High School Ski Gear Guide

So you've decided to join a cross country ski team - congrats and welcome to the nordic community! We think that skiing is the greatest thing on Earth, and we want to make sure that you have as much enjoyment of the snow as we do. As a new skier, however, you probably have a lot of questions and are concerned about what you'll need to buy and, more importantly, how much it will all cost. We have prepared this guide to help you select the correct sizes and products when ordering your first set of equipment.

The Basics of Cross Country Skiing

As sports go, cross country skiing offers a wide variety of different styles and approaches that allow almost anyone to make skiing their own, from casual backyard skiing with family to epic backcountry treks for adventurous souls and, of course, high octane racing for the competitive crowd. High school skiing is generally geared towards introducing new skiers to the sport through racing, so this guide focuses primarily on entry level, race-oriented equipment.

Within nordic racing, there are two disciplines: classic and skating. Classic skiing is what most people think of when they envision cross country skiing; the skis run parallel to each other in a set of tracks and the skier pushes off of a pocket of sticky wax (called "kick wax" or "grip wax") in the middle of the ski in an elongated striding motion. Skate skiing, on the other hand, involves the skier pushing off the edges of their skis like a hockey player or a rollerblader. As a result, the skis are always pointed slightly towards the edges of the trail, and kick wax is not used.

Although high school ski racing involves both disciplines at the varsity level, many teams won't introduce first year skiers to classical skiing until late on in the season or even until their second year. This helps reduce the cost of entry into the sport by requiring less equipment for the first year and helps skiers concentrate on the fundamental aspects common to all skiing techniques. All programs are different, however, so if you are in doubt as to whether you will need classical equipment, ask your head coach what they will require for first year skiers.

Boot Fit

Nordic boots should fit similar to a running shoe, or hiking boot. Sung, yet comfortable! We typically recommend leaving about a thumbs width of space towards the toe. This will allow you to wear a thicker sock for improved warmth and comfort. Nordic boots are available in options specific to skate and classic skiing. Additionally, we offer “combi” Nordic boots that can accommodate both techniques. Skating boots will rise just below the calf, and offer a supportive ankle cuff for optimal lateral stability. Classic boots will look more similar to a shoe. When it comes to boots, we believe that “combi” boots are an excellent investment for beginner skiers. They function well for both techniques, and are a cost-effective option for growing skiers!

 

Ski Fit

Because of the differences between classic and skating, ski racers will always own at least two pairs of skis (although junior high programs frequently only skate ski in an effort to keep costs down for growing kids).  Skate skis are shorter than classic skis to prevent the skier from catching a tip while skating. They are also far stiffer since, unlike classic skiing, there are no preformed tracks for the skis to follow (skating is done on a flat trail). Classic skis also must collapse under the skier's full weight to allow the kick wax to contact the snow.

In either case, skis are fit based on how much the skier weighs, selecting a ski with the correct stiffness, with the skier's height and ski length being only secondary concerns. It is worth noting that skis are sold by length, but each pair within the same length will have it's own unique stiffness properties, so it is vital to have your skis selected by a trained ski fitter. If you are ordering online however and need to choose a length, the following table provides a good starting point. In general, longer skis are used by more advanced and taller skiers, with shorter skis offering additional responsiveness and ease of use at the expense of a small amount of top speed. Finally, keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules regarding length; often, experienced skiers develop their own preferences based on nothing but what feels "right" to them.

 

Pole Fit

While aluminum construction is still often seen for touring and recreational skiing, race oriented cross country ski poles are almost exclusively made with composites. Value priced models often used by high schoolers and team skiers are usually a mix between carbon fiber and fiberglass. More expensive models add progressively higher amounts of carbon with the most expensive models featuring high grade epoxies and custom weaves or braids of carbon.

As with the skis themselves, ski poles differ in length depending on whether you are classic skiing or skating. Specifically, classic poles tend to be 7 to 10 centimeters shorter than skate poles to account for the striding motion within classic. Unlike skis, however, poles ARE fit by height. The general rule is that classic poles should come to the top of the skier's shoulder, while poles for skating should come between the skier's lips and nose.

Waxes and Waxing your Skis

Having purchased a pair of skis, one should also be prepared to maintain them by applying wax. Of course, most people know that they must apply kick wax to classic skis to get any kick, but skate skis and the glide zones of classic skis must also receive routine applications of paraffin glide wax. This is because the base material used for racing skis is more porous than those used for waxless skis or other winter sports equipment; this more porous material will be faster when properly waxed but also is more vulnerable to damage when not saturated. Thus, a pair of skis should be waxed at least any time white or grey spots begin to appear on the base.

That said, the investment in waxes and waxing equipment for a high school skier may vary widely depending on what their team already owns and is willing to provide to team members. At a minimum, all skiers should own or have access to the following items:

  • A selection of basic paraffin glide waxes for different temperature ranges
  • A wax iron. A normal household iron should not be used due to their less precise temperature regulation.
  • A wax bench or profile that will hold the skis
  • A polycarbonate scraper to scrape excess wax off of the ski base
  • A "groove pin" to scrape excess wax out of the ski's groove
  • A wax brush to polish the base after scraping. There are several varieties with different purposes, but a soft nylon or brass brush is ideal as an all purpose brush for beginners
  • A selection of basic kick waxes for classical skiing
  • A cork to work the kick wax into the base
  • A bottle of wax cleaner to remove old kick wax and clean scrapers.

 

Ski Clothing

Cross country skiing by its very nature exposes participants to cold, sometimes harsh weather. Nordic skiers also work hard in these conditions, which generates body heat but also sweat. Controlling moisture and wicking it away from one's body, then, becomes even more important than retaining heat, especially during races. This moisture management can be achieved using a three layer system consisting of a thin, moisture wicking base layer, a thin fleece midlayer to provide a small amount of insulation, and an outer shell which shields the body from the wind.

The base layer transfers any moisture away from the skin. Without this wicking action, sweat will act as a conduit between the skier's body and the outside elements, rapidly cooling and drawing heat away from the body. When looking at the base layer, undergarments should also be considered. Wind briefs, specifically, provide additional wind blocking as well as working with the rest of the base layer system to wick moisture; we highly recommend anyone who skis purchase at least one pair of these for especially cold or windy days.

The mid layer provides the bulk of the insulation for the skier. Surprisingly too many new skiers, it is not particularly difficult to stay comfortable as long as one remains active, so mid layer gear tends to be relatively thin. The mid layer is usually combined with the outer layer for pants and tights, and depending on the level of exertion and weather on a given day, a mid layer top may not be necessary at all. On the other hand, multiple midlayer tops or a dedicated midlayer tight may be worn to provide extra insulation for extra cold days. The value of the mid layer is its flexibility.

The outer layer acts as a shield from the elements. Typically, the jackets that make this category up are quite thin and built primarily of a windproof material with some highly breathable panels in protected areas where heat tends to build, such as under the armpits. Pants and tights, on the other hand, are often combined with the mid layer and correspondingly have some internal fleece lining to provide warmth.

Race suits also might be considered an outer layer, although they are built on the assumption that they will only be worn in high exertion efforts where heat and moisture dissipation, as well as freedom of movement, are the primary factors in maintaining comfort. Thus, race suits tend to be very minimal and provide comparatively little protection.

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