All About Cross-Country Skis

What Are Cross-Country Skis?

Most people think of skis as the speedy downhill-slalom sports accessory, but for quickly traversing long stretches of snowy land, cross-country skis are invaluable. Interestingly, cross-country skiing came long before downhill skiing (dating into Nordic and Native American prehistory), and today survives in the sports world as one-half of the biathlon. While downhill skis are great for going downhill fast, cross-country skis allow you to walk through all kinds of snowy terrain with maximum efficiency.


What Makes Them Cross-Country Skis?

Cross-country skis are very light and narrow, much more so than downhill skis, and may have either straight edges or a slight curve (especially the newer ones). Instead of attaching all around the boot, cross-country skis attach only at the toes. These skis often have special grip waxing or patterns at the bottom to give the wearer traction while going uphill, while downhill skis are designed to be as smooth and frictionless as possible.


What are the Types of Cross-Country Skis?

The two major types of cross-country skis are the classic, or striding, ski and freestyle or skating. The freestyle skis are shorter and don't need the grip waxing to get traction. In addition to the skis, cross-country skiers use longer specialized poles to help them travel across snow faster. Classic skis are about two meters long, five centimeters wide, and only one centimeter thick.

Waxing Cross-Country Skis

Though it sounds backward, cross-country skis work best if properly waxed. Instead of using iron-on glide wax like downhill skis, though, cross-country skis use kick wax. This unique form of wax grips the snow because it is actually penetrated by snowflakes when the skier puts his weight down. There are different grades of kick wax, with harder ones rated for colder weather. If you don't use the proper hardness, you may get an ice sole forming under your ski, which will weigh you down and make it harder to grip the snow.

Kick wax is color coded, with red for temperatures above freezing and blue for those below. The range under this goes violet (at freezing), green for -10 degrees Celsius, white for below -15. New snow changes these measurements, and understanding which wax is appropriate to use is almost an art form. When snow gets more like ice patches due to its age, or when it's too warm to remain fully frozen, you might need klister instead of kick wax. Klister is very much like a glue, simple to apply but difficult to remove when you are done. Gasoline, soap, or special solvents available in ski stores can be used to remove klister. Red klister is for wet snows, while blue is for icy or old snow. Waxless cross-country skis, with a fish-scale pattern on the bottom to provide grip, are growing in popularity because you don't have to worry about using the correct wax, but they are not as good as traditional skis.

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