In the Upper Midwest, we live with a certain truth: winter sometimes starts in October and can last until early May. Oh, there are warm days here and there - even stretches of several - but we know Old Man Winter can come creeping back at any moment until we make it past Mother’s Day. So you have to learn to love it, or stay inside for months on end.
My family chose to love it.
Part of loving winter is finding fun things to do to get our blood pumping. Cross country skiing does just that.
It’s a rush. The sparkling snow, the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of the skis, the bite of the cold, the crystal blue skies - it’s a spectacular trip.
The great thing about cross country skiing is that, once you make the investment, your equipment will last you for years. Invest in some warm but light winter layers, and you’re set to go exploring. We even take our dog, Aspen - a German Shepherd is never happier than in a few inches of snow and freezing temps.
There are a surprising number of considerations before you go buy cross country skis. I’ve listed the highlights below. However, know this - my husband and I bought our first pairs of cross country skis without any of this knowledge. We simply went to the local sporting goods store and bought mid-priced skis. I still use the same ones 15 years later.
Scout your ski trails. This is important because you may want to figure out whether the parks nearest you groom their trails, or whether you will need to break your own. That will help you pick the type of skis you need.
Many parks that feature hiking trails in the summer turn those trails to cross country ski tracks in the winter. In South Dakota, check out these gems:
Pick your style. There are two types of cross country skiing: classic skiing and skate skiing. Classic skiing uses a forward and back motion. Skate skiing has you pushing your skis to the side and using the edges of your skis to move you forward. Classic skiing is generally easier for starters.
Choose your skis. The type of skis you choose depends on the style of skiing you want to do and where you will do it. Touring skis are designed for skiing on groomed trails as they’re long, narrow and light. Race and performance classic skis are stiffer and require better technique - great for a workout. Metal-edge touring skis are made for skiing on trails that aren’t groomed, or steeper terrain. Skate skis shorter than classic skis, also designed for groomed trails. We bought shorter touring skis as most of the trails are not groomed where we live, and shorter skis break the trail more easily.
Get the right size skis. Each pair of skis has a recommended weight range for ski length. Longer skis tend to be faster than shorter ones, but shorter skis are easier to maneuver. You also need to think about width - narrower is faster, but if you’re not skiing groomed trails you may want to look at something a little wider.
Choose waxless or waxable. Skis need to grip the snow, either by a textured bottom or with wax. Waxless skis still require you to use glide wax on your skis, contrary to what you’d think based on their name. Waxable skis are more work, but can glide better in temps above or below freezing. If your temps are consistently right around freezing, waxless skis may be a better choice.
Boots. The boots should match the type of skiing you’re doing, and fit snugly. You’ll want to talk with staff and let them know what type of skiing you will be doing so they can help you make the right choice. You’ll also need to find compatible bindings so they work with the bindings already on the skis. If your skis don’t come with bindings, you can pick your boots then get bindings to go with them. I wear gaiters or snow pants to prevent getting snow in my boots.
Poles. Cross-country ski poles are made from either aluminum or composite. Aluminum is more durable and economical. Composite is lighter but more expensive. The size depends on the type of skiing you want to do. Cross country touring, poles generally reach from the ground up to your armpits. For race and performance classic skiing, you may want them longer. You will also want to consider where you will be skiing - for more rugged terrain, the poles should be a little shorter.
Hopefully these tips will help you love cross country skiing as much as we do!
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