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Cross-country skiing ... changing even faster.

Cross-country skiing . . . changing even faster

It's as true now as 10 years ago that if you can walk you can learn cross-country skiing. In fact, as our pictures show, fast-paced change has created many more ways to do it. And despite the shimmering skin-tight suits some ski skaters favor, it remains a relaxing, down-to-earth activity that welcomes beginners.

Easiest way to start is with the familiar touring; it's almost like winter jogging, with a stride followed by a long glide. Or try skating, a technique that, in style, is like graceful ice-skating; or telemarking, a sometimes thrilling, tree-dodging downhill series of turns that can (but doesn't necessarily) dump you in a lift line at the bottom, ready for another run.

The equipment jumble

New ways to play on skis mean new kinds of skis to play on. (At the time of Sunset's first major report on cross-country skiing, 17 years ago, many skiers were simply converting their downhill equipment.) Today, you can still buy a complete package of touring gear--skis, boots, bindings, and poles--for little more than $100, but you can also buy increasingly specialized equipment that suits one or another of the several activities that fall under the rubric "cross-country.'

Rental shops offer the opportunity to try several cross-country activities without buying loads of equipment, or to sample different makers' gear for one activity.

You can now rent virtually any type of gear at sporting goods stores, ski shops, or cross-country ski resorts. If you know of a particular brand you want to try, a few telephone calls may find it for rent, though at "demo' (slightly higher) rates.

The right ski length is determined by your weight, height, and ability. Beginners usually start with more flexible skis, advancing to stiffer models. For a given model, longer skis take more weight to flatten when you transfer your weight than short ones. If your touring skis aren't gripping, try a shorter pair. Once you've practiced throwing your weight around in the snow, you may want to switch to longer skis for better glide.

What type of gear is available? How is it used? And what does all that cross-country equipment lingo mean?

In and out of tracks

Gear for the familiar kick-and-glide (also called diagonal-stride) technique varies: some packages are designed exclusively for a resort's machine-made grooves; others are built for off-track touring.

We illustrate these extremes in the photographs at the top of page 72, but in between is versatile equipment that can do some of each (though not as well as the more specialized gear). You can choose gear suited to where you expect to find yourself most often. For example:

--If you spend more than half your skiing time in groomed tracks and some behind other skiers, but only a little in untracked country, we'd suggest fairly light anklehigh boots, "system-type' bindings (see next page), and relatively narrow skis. They'll do well in tracks, and will get you by elsewhere.

--If you expect to ski snowy logging roads or other skiers' tracks most of the time, with occasional forays across open country and with only infrequent trips to groomed resort trails, give stiff boots, three-pin bindings, and slightly wider skis a try. They'll provide stability and control on uneven snow and glide passably along a set track.

Heavy-duty back-country touring skis come with steel edges, a controversial subject among experts. Such edges can give downhill control but reduce glide. Some say a nordic-camber ski (see box at left) with steel edges is a poor compromise: it won't turn well because it won't bend into a smooth arc when weighted, and it won't tour well because of the metal edges.

Standard track-skiing equipment is the commonest type of rental gear and retail package (you get skis, boots, binding, and poles for a single discounted price). Rental usually runs around $12 per day; typical purchase price is $125 and up. Partly or exclusively off-track equipment and high-performance track gear cost around $200 and up.

Skating, but not on skates

Newest game on snow is skating, a side-to-side technique that was pioneered by ski marathon racers in the early '80s. This year, specialized skating equipment will be more widely available, and the lanes it requires will be open at most major resorts. You may find rental equipment more available at mountain rental shops than in cities. Some resorts also offer lesson/rental packages. Skating is faster than the old kick-and-glide, but you need to be in good shape: the tired-skier's trudge is not possible on skating skis. Rental costs around $20 per day, purchase $250 and up.

Speed and grace on steep drops . . . and a lift or climbing skins to return

Telemark, named for a region in Norway, is a graceful technique for turning on steep slopes--and a ski designed with this maneuver in mind. If you're already a competent skier (either cross-country or alpine), you can learn enough in a lesson or two to start using this turn. Many downhill resorts offer telemark lessons-- and, indeed, using lifts is the fastest way to learn. Some telemark skiers never ski any other way.

Without lifts, most skiers on these steel-edged, alpine-cambered skis use climbing skins to go uphill, so the skis can have a fast and smooth--rather than a patterned --base. Climbing skins run the length of the skis, staying put with a nongooey adhesive. The skin is a synthetic fur with nap that is angled to stop skis from sliding backward. With skins, you can go straight up steep hills (they don't make the air any thicker in your lungs, however). At the top, the skins come off along with their adhesive--and down you go. Keeper straps on the bindings stop runaways.

Rentals run around $25, purchase packages $275 and up.

Photo: Off-track touring

Away from grooming machines, you can chart your own course or follow the lead of other skiers

Photo: Telemark

Telemark is a turning technique that can be used only on cross-country skis. Here, some practice it at a resort offering lessons

Photo: Skating and skiing in tracks

Skiers at left are using the new skating technique and gear; woman at right prefers the traditional leg-straightening kick and glide

Photo: Groomer at cross-country resort cuts grooves for track skiers and also packs a lane in between tracks for skate skiing

Photo: In-track skiing: easiest-to-learn-on lightweight gear, best on machine-made tracks

Boots: light, comfortable; soles don't twist much the long way

Poles: armpit height, with small baskets for machine-packed snow

Bindings: system type best for track touring. Pluses: pole-tip latch release (no need to bend over), limited boot shimmy

Skis: Waxable or waxless. Basic type has "soft' middle for easy kick; fast skis' stiff middle allows easy glide

Photo: Off-track touring: sturdier gear for cutting new trails or following uneven skier-made tracks

Boots: sturdy, with soles that don't twist the long way and give good ankle support

Poles: armpit height, with large open baskets for soft snow

Bindings: pole-tip latch release is a plus. Three-pin is still the best for control on uneven surfaces and for edging across icy slopes

Skis: waxable or waxless, wide to float on soft snow, side cut for turning ease. Also come with heavy steel edges (seldom needed)

Photo: Rent before buying: she's making her choices in Tahoe resort's trailhead rental shop

Photo: Ski skating: newfangled ultralight gear for machine-packed smooth lanes

Bindings: small, lightweight, keep contact between boot and ski to allow flat side thrust

Boots: fairly stiff despite light construction; most high cut for ankle support. Here, laces hide beneath flaps

Poles: nearly nose height, with small backets for skiing packed lanes

Skis: narrow, short, light; designed for efficient glide. Diagonal stride not possible. Only the smooth bottom takes glide wax

Photo: Telemark: steel-edged skis that swoop you downhill; you use skins or a lift to get back up

Poles: adjustable-length poles are best--long for uphill, alpine length (waist high) for descent. Or else make do

Bindings: for solid control, choose tough three-pin with flat bail

Skis: side cut, "soft' alpine camber, steel edges, waxable; go uphill with kick wax or climbing skins--or use a lift

Boots: stiff, good ankle support, sewn-in tongue

Photo: Waxless base: pattern grips snow during kick

Photo: Climbing skin on telemark ski allows steep ascents

Photo: Gaiters keep snow out of boots, off pants in fresh or deep snow
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1987
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