Cross-country skis tend to be very narrow (roughly 50mm wide) and are built without the edges found on most other skis used for cutting and curving. Ideally, the skis should reach your wrist from the ground as you reach upwards, i.e. be 20 to 30 cm longer than your body depending on the length of your arms. As with many types of sporting equipment, professional versions tend to be smaller. This is again the case with cross-country racing skis, which are shortened and narrower than those designed for recreational pursuits. The attributes of the ski can also be varied according to technique.
The skis are designed to minimise the surface area of the base that comes into contact with the snow and reduce friction. The skis are subsequently cambered, meaning there is an arch below the boot area, as this is where the largest downward force is be exerted. The camber therefore distributes the weight across the ski more evenly.
Another important requirement of the skis is that they still allow the skier to gain purchase on the snow while pushing backwards. This is done with scales or wax. Scales are the norm for hired skis as they are more stable, and an easier option for long distances or variable snow terrain. The method of waxing skis is a more precise but complicated art. Two types of wax can be applied to the centre of the ski; kick and klister.
Both waxes work on the principle that, when ascending a slope, water crystals bond to the wax which increases friction and helps the skier to "climb". When descending, these crystals melt because of the heat created by higher speeds. The melted crystals are thought to form a layer of water on which the ski effectively floats above the snow, which reduces friction and increases speed. Learning which wax is best for the conditions is a slow process, so get some advice the first few times. You will know when you’ve used the wrong wax as it congeals into lumps on the base of the ski and slows you down. Waxes are colour-coded according to stickiness.
Pairs of carbon fibre or aluminium are used. These have a spike to penetrate the hard ground and a ring (or basket) which prevents the pole from going too deep into the snow. Longer poles are used for skating than classic cross-country skiing, but both should be long enough to reach as high as the user’s armpit while standing.
Boots and Bindings
This is an infuriating matter for skiers as there are three different types or binding used in cross-country skiing; the New Nordic Norm, Salamon New Nordic System Profil and Salamon Nordic System Pilot. All attach to the boot at the toe leaving the heel free to lift the ski without tilting it. The Pilot system is the most expensive and is used at professional level, although any good ski shop should be able to advise you on which binding is best for you and your favoured type of cross-country skiing.