tirsdag 4. februar 2014

Tips and Equipment Discussion for the Fun & Fitness (Mosjonist) XC Skier

For the new beginner I have to immediate recommendations for buying skis and these are:

a) stick to wax free, patterned sole skis
b) find a shop with a machine which measures the ski bend versus your weight
c) Tell the shop what type of skiing you are going to be doing and where
d) Buy poles which are just up to your arm pits, not up to your shoulder.
e) Buy boots with good insulation and ankle support.

Package Price

Beginners skis are often sold at very good prices in a package with boots and bindings (but not poles! Then the shop earns back some margin!) They are most often waxless or there is a choice of both types in stock. Boot quality can be an issue with these package deals btw.

This season 2014 it seems that some shops are moving away from the cheapest packages, probably because some of the boots were so dreadful. Quality packages are often very, very good value for money and can save maybe 2000 krone or more if there is a last year model ski with a great binding and a very good quality boot. Consider spending relative to your intentions from say about 1200 kr for the skis, bindings, boot package up to about 2200 kr. 

Getting the Right Ski "Fit"

The fit for you is a function of three things: the length of the ski, the breadth of the ski and the amount of arch with the amount of spring there is in that pre-bend. The pre-bend in the ski holds you off the ground and allows you to glide with your weight on it. It also has to be just soft enough for you to be able to launch off it, ie it bends down and contacts the snow under your foot when you apply your launching kick off from one foot only. In a nutshell that is how classic aka kicking XC skis work.

If you intend to go round your local "lysløype" or nicely prepared, lowland tracks without any large touring ruck sack, then the lighter the ski the better: a training ski or light touring ski width is fine. For popular tour routes near towns, avoid getting steel edges tour skis, they can cut dogs paws.

I am very heavy and sometimes go with a 20kg ruck sack, so I prefer a wider intermediate touring ski, and I use fischer PowerWax which have a deep, stiff pre-bend.

They are a good deal narrower than mountain skis but almost twice as broad as racing skis. They do though have a fair bit of side-cut for and aft in the ski, which means that they can track up the walls of the tram lines, and when skating or step turning they can turn more than anticipated.

Training skis are narrower, lighter and have a pretty dead straight aft section which makes for a nicer progression to the raised leg on the trailing ski which is the next stage I am reaching on my learning curve.

Loading Up the Ski Before You Buy

When buying though your first wax-less skis then, one thing you should get the shop to do is to start with a length 20cm higher than you ( if they are not fischer short cut design  which can be 10-15 cm longer than your height for a new beginner) and then load them up on the wax zone compression machine they should have, even though you are buying wax free with a pattern. They should then load up the ski to your weight and then they should check with a feeler gauge as to the length of the otherwise wax zone- the part if the ski which is suspended in the pre-bend when you are not pushing down on the ski.

Take a look at this zone, ask them to measure how long it is for you, marking where the feeler gauge or paper stops: if it is less than 60 cm on an average ski length (aprx 180-190 cm ) then you will have very definite problems getting any good glide when you are propelling yourself and they will be jittery down hill.

 If this "pocket" is longer than about 70cm then the ski is probably too long for you and you should try a shorter one, usually unfortunately in entry level skis than will be 10 or more cm shorter.   The ski should have a prebend which is free of the snow between then 60 and 70 cm for a normal, in track tour ski. This is shorter than the actual extent of the wax-less pattern on the sole.

(mountain skis "fjellski" have a much longer pre-bend btw, while in-track tour skis we are referring to have a prebend which makes for a waxing zone of 65 cm or less) 

Waxless patterned sole skis have usually a much longer zone which is textured than the 55-65 cm which is waxed on smooth soled XC skis in this arched "pocket" area. This is such that they can hold grip when kicking in all conditions - light powdery through to ice and water laced big crystal easter snow.

Also they are usually marketed for the beginner and walk-skiers so often they can have a textured zone which is over half the length of the ski in order that they grip with very little downward force: and that is really over kill.  My daughter's wax-less skis have great pre-bend but the pattern is long and the skis are really noisy down hill meaning they are breaking her down a lot. I am considering sanding these down in the front area and a little towards her shoe heel area!

Waxless skis however are not just for new beginners by any means: Fischer have a racing RCS pair which I have tried which are thin and have a lot of prebend, and were dead fast on the icey conditions I tried them on!  They are used by some serious skiers on longer routes like the famous Birkebeiner when there is new snow forecast on a hard base for example, or when there is uncertainty about the ground temperature coming over +1 'C from below freezing at the start ie to avoid stopping to wax and to get predictable kick and hence a comfortable rhythm for the day. Furthermore some serious and pro racers use a ski for these melting - freezing conditions called a "Zero" which have a strange rubbery-leathery synthetic kick zone built in which is rubbed up to produce tiny hairs! There are also two new technologies, Atomic's Skintec and a nanotec kick texture. More in a subsequent blog btw.

However: My last comment on all this is that if you have a Norwegian other-half who your are going to ski lots with and happens to be wax fiend then you may want to consider going for  smooth soled skis, especially if you live or ski in high country or in the north of the country where temperatures usually mean one type "blue" wax can be used most of the time.

Ski Poles

 I recommend that you as a new beginner buy poles which are just up to your arm pits, not up to your shoulder which is the norm for advanced skiers now.  For you then about 35 - 40 cm lower than your height not 30 cm. If you are say 175 high then get 140s, if you are 180 though you may need to go up to 150s in the price range.

For a new beginner it is important to learn to keep a low center of gravity. So longer poles which are above your arm pit will disturb this. The older style of skiing used shorter poles, with a more bent over body posture btw. You will start with a pretty upright body and a pretty limited plant and swing of the poles, and also you want to not use them at all in many training exercises! The shorter pole will disturb you less down hill too. Also they can then also help you steer abruptly or brake a little in an emergency ( and that is when you are going to bend them!) where a longer pole would be too long to take into action.

Once again tell the shop where you will be skiing: if the trails are soft or just prepared once in a while, then a broader bail on the end of the pole may be available to be fitted at the shop, or you may want to get a mountain style bail (the very old fashioned looking but very effective circle with cross type)

Cheap poles for 200-300 kr are fine per se, you will undoubtedly bend them though. Poles for a bit more, 400-500 kr with a good broad strap for the hand, or a velcro hand gripping half glove are worth looking at, but they will probably be alloy and probably you will quite likely bend them.

Other Equipment


Cheap boots are worth avoiding. Often in a package price ski-binding-boot the shop will do you a deal in swapping out the cheapo boots and adding in better boots and good quality poles. This means a  discount on the day, and you walk out with boots which will probably outlast the skis! Haggle and shop around, This year in Norway it seems like the quality of packages is up, as are the prices a bit but that is fine.

Cheap boots are likely to be fabric all over, thus not resisting icey track sides, or covered in a virtually not breathable plastic fake leather. They will probably not have thinsulate. In fact they will be too insulated with a foam type mid layer which will likely not transmitt sweat away. They may well have ankle grip, but take an experienced pal with you if you can or find an honest shop assistant, or play at " do I need to upgrade"

BTW - I'd avoid buying second hand anything which has seen use. Nearly new is okay but ideally you want to see the condition in person.

Boots should once again be to purpose and skiing area. Training "Boots" are light and actually a shoe with an ankle gaiter so these are most use for a new beginner who will just be going on nicely groomed tracks without any serious down hills.

I would recommend for a new beginner to look at a touring boot with lacing up to the ankle cuff, even a full leather mountain touring boot with a supported ankle. For an improver  skier like me, with a bit of poor control over ski direction have a look at combi boots, which have adjustable ankle collar support system. The latter has really given a boost to my skiing this year after I got them as an xmas pressie. They are on offer at a couple of places this year, including coop obs. 

For the better insulated boots, with thinsulate and an outer gaiter or in fluffy lined leather,  you want to actually use a single thin wool sock on usual mid cold or mild days, and so they must be able to tighten down to this without the heel being able to lift which is pure hell.  A bigger sock will not really cure a boot which is too long and may lead to nasty blisters !

Try boots on with ordinary thin socks and a mid weight ski or winter sports sock.  Get them tied up right and move around in them. Take some strides and get a feeling that they are not constricting your foot, which will reduce your circulation, while also you are getting very little lift in the heel.

The boot should be snug on the ball of the foot but not tight. and the toe box should be the same.  You may need to go up in size or choose a different marque in order to get a boot which is both wide and long enough for you  I have just gone up one and a half sizes to get the right boot width and length and I can use it with both light socks as tight as possible or a double pair without heel lift.

Glad Rags

As I blogged before you can survive with winter running and cycling clothes but you must have good sports wool full length underwear and sports underpants otherwise you will get cold.

One thing you should invest in if you are really going to get out often and train pretty ærobically is a good pair of specialist gloves. I sweat on my hands just a little and combined with any melted snow I find all my gloves get really cold eventually especially around -2 because then I am at my sweatiest! I need more breathable gloves - the same principle for general clothing, a light next to skin layer which is warm for its thickness and then a very, very breathable shell like Pertex or windstopper. If you ski in cold areas with temperatures usually below -8C then a pair of Lobster claw gloves will help keep your fingers warm: these are usually made in a pertex outer with a very light grip material on the palm and digits.


A ski bag is worth investing in to keep the salt off the skis on the roof rack, to keep water and wax and spikey ski poles from damaging your car if you take them in and to avoid getting these in the face when you use a roof box, as well as tidying things up and being able to take two or three pairs for the whole family.

If you have a small car or saloon with fixed back seats then the magnetic roof clamp system is really good, just remember not to leave it on down town. It has two circular ski clamps you position easily and they are of course more ærodynamic than a full rack.

A roof top ski box is a good investment if you have a family who will all want to ski or take downhill stuff to Geilo with you. Some have a roof rack which takes bike racks for the summer, others are half width and take these or a kayak holder on the other side.

Eye Wear

Sports sun glasses with inter-changeable lenses are a good idea. I use orange lenses the most in winter:  On gray days  you can very quickly loose sight of the tracks and on white out snow showers with wind, when the tracks are getting filled in you can see more relief and where the tracks start again! There are some fancy visors for cold weather, which are a bit serious for  the likes of me.

Your own spectacles will tend to fog up badly but you can use a fogex type treatment . However best to use contact lenses and be a little careful in very cold conditions when you want to use the sports sun glasses over them to stop the wind chill freezing them onto your eye. If your strength for myopia is under minus three per eye, you should be able to get on fine without any glasses.

Bag the Bum

In the line of carrying drink, clothes etc you have to ask yourself what type of tour you will be doing. I have a mate who insists on making a but of a day out of some tours which are only otherwise two hours max, and we have a half hour break at the top and so on. Thereby we need more extra clothes for the stop, a warm drink and so on so the camelback rucksack is out for me or even a bigger one, 25 L job with a sweat back and chest straps. If you are interested most in fitness and learning to go a big quick then you just need a bumbag. There is a very handy type which also insulates your kidney area available with integrated water bottle holder in various different sizes and designs. A more simple solution is the bum bag with inbuilt insulated drinks pouch and a big cap on it which is easy to open with gloves on. These have a pocket for keys, a sports bar and some wax. A really worthy investment in either type, and plenty on sale now with this strange late coming and maybe early going winter in Norway.

Waxing Waxless!

To get the very best out of your waxless skis you can ask the shop if they do a free glider prep. Glider can be applied to the whole ski, but lately there is a new flouro spray which is used on the grip section which stops the skis balling (cladding) up with snow in particular conditions ( new, damp snow onto a cold icey track for example). This happens surprisingly often, so a buying a can of this spray is a good investment. It doesn't slow you down, so apply at room temperature the night before you go out every other time, or before any longer tours or milder weather.

Further more in some very slushy Easter conditions you may want to buy a tube of clister, or the much easier spray base clister or quick clister universal and apply just under the binding area on the sole to give a bit of traction. You may not need this in the morning, but as the Easter sunshine melts the snow, you may save yourself a really bad tour back later with one of these.

I have borrowed "feller" ie strap on skins.  They were full legnth and it meant I could walk straight all the way up to a high valley instead of fish boning. They were very bitey down hill but I could keep speed on with a light plough. On the flat while trying to catch a bus, they were hell to keep going.

Some tour skis have a groove for short-feller. which has the front clamp recessing in there. These are apparently a really better way of getting more grip in wet or old, hard icey conditions without slowing you down too much.

There are then some conditions or tours where the waxless pattern will let you down, and that is generally late season or on long uphills.

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