Summary: Top end cross-country ski gear offers performance advantages that benefit beginner and expert skiers. Buy the best race-style equipment you can afford.
I’m teaching a beginner cross-country ski class.
These are absolute beginners and this is their first time on skis.
One of my students, let’s call her Jill, is standing, holding her skis. She has top of the line race skis, the exact equipment used by skiers on the World Cup circuit.
The class is about to start and Jill says, “I don’t know how to put on my skis.”
What do I think about Jill and her equipment? Do I think it’s crazy she has such amazing race gear when she’s just a beginner skier?
Not at all. I think Jill is a genius.
I think whoever sold her the equipment is a genius, too.
It almost never happens that you find beginners with gear any racer would be happy to ski on. When we see that, it makes us happy.
It doesn’t make sense for beginners to use the heaviest, most difficult to handle gear.
Skis Have Different Characteristics that Affect Their Performance
Ski width and weight have a big impact on ski speed, as does the quality of the base material. But one of the most important features of a cross-country ski is the camber, or flex.
Recreational skis are said to have an easier kick. The big difference between how a beginner and an expert ski is where their center of mass sits in relation to their boots and skis. A beginner skis with his weight back and a racer skis with his weight forward.
This means they’ll “kick” their skis differently. A pro will get more power with less effort.
(“Kick” refers to the part of the stride where the skier pushes against the snow. In the case of classic skiing, you push down and back against your wax pocket. In skate skiing you push in a sideways direction against the inside edge of your ski. In either case, you have to compress your camber to get a good kick. After the kick, the ski springs back into it’s flexed shape, which helps you glide faster.)
If you’re just getting into the sport, you might feel like you’re in a tough spot. You won’t have an effective and powerful kick, so you might wonder if you should get more of a recreational ski. On the other hand, you don’t want to find after 1 – 2 years you wish you had bought better gear.
Should You Buy for the Skier You Are, or the Skier You’re Going to Become?
We say, buy for the skier you’re going to become.
Look at you, you’re on a website called “Cross Country Ski Technique”. You’ve already passed the first test, which was to understand there’s more to cross-country skiing than just shuffling along the trail.
Also, race skis aren’t that difficult to use. If you buy from a legitimate nordic ski shop and get your skis fitted properly, you won’t have any trouble. You can always build up extra layers of kick wax or extend your wax application further towards the tip of the ski if you are having trouble with grip.
Why We Recommend Buying Race Gear
- You get what you pay for. The ski companies are not scamming you. This isn’t like buying designer clothing. There aren’t a lot of technical features in $500 jeans you can’t find in $100 jeans, but there are real differences in materials and design between low cost and top end gear and you will feel those differences in the performance of your gear.
- Race gear is lighter and more responsive. In the long run it’ll help you become an excellent skier more quickly.
- Race gear is faster. Everything about the skis, boots and poles is designed to help you ski faster with less effort. That’s fun.
Our Bottom Line Advice:
Buy for the skier you’re going to become.
If you want to ski the way we describe here on the Cross Country Ski Technique website, you should buy the best race equipment your budget will afford and buy it from a real cross-country ski shop, not a general sports store.
Don’t choose the “best deal”, choose the best gear you can afford. Think of the cost as being spread over many, many ski days, over many, many years, and you’ll know that investing in high quality gear is something you’ll never regret.