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Cross-country skiing: tips for first-time equipment buyers

You’ve had a taste of cross-country skiing pleasures and you’d like to get equipped once and for all? So you can choose the perfect equipment for your type of skier, we’re offering some tips to maximize your pleasure on our trails.

With this in mind, you'll surely be able to put your best foot (or ski) forward!

Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq

Some retail therapy

Remember that you should always go to a specialized shop for expert advice so you can make an informed purchase. A good advisor will ask you a number of questions to determine the type of skis to suggest for you. The right ski length will then be determined according to your weight and calibre. Classic skis are no longer measured by raising our arms above our head, as was the case back in the day. It's therefore a good idea to weigh yourself before going to the store. Don't forget to do so while wearing your usual cross-country ski apparel and with a full waist bag if you tend to ski with this accessory.

For beginners 

Equipment for the classic technique

Before choosing classic skis, you must evaluate how comfortable you are with the required waxing technique. If preparing your skis before each outing is a headache, opt for wax-less skis. Skis with scales offer higher performance than they did 30 years ago, and you can find them in various price ranges. In addition to being practical, they enable you to hit the trails quickly and require little maintenance. Liquid glide wax can be applied over the entire length of the ski. This will only take two or three minutes before your outing.

Classic waxed skis are still popular and generally offer higher performance. As a beginner, you might want a wider and shorter ski in order to have more stability and maneuverability on the trails. Big cross-country ski companies offer skis made specifically according to these configurations. Until your technique improves, skis with a softer camber will enable you to step into your grip zone more easily and propel yourself forward. But beware! If you're the fast-learner athletic type, it’s better to choose a ski with a more rigid camber so as not to have to buy new skis the following winter.

In recent years, skin skis have been all the rage. They are skis with kick zones made of synthetic skin or mohair. They’re suitable for a wider variety of snow conditions (very advantageous when temperatures are near the freezing point) and are less noisy than skis with scales. You can find them in various price ranges. However, you have to carefully choose your skis according to weight; otherwise, you’ll either be slowed down by the skins which will rub on the snow or you won’t be able to press down on the kick zone to propel yourself forward.

Classic ski poles are chosen according to your height. The wrist strap should reach your armpits. The manufacturing material influences the durability, lightness, and cost of the poles. If you tend to go on long outings, a lighter pole will make a difference. Pay attention to the shape of the basket, that piece of plastic at the end of the pole. If you’re planning to do off-piste skiing or to ski on trails that aren’t track-set, a wider basket is required. For cross-country ski centres where the trails are mechanically marked, a small basket will be enough.

Ski-skating equipment

Ski skating is also becoming more popular with skiers. More physically demanding, this style allows us to go faster and have an intense workout in less time. Perfect for skiers who train on week nights! The skis designed for ski skating are shorter than those for the classic technique. It’s possible to do ski skating with classic skis (not ideal), but the opposite isn't the case. The size of the equipment is established according to the weight of the skier. As is the case for the classic technique, a beginner should buy skis with a slightly softer camber which will be more forgiving of imbalances.

Ski-skating poles are longer than those used for the classic technique. Choose poles that are about 10 cm longer than your classic poles or that reach between your chin and your nose. Ski- skating boots are also different from boots for the classic technique. They have a cuff at the ankle for additional support and a stiffer sole for lateral thrust. If you want to try out both styles, please be aware that there are combi boots so you can buy only one pair!

Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq
Steve Deschênes | © Sépaq

For children

If you're introducing your children to cross-country skiing or if you ski only a couple or so times per winter, please note that cross-country skiing equipment rental is offered free of charge for children 17 years of age and younger at Sépaq’s seven cross-country ski centres. So you don't have to worry about buying or maintaining equipment! However, if your children are quick learners, you may want to consider buying equipment that’s better suited to their needs.

For little ones from three to six years of age, wax-less skis with scales will be enough. For older children, skis requiring waxing will offer them better performance. More upscale skis are generally lighter, faster, and more durable, but also more expensive.

There are combi skis that enable youngsters to try out both styles (classic technique and ski skating) with a single pair of skis. Naturally, you’ll wax the kick zone for the classic technique and you'll clean it all off before applying glide wax for ski skating. You’ll save money and need less storage space too!

It’s also possible to rent a full set of equipment for children for the entire winter at certain specialty shops. You'll return the equipment at the end of the season, and the following year, you can take a new set which will be the right size for your child. A practical tip for children who grow up fast and for families with a single child who can’t pass on equipment to a younger sibling.

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