Gliding in a winter wonderland
Cross country skiing is a method of traveling over snow in varied terrain with the freedom of being away from the mechanical world. It’s about the pleasures of moving and gliding on snow. It’s about the ability to be out in the winter environment having an inspiring and rewarding experience.
Since cross country skiing began more than 4,000 years ago, the movement has been striding. It is a cycle of locomotive movements. One steps forward on the ski causing it to glide, then balances and then goes on to the other ski.
The stride is often considered the most effective natural pace for the human anatomy — striding and gliding is what skiing is all about.
Cross country skis tend to be narrow, light and easy to maneuver. The skier is attached only in the toe area. The free heel allows one to move forward with ease.
A person can cruise on machine groomed tracks, climb up a mountain or glide across a meadow using the diagonal stride. It’s the foundation of all nordic skiing from the telemark turn to the new skate technique. Typically it’s divided into four divisions.
The most popular is the casual ski tourer. This is about going out in the backyard or the local meadow to travel on gentle terrain, for exercise and to enjoy the outdoors. Skis used for this type of activity generally are waxless, lightweight skis without a lot of high-tech features. Boots should fit well, have a stiff enough sole so the heel doesn’t fall off the back of the ski and it should lace up over the ankle.
The “track skier” — someone who skis on machine groomed trail benefits most from the gliding aspect of skiing and faster movement. Track skis tend to be the lightest and most narrow of all cross country skis. Often a track skier will use wax rather than waxless skis to allow for a longer smooth glide without the texture of a waxless ski. A track ski tends to be the most fragile of all skis and should be used only on machine groomed trails. Track skiing also includes the new popular technique of skating. In the skate method there is no grip under the foot of the ski. Instead of striding forward with grip to move from one ski to another the skier pushes off the edge of the ski to glide on a flat ski. The skis are in a “v” formation in the glide phase. It’s a very fun and fast way to ski on machine groomed trails.
The avid backcountry skier needs a wider sturdy ski for breaking trail, keeping the ski afloat on the snow and to handle the added weight of a backpack. Skis are designed to turn, hold an edge and maneuver quickly. Backcountry skis can be waxless or waxable. A wax ski requires sticky wax under the foot for grip; a waxless ski has a pattern in the base of the ski that will purchase on the snow. The boots should be sufficient to handle such a ski. They need to be stiff high top leather or plastic. The trend today is to go with plastic boots because they are lighter, drier and maintain a rigid profile.
The cross country skier who wants to climb and ski step mountains or ski at alpine resorts is often referred to as the telemarker.
The telemark is a style of turn used in the conditions, it’s the traditional turning technique, the first turn completed on skis. Skis used her are very similar to a alpine ski, metal edges, lots of side cut for responsive turning and wider than most typical cross country skis. The boots are usually plastic with a tall stiff ankle cuffs.
Before you go out and purchase equipment think about the kind of skiing you want to be doing. Where you will be skiing? What skills do you have or plan to obtain? Typically renting gear in the beginning is the way to go. Most shops offer top of the line rentals. All of the techniques of cross country skiing are rewarding and fun. The important thing is that you are out there doing it.
Debbi Waldear is director of Kirkwood Cross Country Ski Area. The Web site is http://www.kirkwood.com
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