About Cross Country Ski Equipment


Cross country ski equipment has changed considerably since the days of knickers, bamboo poles and three-pin bindings. The equipment on the market today is sleek, flashy and geared toward skiers of all shapes, sizes, and competitive bents. Although ski equipment manufacturers have incorporated lighter materials and new technology into their products, skiers’ basic equipment needs haven’t changed since the activity’s inception.


Cross country skis—which incorporate synthetic foam cores—are longer, narrower and lighter than their alpine counterparts, and can be divided into two types based on the skiing techniques that are popular today: Classical and free (or “skate” skis). Classical skis typically are longer than skate skis and have a stiffer camber or arch. With classical technique, the camber is depressed under your foot during the “kick” portion of your skiing motion, and a section of the base—which either bares kickwax or has fish scales for grip—grabs the snow and propels you forward. Skate skis are designed to glide, and therefore no kickwax is applied to the base.


Pole types differ drastically between cross country and alpine skiing. Cross country ski poles—made of aluminum, fiberglass, graphite or carbon fiber—primarily are used for forward propulsion while alpine ski poles help a skier balance and achieve greater stability, especially while cornering. There’s also a difference in poles used for cross country skiing’s classical and free techniques. Classical technique requires shorter poles (which measure to about the armpits while standing on skis) while skate-skiers use longer poles (which measure to about the chin while standing on skis). Both varieties incorporate a small plastic basket at the end of the pole to assist your forward propulsion while poling.


Cross country ski boots, while intended to support your foot and ankle during activity, are not as heavy or as bulky as alpine ski boots. Boots designed for classical technique typically are lower cut and bear a resemblance to running shoes. Skate-skiing boots possess a higher cuff and increased stiffness, and have built-in support around your ankle and heel—features intended to aid the lateral “push” forces of your skating technique.


Bindings are screw-mounted on skis and fix your ski boot’s toe to your ski (your boot’s heel is left unattached to the binding and ski). Like cross country skis, poles and boots, bindings have also changed considerably over time. Prior to the introduction of contemporary binding systems, three-pin bindings widely were used, and are still in use in several forms of the sport, such as telemark and backcountry skiing.


The ski clothing you wear depends on the type of skiing you’re doing. Racers wear skin-tight lycra suits designed to minimize drag and promote optimal range of motion. Recreational skiers out for an afternoon tour typically wear wind pants, wind jackets and layers of clothing they can peel away as they exercise. Most skiers, however, will benefit from wearing a sweat-wicking base layer—including socks—which will keep you warm and dry during your outing. Wool and synthetic fleece are appropriate materials for insulating layers. Many skiers prefer mittens over gloves because they keep your hands warmer, and don’t forget your toque or beanie or your sunglasses before leaving the house for a day of cross country skiing. According to the website XCSkiWorld.com, “For beginners, the best advice is to keep things as simple as possible and go skiing a few times so that you have a personal evaluation of what specific types of equipment as well as what additional items will make your skiing experiences more enjoyable.”

About this Author

Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician and freelance writer based out of Durham, N.C. He writes about health, fitness, diet, lifestyle, travel and outdoor pursuits. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.