backwards. They also deliver more comfort during gliding phases and don’t make noise like the scale skis which is not insignificant. The skin skis are not new to the cross-country game but they are considered as the future of the sport thanks to the efficiency of the new skins developed in ski touring.
Clearly designed for advanced and expert skiers who race and compete, the waxable ski is also the go-to ski for Norwegian skiers. This ski requires to be waxed with a grip wax on the support zone where scales or skins are used on other skis. The waxing process is a science and needs a bit of time and skills. However, once you master the process, the classic ski takes you to another dimension, the gliding performance of waxable skis is way higher (as long as you have a good waxing). Waxable skis are the high-end skis of the cross-country world, it is the most technical ski to use and it is designed for technique lovers.
The choice of the range is actually pretty easy because it depends on your practice. If you answered the previous questions it will be easy to determine.
Those skis are made to help you move as simply as possible, they don’t require any technique, leisure classic skis will take you on long and beautiful sessions without having to worry about your technique. Everything is made for your to improve in total comfort especially going uphill where your skis shouldn’t slide backwards. They are not being physically demanding. The idea is to let you have fun at your own pace.
Here is the most demanded category nowadays and the new trend, the fitness and the running. We enter in the new era of cross-country skiing, it becomes a fitness instrument, to take care of your body and work out on the maximum muscle groups. The sportive classic ski is a bit more technically demanding than the leisure ski because it provides a better glide and accelerates the speed of the movements. It requires shorters and more dynamic supports and will make you work more on your heart rate than the leisure practice. Concerning the basic techniques, it is important to read the classic style tutorial to be able to work on your technique and to be as efficient as possible. Those skis are not more difficult to ski but they are a bit more physical. In this category you will find scale and skin skis. The technical differences with the leisure skis are the length of the the grip zone and the stiffness of the camber. A more sporty ski will have a higher camber that will require well located and heavier supports on the front of the foot like in running when you want to have a powerful stride.
The most technical category, they bundle scale, skin and waxable skis. It will depend of the height of the camber and the length of the grip zone. This category is for athletic, confirmed and expert skiers, who on top of their physical conditions are seeking gliding performances. Those obligations will shorten the grip zone and will require more skills than the sportive and the leisure categories. The top of the top of the expert ski will be the waxable skis, you need to know the waxing techniques and master the technique to get the most out of it. The Race/Expert classic skis came back to the front of the stage with the apparition of the skin skis, a bit easier to main because you don’t need to wax the grip zone, they can have a beautiful base finish and the short skins allow a better glide. The classic skis rise with the evolution of the technology, easier and more playful, they become more accessible. The most important aspect of this category is the gain of glide, that is the reason why it is extremely important to take care of the waxing and to respect the different zones and waxing techniques. If you want to get into race/expert don’t hesitate to check our glide waxing tutorial and/or grip waxing tutorial in order to get comfortable with the waxing science and be able to maintain your skis to have fun like never before.
Once you have defined the category of skis, you have to define your needs, your level, your aspirations and make a choice about the brand and the size of your skis.
You have to choose the size of the ski according to your weight. If you want to have enough grip through the uphills you need to be able to push hard enough on the ski so that the entire grip zone (scale, skin or wax) is in contact with the snow. Without this, you won’t be able to push properly on your legs and have a powerful propulsion. Remember that the skis also need to glide when you are standing straight on them, when they are parallel and your weight is equally distributed on left and right leg. For these reasons it is important to determine your weight and level before making your pick.
Common examples of what skiers say:
"I am 5ft7 (175cm) and I want to go for a 5ft9 (180cm) ski, it is tall enough".Wrong, this is a mistake!
Now, imagine that this skier weighs 210lb (95 kg), he will need a stiffer ski than a 145lb (65 kg) skier. For a skier of 5ft7 (175cm) and 210lb (95 kg) we recomment a ski between 205 and 208cm.
If another skier of the same height but weighing 155lb (70kg), he can ski with a shorter pair, a ski between 200 and 203 cm is perfectly fine.
Why? In classic style, 30 up to 60cm of the ski is dedicated to grip, you then have to compensate by a longer length to get better gliding performance.
The only exception is the compact ski, it is shorter, wider, nimbler and the camber is higher, it usually belongs to the leisure category because it doesn’t offer the same gliding properties as the other skis you can find in longer lengths.
Size grid for traditional classic skis:
|100 to 120 lb (45 - 55kg)||Between 187 and 190cm|
|120 to 140 lb (55 - 65kg)||Between 192 and 198cm|
|140 to 160 lb (65 - 75kg)||Between 200 and 203cm|
|160lb and over (75kg+)||Between 205 and 208cm|
This grid should help you to choose the right length knowing that you also need to adapt it to your level. If you are at the bottom of a size range and your technique still needs to improve, you better take the size down. Going for the bigger size means going for a ski that's less forgiving and and you may not touch the ground on double heel support.
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