The essential check-list
Skis? Check. Boots? Check. Poles? Check. There's plenty of optional extras but without these essential items skiing will likely be a challenge. You may also need different types of skis, boots and poles depending on what you want do and where you want to go. Read on!
In general cross country skis are thinner and lighter than downhill skis. For track skiing there are two main types of skis; classic skis with a pattern/wax underneath the foot which stops it from gliding backwards, and skate skis which are completely smooth on the bottom and designed only for gliding. For both classic and skating skis probably the most important thing is that they are the right stiffness (known as flex) for your weight.
Classic skis come in two varieties: waxable and waxless. Waxable skis need grip wax applied to the bottom middle section in order to get grip. Waxless skis don’t need grip wax, the most common of these have a patterned section on the bottom that pushes down into the snow to get grip. These are called fishscales, step skis or similar, derived from the pattern on the bottom.
Micro-base skis or "zeros" are another form of waxless ski, these have a roughened section of base instead of a pattern. Micro-base skis are often good for Australian conditions/fresh snow and near zero temperatures, however they don't work so well if the snow is too cold or is icy. For the more advanced its possible to apply grip wax over the top of the micro-base skis when they are not working, however for the skier who finds the thought of grip wax challenging, patterned skis are recommended.
Waxable skis are usually faster than all forms of waxless skis, however, getting the right wax is an art, particularly in Australia where conditions often change continuously throughout the day. Wax too warm and the skis will stick too much and won't glide; too cold and they won't grip. It's a different story in parts of Europe where conditions are usually more stable. The general tip: leave grip waxing to the serious racers, and if you want to learn to wax seek advice from a local expert. Check out this website for an example of what racing with waxable skis can entail.
Skate skis are slightly shorter and stiffer than classic skis, and have a more rounded tip. The entire base of a skate ski is smooth, designed for optimal glide. Similar to classic skis, skate skis are designed to fit the skier’s weight and height. Skis that are too stiff will dig into the snow at the tip and tails, while soft skis can bottom out when pushing off. For skating skis having a good edge is more important than for classic skis, particular in hard-packed or icy conditions.
Touring, Backcountry & Telemark Skis
As you progress from touring skis to backcountry and telemark skis you can forget all the generalisations above about cross country skis being thinner and lighter than downhill skis. Serious telemarkers want fat skis with a capital PH and side-cut to boot. Of course there's a spectrum, depending on the conditions the skis are likely to be used in, and whether the skier will be using a chair-lift or their own steam to get to the top of the hills. Some touring skis and most backcountry and telemark skis have metal edges, which are handy for tackling any icy, hard-packed or chunky conditions. The prime factor in selecting touring skis is that they are stable, as most of the time they will be used on ungroomed and variable snow.
This site doesn't profess to be the expert on the backcountry/telemark end of the scale. For more information of what to look for when choosing the right ski, check out Bogong Equipment Gear Guide and Wilderness Shop Ski Guide.
XC boots are quite similar to running shoes in comfort. Skating boots are higher cut than classic boots and hence have more ankle support. They are also stiffer, as skating doesn't require as much ankle flexion as classic.
'Combi' boots can be a good way of saving money when you first get into the sport, particularly for kids who might start to race in both classic and skating races. Combi boots have higher ankle support and more stability needed for skating, but also allow flexion in the ankle needed for classic.
Bindings connect the boots to the skis. For track skiing there are two main brands of binding systems used, Salomon (also known as SNS) and Rottefella (also known as NNN). This is important to know as they are incompatible with each other, so if you have the wrong boots for the bindings on your skis you are in trouble. The major ski/boots brands are aligned to one of these systems:
SNS - Boot brands include Salomon, Atomic and Oneway
NNN - Boot brands include Fischer, Madshus, Alpina and Rossignol
Some bindings are automatic, which means they can be put on without using your hands and detached by pressing down with the tip of your pole on the binding. These are often used on hire skis. Manual bindings are more common, and are put on or taken off by lifting the front of the binding.
There are many older bindings out there that are now obsolete. If buying equipment from a ski sale make sure that you have boots to match the binding system.
Bindings for track skis, touring skis and telemark skis are generally incompatible. For more details on backcountry and telemark bindings try the Bogong Equipment Gear Guide or talk to the staff in your nearest XC shop.
Poles are thin and light, with a basket on the bottom to stop the pole from going deep into the snow. There are different pole lengths for classic and skate. Classic poles should come up to around armpit or shoulder height, while skating poles should come up to between the chin and the nose. Pole straps can be simple loops or more supportive straps which cradle your hand. When putting on poles with simple loops, put your whole hand up through the loop then down over the top to grab the strap and pole together.
The price you pay for poles reflects the material they are made from. Expensive carbon fibre poles are lighter and stiffer, however they are also more fragile and can be easily broken by lateral knocks. For kids likely to be playing in the snow and jumping around, stick to a composite or lightweight aluminium pole.
XC skiing equipment can be bought or rented at a number of specialist XC skiing shops or general winter sport shops in Australia. See below for websites of most of the best Australian outlets. Gear can also be picked up second hand at a sale, on club/community notice boards, or on-line. Bargains can also be picked up while travelling overseas, and depending on the location there is often a larger range than available in Australia.
Buying vs Rental
Renting equipment is usually the best way to start, as it may take a bit of trial and error to find out what type of skiing you like the best. If the rental shop is right at the snow you can also head back to swap equipment if you discover you need longer/shorter poles or larger/smaller boots; however experienced staff will endeavour to make sure you have the right gear to start with.
Most shops will do really good deals on season rentals, which can be great for young kids who are likely to go up a size from year to year. Some will also sell ex-rental gear at the end of the season, so if you like the equipment you've been renting you can make it your own.
One advantage of buying boots in particular is that then you can be sure that they haven't lost their stiffness. Old rental boots can become a bit loose, which makes it harder to control the skis. When deciding to buy, the best tip is to seek advice from an expert. The last thing you want is a pair of skis that are too soft or too hard. Some shops have an option to demo the ski before buying - if this is possible, definitely take up the offer!
Alpsport Snow & Outdoor
West Ryde, Sydney
Ajays Snow Country Sport
Eastern Mountain Centre
Mystic Mountain Ski Hire
Narbethong, near Lake Mountain
Snow Trek and Travel
YMCA Windy Corner
Nordic Sports Australia
Roller Ski Australia
Second Hand Gear
Melbourne Nordic Second Hand Gear Sale
Snowsports ACT Ski & Snowboard Sale & Expo
Old Bus Depot in Kingston, Canberra
Mt Beauty Primary School Ski Sale
Mt Beauty Community Centre, Mount Beauty
Saturday on Queens Birthday Weekend
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