It’s one of those mornings you wake up early while it’s still dark, but for some reason you’re feeling perfectly rested. Getting up, you warm your hands on a hot cup of coffee as you watch the first light appear. You wonder what to do with this day, knowing that you want to go out and immerse yourself in nature. But which mode of delightful snow travel is perfect for today? Then that smooth feeling of tranquil gliding comes into your being. Yes, it’s a perfect day for a cross-country ski tour.
Unlike say, backcountry telemark skiing which requires great athleticism, cross-country skiing is for just about anybody. While skate skiing is an ideal activity for an intense workout, classic cross-country skiing is perfect for a relaxing kick and glide down a powder-covered forest road or trail. While it’s hard to believe, yet another couple of pairs of skis are required to round out your quiver if you want to consider yourself a well-rounded mountain enthusiast.
Cross-country skis come in two different base styles. Wax skis require matching special kick wax to the outside temperature and the snow conditions for that day. No wax skis are easy because they have “fish scales” under the middle part of the ski under foot that give you grip. Get metal edged skis if you plan to go into the backcountry because metal edges give you better control in tricky situations.
Each type has its merits, which is why you need two pairs of cross-country skis in your quiver. Wax skis are ideal for fresh snow conditions when the outside temperature is below freezing, say in the 20’s. These are classic “blue wax conditions” which means that the trail conditions are fresh snow, and the snow is dry. As you arrive at a trailhead, get out of the car and grab a handful of fresh snow and try to squeeze it with one hand into a snowball. If it’s dry it won’t barely pack into a snowball, if it’s wet it will pack into a snowball. Wax skis are most often used in the first half of winter when temperatures are consistently cold.
Wax skis are great in dry powder conditions because they glide on the gentle uphill sections, and they are fast on the downhills. Wax skis generally require good uphill technique that includes standing tall while looking up with excellent posture, and actively using your poles. Wax skis are fast and thrilling on the downhill, and anybody who’s ever zipped down a single track trail whizzing past trees on cross-country skis can assure you that total control on cross-country skis is rarely attained.
Now enter the realm of no-wax skis. The term no-wax is a misnomer because of course you want to apply glide wax to the non-fishscaled areas near the tips and tails. These are the glide-zones. The middle area of a cross-country ski is the kick-zone, and this is the part that gives you grip for the uphill sections. Often the disadvantage of no-wax skis is too much grip. They are slow on both the uphills and the downhills.
No-wax skis are best used on icy trails, say after it hasn’t snowed for a while, and the snow has gone through a melt-freeze cycle. No wax skis are also handy in fresh snow conditions that are above freezing especially in the warmer months of spring skiing. Warm snow is wet, and the water adds lubricant that makes it harder to grip.
Wax skis are tricky to kick-wax perfectly in mixed conditions of sun and shade, because they are too slick in the sun, and too sticky in the shade. These conditions are precisely what give wax skis a reputation for being finicky. Wax skis are for purists who demand unimpeded glide, and would gladly take extra time fiddling around with special wax combinations. No-wax skis are no-brainers, but offer less of a thrill all around. No wax skis are ideal for beginners because they offer more control.
Now that you’ve decided which pair of skis to unload off of your ski rack, it’s time to hit the trail with a friend, a loved one, or a child on your back. Feel the clean air boost your spirit. Gaze out at inspiring vistas of jagged peaks and faraway glades. Hear the birds chattering in the backdrop, and the wind whispering through the treetops. Feel the exhilaration of gliding down a peaceful forest trail and experiencing a calming connection with the nature.