Why Ski Cross-Country?

I would like to attribute my defection to cross-country skiing to a Peter Principle lateral search for incompetence: that I had done everything one can do while wearing skis and was in search of new worlds to conquer. This, however, was not the case.

It all began one November morning two years ago when my sister entered my room wearing my ski boots and a canary-eating grin. It seems, I was told, that the boots no longer fit me but that they fit my sister just fine.

A week later my beautiful Kneisel skis followed suit and I was left with a pair of ski poles that my father--Ten Commandments not withstanding--coveted.

Thus it was late November and I had visions of a whole season's snow going to waste on the other members of my family. Something had to be done, and that something turned out to be a pair of cross-country skis, some Bonna boots, and bamboo poles. Even before stepping out into the cold, cross-country skiing has a lot to recommend it.

Low cost, for example. While one can easily spend over $100 for downhill skis, $50 for boots, and $20 for poles, fully equipping myself for cross-country skiing cost under $90. Of course, the wrong equipment is no bargain at any price, and the right choice of skis and boots is especially important for the beginner.

Your first decision is to choose the width of ski most suitable for the type of skiing you intend to do and the condition of the snow where you will be skiing.

The widest ski available is the Touring ski. The greater width provides stability and is an advantage in deep powder where the extra surface area keeps you from sinking into the drifts. Those who intend to carry large backpacks should probably opt for these wide touring skis.

The next width is the light touring ski and has the advantage of being faster and lighter than the regular touring ski.

Although initially more strain on the neophytes' ankles, the loss in stability is more than compensated by the reduced weight and added speed once you have mastered cross-country skiing.

So, unless you were one of those people who started walking at age eight and are still having difficulties, I would recommend the light touring ski. It is more work at first, but after two weeks this is the width you will wish you had purchased.

The narrowest ski--the racing ski--is closer to a pair of ice skates than to the downhill skis of your youth. A good deal of work for your ankles, these skis are recommended for people with Norwegian (preferably Swedish) last names who foresee skiing only on packed and grooved racing tracks.

Sealskins

After choosing a width for your skis, the second and a more difficult decision lies in choosing between three alternative ski bottoms. The first option is a pair of inlaid Mohair strips which allow you to glide forwards but provide traction when you push off on one ski to slide forward on the other. This is the first commercial waxless ski and is America's improvement on tying seal skins to the bottom of each ski.

The drawbacks of the mohair strips are that they tend to ice up in some weather and may fill up with klister if someone ahead of you is using wax.

To solve this problem, the last three years have brought us the "fish scale" bottom which, as its name implies, is a large tractive area (usually the entire ski bottom) resembling fish scales that allow the ski to slide forward but not backward.