Equipment changes have mirrored the changes in sport formats, techniques and technology. The sport at the competitive level uses skis costing in excess of $600/pr, carbon fibre poles costing $450 and state of the art carbon composite boots retailing for over $400. The sport is no longer adopted by those who can’t afford Alpine equipment; people choose cross country skiing as it is an outdoor life-style sport with universally acknowledged benefits for health and fitness. The changes in race formats have made the sport more appealing to Canadian youth.
The ski bag of a competitive skier typically includes 4-10 pairs of skis designed to accommodate skate and classic technique, changes in snow texture and temperature. A skate ski cannot be shorter than the skier’s height minus 100 mm while a classic ski is generally the height of the skier’s wrist on a comfortably stretched arm upward.
Three different boot styles are used to permit classic, skate and now pursuit format races. Pursuit races challenge skiers in both techniques and require a change in skis and poles at the halfway mark of an event. Pursuits with a break, made famous by Beckie Scott, 2002 Olympic Winter Games Gold Medalist, have now given way to continuous pursuit formats that require elaborate stadium set-ups and more flexible equipment. The continuous pursuit format is not used at the Canada Winter Games due to the lack of available pursuit boots at the retail level in Canada. A skier gains considerable advantage with access to these specially designed boots.
A skier will also carry two sets of poles; the longer pair used in skate races. A pole cannot be higher than a skier’s height. Classic poles are typically armpit high when athlete is standing.
The race suit is also changing. At the international level Canadians have tested different styles and uniform materials. Off-season wind tunnel testing has led to Canada being one of the first to perfect the use of one-piece suits at the World Cup and Olympic levels.
Classic Technique: (aka Traditional, Diagonal) Cross Country Ski technique involving opposite leg-opposite arm motion in a straight-ahead direction. This is the technique primarily associated with Cross Country Skiing. Virtually all the Cross Country Ski excercise machines try to emulate this motion. This technique is often referred to as the “finess” technique. Proper body position and application of power at the correct time is crucial for correct technique.
Free Technique: Is the motion that best resembles speed skating with and without poles. It is the motion an alpine skier uses when they don’t carry enough speed into a flat or they need to get to the chairlift. Free technique is broken into four styles depending on the terrain: free skate, one-skate, two-skate, offset. Free skate is ski skating without poles and is used on downhills and fast flats. One-skate is one skate push for every poling action and is used on slow flats and slight uphills. Two-skate is two skate pushes for every poling action and is used on fast flats. Offset is recognized for its three point landing and slightly offset position of the hands at pole plant. Offset is used for steep uphills when the athlete has to maintain momentum to get up the hill. Free technique is often referred to as the “Power or Muscle” technique. A strong and muscular athlete can often do well without necessarily having great technique.
Klister: Gooey gel used for kick waxing in conditions such as old transformed snow, icy conditions and very wet snow. Absolutely the stickiest stuff on Earth but very effective in the right snow conditions.
Sitzmark: Large indentation in a track or open area created by the hindmost end of a previously-fallen skier.
Wax: Comes in two types: kick and glide. Kick wax is used for grip in the Classic technique. Both Grip wax in a tin and klister are common varieties of kick wax. Kick is applied exclusively to the middle third of Classic skis, under the foot area of the ski base. Glide wax is used on the tips and tails of Classic skis and the entire length of Skating skis. Glide wax helps protect the base of the ski and adapt the base to the temperature of the snow for superior glide.
Grip Wax: Small tins of kick wax that is applied in a crayon-like fashion. Color-coded by the brand to adapt to anything from sub-zero to freezing-level snow. Primarily used on fresh snow which is defined as having sharper crystals.