With fresh powder beginning to cover the northern portions of our country, now is the perfect time to take up cross-country skiing. Not only is it a great workout, but it gives you the chance to get outside and enjoy the snow rather than curse at it. The best part: cross-country skiing is accessible to all ages and athletic levels, so you can get outside with just about anyone.
The first step is choosing what kind of cross-country skiing you want to do.
Also referred to as diagonal or in-track striding, this style is best for beginners. This is because classic skiing is done on a groomed trail, specifically within an established track that controls where to move. It requires lightweight poles (which should come up to your armpits when standing on the ground) and skis that fit into the 60 to 70 mm track. It is also recommended that beginners use a softer flex ski.
This style also requires a groomed trail, but gives the participant the freedom of leaving the set track of classic skiing. Skate skiing, compared to classic, is more difficult to learn and requires a great deal of energy. As far as equipment goes, skate skis are shorter and skinnier; they have no side cut on them, something which makes the ski naturally turn. Poles also need to be a little longer, coming up roughly to your nose when standing on the ground. Be warned, skate skiing equipment is more expensive than classic.
Also called randonee or alpine touring, telemark requires a lot of skill and has a much longer learning curve. You may have seen this style utilized by athletes carving through the snow in alternating lunge-like positions. This can be done in the backcountry or on groomed trails. Poles need to be adjustable and many skiers use boots that can lock and unlock at the heel; boots also need to be stiffer and more rigid than normal. Many telemark skiers use downhill alpine gear.
As you would expect, this style involves leaving the beaten path and heading to remote areas. Backcountry requires more of a medium flex in the ski, meaning when you stand on one foot, the ski should be touching the ground in the middle. There are two main types of bindings used for this style: the SNS Salomon system, where the boot can engage in two places, and the Rossignol new Nordic norm (NNN). The biggest thing about choosing a binding is to make sure that it is compatible with your boots; wider bindings give you more balance.
Be aware that backcountry skiing can be dangerous. You should always carry proper equipment and understand the basics of avalanche safety.