WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT
Huge technological leaps in the design of Alpine equipment are responsible for the advent of frustratingly skilled 13-year-olds in twin-tipped skis with logos on. The reaction this has caused among traditionalists has seen a mini-resurgence of the older, more refined Nordic techniques of cross-country skiing, including classical, freestyle (or skating) and telemarking.
Classical, the easiest to learn, is the one you’ve seen – slide one ski forward while extending the opposite arm and pole, before pulling yourself through the snow and smoothly transitioning by bringing the other foot forward, along with the opposite arm, in a walking motion.
Skating differs only in that the foot being placed forward is angled outwards, with the inside edge of the ski pushing against the snow, in the manner of an ice skater. The balance is wholly on one foot, then the other. At the highest level, skating provides a far greater top speed than classical and is the domain of all those biathletes and Norwegian Olympic medallists you’ve seen crashing exhausted across the finish line.
The third technique, telemarking, is extraordinarily graceful when done well, is mainly used for downhill backcountry skiing, and is enjoying immense popularity at the moment, simply because it allows you to deviate more easily from groomed or high-traffic areas and onto off-piste runs. Beautiful to watch, telemarking incorporates the same parallel turns as regular downhill skiing, but with an exaggeratedly staggered stance, with one ski trailing the other and alternating with every sweeping turn. It’s the free-heel nature of cross-country ski bindings that allowed this technique to develop and thrive.
Cross-country skis are unusually long, narrow and lightweight, and employ either wholly or partially waxed bases or a variety of waxless machined bases – including fish-scale – for more recreational skiers. Classical skiers use glide wax on the tip and tail of the base to reduce friction during forward motion, and kick wax on the remainder of the base – the kick zone – for gripping the snow and allowing uphill progress. Skaters use a shorter ski and apply glide wax to the entire base, since they are carving with the edge of the ski to gain forward momentum and ascend slopes. All of these techniques are exhausting, difficult to master and – like most things in life of that nature – extremely rewarding. It’s also very much an activity you can pursue at your own pace, from a leisurely stroll with a picnic lunch, to a jog, through to a more active pace via races and testing yourselves against the clock.
If you’d like more info on cross-country skiing, or would like to take a crack at it yourself, here are some good places to get started: