Cross Country Skiing

Skiing Near Vegglifjell, Norway
Frankly,  I enjoy cross country skiing (XC) more than snowshoeing.  It takes a little more skill, but getting through the countryside is much faster and requires significantly less energy per mile than snowshoes.  I began enjoying cross country skiing as a kid when my grandparents gave me a set of wooden skis with bamboo poles.  My dad had wax for the skis and I learned a little about how different waxes stick or slide with different types and temperatures of snow.  I had everything I needed for winter adventures.

Skiing Adventures

My first skiing adventures were on the small hills behind my house.  Mostly I skied straight down the hills with no ability to stop or turn unless I fell first.  A little later I skied for what seemed like forever (Google Earth tells me it was about 1.5 miles) to a much longer hill that offered an outstanding ride – especially when covered in ice.  Those wooden skis were not designed for ice although they made for really fast travel.  Again, there was no turning or stopping without falling and even then, falling on the ice just turned a skiing adventure into a toboggan adventure – without the toboggan – until my momentum dwindled.  By some miracle,  I never broke a leg.

As an adult, I finally got some more advanced skis, the same pair I still use.  They are waxless – a great invention – and designed so that I could actually learn to turn and stop.  After much practice on a short hill on a local golf course,  I was able to make a couple of telemark turns before getting to the bottom – still standing.  That led to some great adventures in the woods with friends.  A couple come to mind.

Night skiing.  One frigid night, lit by a full moon we decided to go skiing in the woods with no flashlights.  Someone in the group must have known where they were going because I didn’t.  It did require some concentration to stay in the leaders’ tracks and, fortunately, they waited for the slower folks in the group from time to time.  Amazingly, no one got lost and we had a great time.

Another time,  I decided to go skiing with an outdoor group at Oregon State University.  It was rainy, the snow was wet and not a great lot of fun as we trudged up a hill.  When we reached the top our leader said “see you at the bottom.”  We weren’t told we were going to the ski bowl at Hoodoo, but there we were at the top of an icy slope with nowhere to go but down.  I flashed back to that icy hill as a kid, but this one was at least 20 times higher, steeper and just as icy.  Now,  I had been downhill skiing on similar slopes at Schweitzer without much trouble, but then I was using downhill skis with metal edges designed for this particular type of skiing.  Now,  I was older and considerably more fragile than I was in my younger days and using XC skis without metal edges.  I made it down, slowly and deliberately by skiing across the run while sliding sideways down the hill.  Upon getting across the run,  I turned and went across the other direction, still sliding down the hill sideways.  After more zigs and zags that I could count I finally arrived, exhausted, at the bottom.  I learned that I could go anywhere with those skis – it’s was just a matter of careful route selection.

Keeping Warm

SkierIt’s easy to get cold when playing in the snow, but XC skiing is a different story.  The energy generated while skiing provides plenty of heat.  So much so that bundling up as if to go sledding could lead to hypothermia.  The problem is the sweat the body produces at this level of exercise.  It’s critical to wear lighter clothing than you might imagine, wear clothes in layers and be sure to keep your body properly ventilated.   While skiing, less clothing will provide plenty of warmth.  Once stopping for any length of time, it will be necessary to add layers to retain that heat.  Key is the base layer that must be able to wick moisture away from the body.  A wet body and cold air means hypothermia.

Appropriate clothing helps to prevent hypothermia. Synthetic and wool fabrics are superior to cotton as they provide better insulation when wet and dry. Some synthetic fabrics, such as polypropylene and polyester, are used in clothing designed to wick perspiration away from the body, such as liner socks and moisture-wicking undergarments. Clothing should be loose fitting, as tight clothing reduces the circulation of warm blood. – Wikipedia

Skis, Boots, Bindings and Poles

The skis I bought as an adult, sometime around the late 1970’s, were Trak waxless skis with a fish-scale pattern on the bottom.  That pattern was later marketed as Omnitrak® and still works great in all kinds of snow.  Later on, Trak merged with Karhu and ultimately the fish-scale base is no longer produced. Since my old Trak’s are wearing out, it’s time to find a new set.  As it turns out,  there have been some advances in cross country skis in the intervening years.   Here’s how I am going about finding a new setup:


I’ve used waxed skis and waxless skis and I want waxless.  I want to ski, not dink around determining snow temperature and consistency and applying whatever type of wax will make them work then reapplying when it wears off.  Sure,  if you want to race you want your skis perfectly matched for the snow, but for the touring I do, waxless works perfectly.

The next consideration is the type of ski.  I want touring skis and I could be persuaded to go with tougher, steel-edged skis because I do get out on virgin snow as much as I can.  Still, plain old touring skis work fine in almost all situations.  There are special skis for racers, but that’s not me.

Getting the correct size used to involve getting a ski that reaches to your wrist when your hand is held over your head.  These days. it’s more about weight.  Skis are designed so that they arch upward under the foot area.  That’s called camber.  When gliding down a hill, the skier’s weight is balanced on both skis and the foot area  is off the snow, offering the best glide.  When striding with the skis, the weight shifts from one ski to the other so that with the full weight on one ski, it will flatten and allow the foot area full contact with the snow and offer maximum kick.  If you buy skis to match your weight, they will work the way they should.


