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Which ski for which course? A ‘Rough Guide’ to cross country skis!
As ski technology continues to advance manufacturers have developed a massive range of skis all designed for a certain type/style of skiing and terrain. Choosing the right ski for the holiday you have booked can be a little challenging, but we can help point you in the right direction toward making the correct choice of equipment. The information below is just an indication of what is available; as you will discover, there are many variations and makes and models.
Do not be put off by the range of skis which you might need, you can HIRE all of them. If you plan to buy your own then always check with us before buying!
Cross Country Skiing in the Alps
We offer a range of cross country ski holidays which are based almost entirely on cut tracks and prepared trails, the only exception is the Trans Jura Swiss. So for example, for our Italian Ski Breaks, you need ‘Classic’ style cross-country skis. If you see skiers appearing to walk/run on their skis this is ‘classic’. These should be approximately your height plus 25 cm in length, the poles should come up to your armpits when the basket is placed next to your boot. These do not have metal edges and are designed for being ‘in tracks’.
An example of the type of ski most commonly used in the Alps would be the Salomon Elite 5, which is a ‘waxless’ ski meaning it has ‘fish scales’ under the foot to allow you to kick and glide without the need for rubbing in a ‘grip’ wax. With cross country skis, used in a traditional way, you would choose a grip wax to suit the current temperatures and snow conditions and apply that to the base of the ski. In other words, ‘waxless’ is the easy option and means you can simply put them on and go.
The type of ski boot used with this ski is usually very light and comfortable. Imagine that the toe of the boot is attached to the ski by a metal bar, and the heel is ‘free’. The boots should be waterproof and warm, and are very similar to a walking boot, but lighter, and neater on the foot. Everything is light, and comfortable to use.
Skating is the other cross-country discipline, but instead of the running/walking motion of ‘classic’ skiing, the skier in this instance moves forward in a ‘skating’ motion. For example, our ‘Learn to Skate Breaks’ based in Cogne, Italy. For skating you use skis, poles, and boots specifically for this discipline. The skis will be shorter than ‘classic’: your height plus approximately 10 cm. The boots will have more ankle support and the poles will be longer – reaching up to a height between the chin and the base of the ear lobe. With these skis we do not apply wax under the foot, nor do we use ‘fish scales’. The skis are smooth down their entire length, and the only wax applied is a glide wax, perhaps once a week or so, to promote speed of travel. An example of a skate ski would be the Salomon Equipe 7.
The boots are also specific to ‘skating’ and will have more ankle support to allow you to drive the ski forward. Otherwise, they are similar to the boots used for ‘classic’ skiing and are light and comfortable to wear.
Ski Journeys in the Alps
For our longer journeys across the Alps such as the Trans Jura Swiss and the Grand Traverse of the Jura you require a non-metal edged ‘classic’ ski. Most of these trips you will be skiing in ‘tracks’, but they may not always be freshly prepared, and a little rough, and other days if it snows heavily there may be no tracks at all, so you will be breaking trail. For this type of trip, which is a journey, it is best to have a more robust kind of ski, with ‘fish scales’. In other words a little heavier and wider than the ‘classic’ skis used for trips that are instructional ‘track’ skiing holidays.
We do encourage everyone on our ‘journeys’ to use ‘fishscales’ so that you are all able to just ‘get up and go’. On a journey there is less chance to opt out during the day, and it is important you have the right kind of ski. If you really wish to use waxing skis, then do speak to us beforehand so we can access your level of experience. The Salomon Snowscape 7 is an example of the type of ski, which is good at dealing with on and off track. It is a good idea to choose a boot that is comfortable and also will keep your feet warm on a long day on skis.
Cross Country Ski Journeys in Norway – Nordic Skiing;
Peer Gynt Trail
For our trips such as the Peer Gynt, or our Nordic in Norway: Venabu, where we are on tracks then the above ski is once again ideal, and you do not need metal edges. We often hire our skis in Norway at your arrival hotel, and they will supply the best ski for local use. Often these will be waxing skis, and your guide will teach you how to apply grip wax under the foot to give you good kick and glide. This is the traditional Nordic method and gives fabulous ease and efficiency if you get it right! You can, of course, also arrive with your own ‘fish scales’, and these will be fine. Whatever the ski it must fit into the ‘cut tracks’, and with tracks cut to a width of 60 to 70mm, then you may want a maximum of 65mm on the ski tip or tail to allow them to slide smoothly in the tracks. You can also hire metal edged track skis for both the Peer Gynt and Venabu trip and although heavier a metal edge does allow a more aggressive snow-plough.
