Start Cross Country Skiing
Those of you checking out these pages perhaps as a result of seeing Cross Country Skiing on TV, will undoubtedly be drawn by visions of Olympic racers in brightly coloured Lycra zooming along through the forest at high speed. It's probably most people's immediate image of Cross Country skiing. It doesn't have to be at that speed of course but skiing in prepared tracks is probably the most common and most exciting form of cross country skiing. Try not to be misled by reluctant journalists from the Sunday papers who, having sampled Cross Country skiing once, claim that it's either for the very fit or for the very old. Cross Country skiing can be enjoyed at any speed and at any age. Whether you want to zoom along at warp factor speeds or just amble along admiring the scenery, you're never too old to learn. That's one of the great things about Cross Country skiing, you can ski at your own pace and make it as energetic or as relaxing as you wish.
In Germany you'll find it referred to as "langlauf", in France "ski de fond". In England we us the English International definition and call it "Cross Country Skiing".
What to do First
If you want to try Cross Country skiing and it's your first time you could book a trip with one of the travel agents that specialises in Cross Country Skiing hoidays and learn what to do when you arrive. Alternatively you'll probably get more out of it if you find your local club on the club locator page.
By joining your local club you can speak to the members who have a wealth of information and you can get the low down how best to get started. You'll be able to experience what it's like to Cross Country ski in England at any time of year by using things called roller skis which will give you the feeling of what it's like to ski on real snow. Many clubs run annual trips abroad. Have a look at some of the membership benefits
of becoming a Snowsport England member.
Skiing in the mountains is a fantastic experience, and available in the UK when we have snow and in resorts in Europe, USA, New Zealand Canada and many more resorts throughout the world.
If you are looking for a real challenge you could take part in a Loppet race. Long distance cross country ski racing is personally rewarding, and where else can you ski with up to 20,000 other skiers! Check our racing page
for more information.
Classic skiing uses a technique which is called the diagonal stride or gait where the skis run parallel to each other in prepared tracks. These tracks have been cut into the snow by machine. Classic skis are slightly bow shaped but when you put your weight on one of them or press it down, the centre of the ski comes into contact with the snow. This allows special grip wax or fishscale mouldings in the centre of the ski to grip the snow.
Grip wax is a science in its own right and it has its own mystique. There is a range of waxes from which to choose. The temperature and humidity are two important factors to assess when deciding which one will work best. These waxes are similar in consistency to candles and they are colour coded to distinguish them. The hardest waxes are for cold snow and the softest are for when the snow approaches zero. These hard waxes are crayoned on and spread out with a special cork. When the snow is wet, Klister is used. This is a viscous substance, comes in toothpaste-like tubes and should be handled with care otherwise it seems to stick to everthing to get everywhere. This is one reason why beginners may select skis with a fishscale base. There are no waxes to apply because a pattern is moulded into the bases similar to fishscales and these backward pointing ridges grip the snow when the skis is pressed down. Fishscale bases are also useful when the snow conditions vary a lot and you would be constantly having to change waxes. It's generally accepted that fishscale bases run more slowly that waxed bases.
With the bottom of your ski having gripped the snow you can push off from it, create forward movement and at the same time, stride out onto the other foot. The rest of your stride will be spent gliding on the tips and tails of both skis with the grip wax away from the snow until you come to your next "kick". The skier kicks and glides his way forward in these tracks so the skis need to be narrow to fit the grooves in the snow tracks. Important to both Classic and Skating technique is the use of the poles. These are used to supplement forward movement by planting the tips and pushing off from them in time with the kick from your skis.
Racing skis will generally weigh about l kilo, be about 45mm wide and slightly narrower at the tip. Cheaper recreational skis will weigh a bit heavier, be about 50mm wide along their length and may be slightly narrower in the middle. The bow shape of the skis is referred to as camber and as your Classic technique improves you will be able to move from soft camber skis to racing ones with a stiffer camber. When you start out, you'll need to take advice about what camber of ski will be best for you because your weight and the length of the ski will be important factors to take into account. Most resorts have rental equipment, however if you wish to buy your own equipment it is best to contact a local retailer and get expert advice.
Free Technique (Skating)
Skating has the potential to be faster than classic. To skate on skis you need a ski lane with no grooves in the snow. Put simply you use the same principles as ice or roller skating except that you have the extra push from your poles. Because you physically drive the skis differently in the two techniques, the gear differs. Skate skis are a uniform width of about 45mm. They have much less "camber" and can be skied shorter than classic skis because they don't have or need a wax pocket. This enables them to track better in a straight line because you don't have the machine cut groves to guide them. You glide upon the entire length of a skate ski. Boots made for skating reach higher up the ankle and they have special cuffs in a variety of configurations but they're all designed to give extra support to the ankles and lower leg when pushing off sideways from the snow.
Connecting the boot to the ski is through a binding. Alpine skiers boots are attached at the toe and at the heel and they happily have only one international standard for bindings. Cross Country skiers will usually have to choose between at least two. The Rottefella NNN or the Salomon SNS being the most common. Both work on a similar principle - a simple device which locks onto a metal bar running parallel and below the toe of the boot into the binding. Ridges running the length of the binding locate matching grooves on the sole of the boot so that the boot won't slide off the side of the ski.
Updated July 2011 SJ (Photos - Fischer Skis. Animation - PicGifs)