Normally you will get the type of boot to match your style of skiing.  Unless you are into racing where the boots tend to be lower and lighter,  there are only two styles.  Touring boots and back country boots that are higher, heavier and stiffer for skiing off the path with those metal-edged skis I mentioned.  I have weak ankles and prefer the higher boots for the support they provide.  So I either need to find a touring boot that is more rigid and higher than typical or go with the back country style of boot.


Somehow, the skier’s foot needs to be attached to the ski.  At the same time,  unlike with downhill skis, the heel needs to be able to lift off of the ski as you move along.  My skis have what’s called a nordic norm binding.  That basically a three pin system that mates with holes in the front edge of the boot soles and has a clamp that holds the boot on the pins.  The heels are not held down at all, although there is a heel stop that holds the heel in place, more or less, on downhill runs.  This type of binding seems a little hard to find these days.  Today there are some other options and the binding must match the boot.

Ski PolesThere are “New Nordic Norm” (NNN) boots/bindings that work more or less like my old nordic norm binding except with a couple of ridges instead of the three pins to hold the toe in place.  Salomon offers a couple of different style bindings.  One is called Salomon Nordic System (SNS) Profil and the other is SNS Pilot.  Both attach to the boot differently from the NNN bindings and, to complicate matters further, SNS Profil boots cannot fit into Pilot bindings while, generally, SNS Pilot boots can fit into Profil bindings.

I mentioned that nordic norm bindings are a bit hard to find, but they are still available from some sources for use with backcountry boots.  Also for backcountry boots are New Nordic Norm Backcountry (NNN BC) bindings.  They are much like  NNN touring bindings, but are built to be more durable for backcountry use.

The bottom line with bindings is to chose your skis and your boots and you will be pretty much locked into the bindings you will need.


Once you find poles that will reach from the ground to your armpits about any will do.  The differences are in the strength and durability of the poles.  The more durable poles will be heavier, but better suited to backcountry skiing. Normal touring poles will tend to have smaller baskets since they are designed for skiing on groomed trails where the snow is compacted.  Poles for backcountry use have larger baskets to hold in deeper, loose snow.

My Approach to Buying

Fischer BCX 675 75mm Backcountry Ski Boots

Fischer BCX 675 75mm Backcountry Ski Boots

In my case, I decided to settle on the boots that I wanted first, so I went to my favorite outdoor store, REI, and searched their website for cross country ski boots.  There are a lot to choose from, but it’s fairly quick to scan through all those that are available.  I was looking for a higher boot that looked like it would provide good ankle support.  As it turned out these were all backcountry boots, so I compared the four mostly likely suspects.  I like to pay attention to reviews,  and three of the four had reviews.  One rated 3 stars and two with 4.5 stars with prices ranging from $120 (3 stars) to $200 (4.5 stars) to $300 (4.5 stars).  All of these were designed for the old fashioned nordic norm 3-pin bindings.  The $120 boot was marked down from $250 so it seemed like a bargain, but only one size (30 or Men’s 6) was available and it was way to small for me.  The remaining two boots, with any ratings at all were the Fischer BCX 675 75mm Backcountry Ski Boots and the Scarpa T4 75mm Backcountry Boots.  The Scarpa’s looked like more boot than I would need as confirmed by the reviews.  Reviewers noted that the Fischer boot works well with wider feet, seems to be durable and provides good ankle support.  I need a wider boot and the ankle support, so I decided upon the Fischer boots at $200.

Rossignol BC 90 Skis

Rossignol BC 90 Positrack Backcountry Skis

Once I arrived at the boot, I was locked in to 75mm Nordic Norm bindings.  The only one I could find at REI was the Rottefella Super Tele Bindings at $60.  It had good ratings (4.5 stars) and reviewers indicated it was a good durable binding, so I went with it.

Next, the skis. Some skis come with bindings that would not work with my selected boots so I put the skis that would work (all metal-edge backcountry skis) in order by price (low to high) and began by comparing the first four skis under $300 that had no bindings, were waxless and were designed for backcountry use.  They were easily eliminated because they were not designed for my weight.  The lowest priced ski like this available for my weight is the Rossignol BC 90 Positrack Backcountry Skis at $300.  I had to use the sizing chart available at the Rossignol website to make the weight determination.  The BC 90’s went into my shopping cart.

Finally poles.  Given that I was firmly in the realm of backcountry skiing, I decided I should have appropriate poles.   I have never used adjustable poles in the past and see no need for them now, but it looked like all of the poles at REI were adjustable.  I looked at the four that looked the best at first glance.  As far as strength, all are made of 7075 or 7075-T6 aluminum and the T6 variation is tempered to provide considerably more strength.  The least expensive of the three with the tempered aluminum, at $85 for a pair, was the Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles.  They come with larger baskets for powder snow and seemed well suited to my needs.  Being adjustable,  they can also be adapted to hiking use in the summer.


My choices led to a $645 package suitable for backcountry skiing as well as standard XC skiing.  Given the purchase from REI, the member rebate should be about $129 bring the total down to $516.  Your choices are likely to be different.  For example,  my wife is much smaller than I am and isn’t usually interested in getting far off the trails.  Thus,  a lighter weight ski not designed for backcountry use would work well for her.  We would start with the ski and probably find a pair that come with bindings.  That would limit the choice of boots and we’d go with lighter poles.  Again, your choices are likely to be different, but just getting equipped and getting out there exploring is more important than any equipment choice you could make.

Please Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

Pin It on Pinterest