What is ‘sidecut’?
You will often hear the term ‘sidecut’ bandied around amongst skiers of all disciplines. It’s not complicated, and simply refers to the width of the ski.
Ski width is measured at three locations on the ski. The tip (the widest point near the front of the ski), the waist (the narrowest point near the middle of the ski) and the tail (near the back of the ski). The resulting hourglass shape is called the sidecut.
Therefore, when looking for skis for use in tracks, it is important that the tip be no wider than 70mm. In addition, the sidecut should be minimal so the skis glide straight and efficiently.
You can also hire skis, if you wish, with metal edges from our departure hotel and these make descents and control of speed much easier.
The Trolls Trail is several steps up from the Peer Gynt in terms of difficulty, and is best skied with a metal edged Nordic touring ski. The metal edges give more grip when turning and for snowploughing, and are more aggressive than the non-metal edged skis which we often use on the Peer Gynt. The Trolls Trail is mostly on ‘cut tracks’ but also goes ‘off track’ where a slightly wider more robust ski is very useful. Again the skis can be waxless with ‘fish scales’ or waxable skis where you apply a grip wax under the foot. For this trip the boots will also tend to be more robust than the standard ‘classic’ style ski boot.
For a ski you could consider the Fischer E89 Tour Xtralite which has a steel edge, and for boots perhaps the Fischer Offtrack 5 which fit perfectly in the tracks, but also give enough support for the one day we spend ‘off track’.
By now you’ve worked out the choice is huge and varied and there is almost a ski for every different type of terrain and trip. See this as a great excuse to collect some new mountain toys, and relish the chance to try them out!
We are very happy to talk to you about the ski required for your trip. They can all be hired, and you do not have to have the expense of buying several different skis to cover your various aims and ambitions for Nordic skiing. Some skis can in fact be used for several of the trips mentioned above, and it all really depends on your ability and desire for speed and comfort. Don’t get confused, speak to us - we're happy to help you choose the kit that's right for you!
Snowshoeing using the latest lightweight equipment has opened up a whole new world to those who previously thought mountain walking was only a summer activity. Snowshoeing is neither technical or complicated and allows access to a wonderful snow covered playground. You don't need any prior experience to snowshoe in the Alps, just some warm clothes and a sense of adventure! With a little guidance you can soon pick up the skills: we regularly see whole families wandering through magical snow covered forests or across high meadows enjoying the views normally only afforded to mountaineers or skiers. There is also the myth that it's all hard work. Indeed, if you happen to have to break the trail it’s a bit of a workout, but if there is a trail already there, and there often is, then it's really no harder than normal hill walking.
It’s often overlooked that we have been snowshoeing far longer than we have been skiing - historians generally believe that snowshoes were invented around 6,000 years ago in Central Asia. A little closer to home, inhabitants of the Caucasus used to attach flat leather under their feet and the Armenians used round wooden surfaces. The aim of course was to travel on the surface of the snow pack rather than sinking knee or thigh deep.
A century ago snowshoes looked a little like something you might use for an early game at Wimbledon, and I do have friends who constantly tease when I suggest I am off for a spot of snowshoeing. 'Oh, getting the tennis racquets out then?' But snowshoes have come a long way since the French first referred to them as raquettes. Today's snowshoes are made of modern lightweight materials and come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. They are a pleasure to wear and without doubt a fantastic way to move around a snow covered landscape. For the fashion conscious you can easily tailor your snowshoe collection (let's face it, one pair’s never enough!) to match your winter wardrobe.
In the Alps snowshoeing has been credited with being the fastest growing winter activity. In France alone the latest figures show two million people snowshoeing on a regular basis. More people in the Alps have taken up snowshoeing than any other winter sport, with annual sales now at 140,000 snowshoes each year. Snowshoeing with Tracks and Trails is the perfect way to explore the mountains and valleys of the Alps - a magical experience of silent forests, beautiful mountains and stunning view. Join us this winter and enjoy fabulous snowshoeing in Chamonix or try one of our explorer trips to Italy or Switzerland. Find out more about our snowshoe trips this winter here.