by Carol Kauder
Nordic skiing can feel as natural as walking—if you have the right gear. A skier wanting an intense cardiovascular workout on groomed trails will use different equipment than a skier looking for a peaceful jaunt in the woods. Here are the pointers you need to get skiing on the right track.
If you buy Nordic skis according to your weight and where you want to go, and pay attention to these two factors, you're practically guaranteed an enjoyable experience.
Your weight helps determine the amount of flex you want in a ski. Skis are rated either soft, moderate, or stiff; the softer the ski, the less effort it takes to flatten its arch. That spring action is important, because it's how a Nordic skier propels themselves across the snow. A light person with minimal leg strength will probably be most comfortable on a soft ski. The stronger and heavier you are, the more rigid a ski you'll want.
|Courtesy of Cross Country Ski Areas Association|
If you were climbing a mountain, you wouldn't wear running shoes designed for a track. The same holds for cross-country skiing. Equipment for groomed Nordic areas is light and fast. Skis and boots for the backcountry are heavier but give you more control in difficult snow conditions. It's all a trade-off. Skinny skis with lots of spring are efficient on flats and going uphill but don't give you much control going downhill. Fatter skis provide better flotation on fresh snow but also slow you down as you kick and glide.
Beginners may be most comfortable on the groomed trails of a Nordic center, where they can learn in a relatively controlled environment. Most ski areas have one nearby, and many more are not affiliated with resorts —or with mountains, for that matter. Trails at Nordic centers lend themselves to the classic, or diagonal, skiing stride, a natural motion similar to walking that allows you to decide how fast or slow you want to go. The classic skis for this type of terrain are long and wide and designed to move efficiently in parallel ski tracks.
Several companies offer shorter, wider skis for all-around ease and stability. They have about the same surface area as a traditional ski, but it is redistributed. These slow and steady skis are great for cruising the golf course after a big snowstorm or meandering through the rolling countryside.
Backcountry touring skis, which are heavier and wider than classic skis, can be used on groomed trails, but you will be slower than your light-footed friends. Backcountry touring skis give you stability for breaking trail through the forest, and metal edges and sidecut (a ski's hourglass figure) help you carve turns on descents.
Finally, speedsters might prefer skating on their skis. Racers developed this stride, which mimics ice-skating with its exaggerated side-to-side swing. Skate skiers tend to go fast, and the cardiovascular workout is intense. The short skate-ski design facilitates the V-shaped stride.
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