Glide and Go
by Jeremy Derksen
Getting started cross-country skiing doesn’t have to be medieval torture
We’d just skied the main loop at Victoria Park, refreshed by the cool air, the scent of spruce and a relaxed 45-minute ski. As we removed gear, the discussion turned to waxed versus waxless skis.
It’s a natural question in a beginner group like ours (my collaborator, Chris Tse, and I are co-hosting a new outdoor event series in Edmonton). Navigating the onslaught of technical information, personal opinions and marketing can be difficult for beginners looking into buying cross-country ski gear.
Many “serious” skiers swear by waxing, while other, more recreational skiers won’t touch the stuff. Personally, I’ve rented, borrowed and bought nordic ski gear, and used both waxed and waxless skis. Once, I even tried the gritty, superglue-like compound known as klister, and eventually, I got it off my skis, my car bumper, my jacket and ski pants, and almost everything else I owned. The cursed stuff is supernatural, although I can see it coming in handy if you were to boil it and pour it over a castle wall during a medieval siege.
Fortunately, skiing has evolved since the 1100s—the lore of the Canadian Birkebeiner notwithstanding. Today you can ski for fun, not just survival, and choose from among many different skis, boots and poles. Having so much choice can make it challenging but there are ways to narrow down the decision.
A first-time ski-buyer’s hierarchy
1. Rent or buy?
If you’re completely new to it, renting is smart. The City offers affordable introductory programs that will help you get the feel of the sport. Then, if you like it and want to do it more often—more than maybe two or three times a year—it’s worth exploring the market.
2. Used or new?
You might be able to find decent used skis but a new beginner package often doesn’t cost a lot more, starting around $300. Above all else, for comfort, warmth and performance, it’s worth buying boots new—fit to your feet and not worn in to someone else’s. Be aware of boot/binding compatibility.
3. Classic or skate?
There are two styles of nordic skiing. Classic is the traditional style of striding forward in parallel stance. It is the easier, lower impact option. Skate skiing is much like ice skating, pushing with the edges to propel you into a glide. It requires a bit more technique and effort.
4. Waxed or waxless?
The really ambitious may want to go waxed out of the gate, but the fewer barriers to just getting on snow the better, in my mind. Today’s waxless skis provide excellent grip and glide (the two basic requirements of a ski).
5. Basic or high performance?
Ask yourself: will I really notice the difference? While high performance sounds cool, basic gear is all most beginners need. After a few years, if you want to get serious, you can always upgrade—the extra expense will then be justifiable and you can sell your used gear to help finance the purchase.
Answering these basic questions for yourself will make it much easier to decide in store. However, it’s also wise to be open to suggestion. Earlier this season, I got a new pair of Fischer Fibre Crowns—my first pair of waxless, classic skis.
For many years, I opted for skate over classic and waxed over waxless. But with the traction I get from my new skis I find myself enjoying classic more than I ever had. With better grip, I’m able to glide more easily and, according to David Arsenault, Campers Village hard goods buyer, the Crowns are also the ski of choice for the Birkie—so the “serious” skiers seem to like them too.
But what I like best is that I’ve rediscovered my own flow on classic skis, making it easier to enjoy the other aspects of cross-country—the beautiful surroundings, the good company and the sensation of gliding on snow. And to me, that’s timeless.
Jeremy Derksen is a freelance writer and location manager for film and media in Alberta, where he puts his gear to the test on a regular basis, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, running and generally being outdoors. He and Chris Tse are co-hosts of the new winterOPS event series in Edmonton, sponsored by Campers Village.