No doubt about it, after a slow start in January, we have had a phenomenal cross country ski season. Lots of good snow and new top of the line grooming equipment have resulted in near perfect tracks and trails. The new groomer has made the club executive and the groomers very happy. Good equipment is one of the best ways to improve the ski experience. That applies to skis, poles and boots as much as it does for Ginzu groomers.
As it happens, if you are thinking about buying, or upgrading ski equipment, right now, the last two weeks in March, is the perfect time to do it. Most ski shops are getting ready to put XC skis in storage for the summer and most have sales on right now. In addition, with the fall in the value of the Canadian dollar this last few months, new equipment is probably going to cost more next season
So why would you buy or upgrade equipment?
1. Your equipment is old, worn out, doesn’t fit, or not working for you;
2. You have improved you ski technique through clinics and, or practice and your equipment doesn’t fit your skill level or desire to improve.
3. You simply want to upgrade.
4. You ski classic/skate ski and want to buy proper equipment for the other technique.
So what should you think about when you decide to buy or upgrade your equipment. First and foremost, you need to think about what type of skiing you wish to do and how often. As an instructor, I often categorize people who come to clinics with respect to those parameters. There are three classifications in my unscientific classification system:
1. Relaxed tourers, these are people who like to go out occasionally, often only in very good conditions. They are not interested in skiing fast or athletically, and technique is either a minor issue or not important to them at all.
2. Fitness skiers, these are people who like to ski for exercise, they go out frequently, like to ski for skiing’s sake and want to improve their technique, most often they are primarily interested in one technique only, skate or classic, though as they improve in one technique, may become interested in trying the other.
3. Athletes who want to ski multiple loppets and race.
If you think about what type of skier you are or want to be, it will help both you and staff at your ski shop decide what equipment will suit your needs. People often ask me, does equipment matter? Some of the most common questions we get at clinics are: Are waxable classic skis better than waxless; Do I need skate skis if I want to learn to skate; How long should my poles be; Do I need both classic and skate boots and poles. The answer is it depends on the type of skier you are and what conditions you want to ski i. How much and how well you want to ski is also an important consideration! If you first think about what type of skier you are, what type of skiing you want to do and what conditions you are willing to ski in , you can better explain your needs to ski shop staff, and thus have a better chance of getting equipment that will fit your needs and your skiing goals.
Some general comments on equipment and skier type as explained above:
Relaxed tourers are generally happy on and well suited to recreational level skis and boots. They often ski with shorter poles and are happy to shuffle on their skis at a slow pace. The fresh air and ambiance of the outdoors is what they are after. Waxless skis are usually the best choice for this type of skier. The best tips I can give if you fit into this category and want to improve technique a little is take a clinic or lesson. Then most likely you will need to buy longer poles to improve the all-important poling phase of your stride. Waxing the tips and tails of waxless skis will also greatly improve glide. Have someone knowledgeable check your skis to determine if the camber is too soft, or too hard to work well. If so, upgrade.
Fitness skiers or people who want to progress as fitness skiers may wish to upgrade from recreational level skis to a high end fitness ski, or a lower end racing ski. These types of skis come in both waxable and waxless models. In general, if you are skiing in all conditions, then a waxable ski will probably work best with respect to performance. If you ski most often in warmer conditions, -5 and warmer, then a waxless performance ski will be a good fit. Poles that are the proper length for good technique are “very” important. Skating skis and loner poles are necessary if you wish to take up skate skiing. Performance boots will help with both comfort and improved technique. If you wish to ski both skate and classic, then a combi boot is a good option that works very well for most recreational skiers.
Competitive athletic skiers generally have knowledge of what skis and other equipment work best for them. However, if you are a fitness skier who wishes to progress to a more competitive level, then an upgrade of equipment will help. This type of skiing requires race quality equipment if you hope to be competitive.
There are many good cross country ski shops in the area. However, we have three shops that provide sponsorship to our club that I would encourage you to support. They are Sport X in Smiths Falls, (they sell equipment, including packages, most suitable for relaxed tourers), Fresh Air Experience in Ottawa and Greg Christies in Chelsea, Quebec. Both Fresh Air Experience and Greg Christies are full service ski shops with a wide selection of equipment to suit all levels of skiers and have excellent knowledgeable staff who are avid skiers themselves and who will be able to answer your questions and fit you with equipment that will serve you well for many years.
So, if you wish to upgrade equipment, now is a great time to do so. Enjoy your summer and I’ll see you on the trails next season.
Member at Large, Tay Valley Cross Country Ski Club