Nordic or cross country skiing includes several different styles or techniques. This page provides some background information and may also be used by tour leaders to clarify what type of equipment is required for a tour they are leading.
Skate Skiing - This is an energetic technique with great speed and a graceful movement but it is limited to groomed surfaces and requires a fair amount of practice to develop the correct technique. On Mount Hood skate skiing is generally restricted to Teacup or Mount Hood Meadows groomed tracks.
References: For more information see Huffington Post article, Oregonian article, New York Times article, or YouTube Skate Ski technique, and, to see how fast you can go, take a look at 2016 Pursuit video,
Classic skiing - Classic skiing is the technique most people learn first. Classic skiing spans a tremendous range of conditions from groomed tracks to off-trail. The vast majority of skiing with the ONC is classic skiing.
References: For more information see Wikipedia, or videos from L.L. Bean , this technique video Elements of Cross-country Skiing: Classic Technique, and to see how fast you can go see 2010 Olympic Sprint,
Telemark skiing - Telemark skiing combines classic skills with powerful turning techniques suitable for alpine terrain. Equipment is more substantial, heavier, and more expensive than classic gear. Climbing skins are often used for ascents and then are removed for the downhill.
AT Skiing - AT (Alpine Touring), or randonée, is another downhill technique with equipment which allows for a free heel during ascents and a locked heel with releasable bindings for descents. Once locked, this equipment is very similar to that used for traditional downhill lift served skiing.
References: See this Oregonian article for information about the current popularity of AT. A discussion of downhill techniques and equipment from club member Russ Pascoe is posted to our forum. There is some healthy debate among skiers as to which type of skiing a purist should do. For a humorous look at Tele versus AT see Back country skiing dilemma part 1 and part 2
This section covers ski gear from the lightest weight to the heaviest duty. There is not complete uniformity within the ski industry on the classifications of ski types but in general skis can be divided into the following categories:
Skate Ski - Skate skis are extremely lightweight specialized skis. Unlike traditional Nordic skis these ski have no pattern or kick wax on the base to provide grip. These skis work well for the skating technique (pushing off from the edge of the ski) but will not work at all for classic ski technique.
References: See REI’s page on Skate Skiing Gear: How to Choose for a skate specific overview
Competition or Performance Classic Ski - Race and performance classic skis are used exclusively on groomed tracks. These skis have a pattern on the base directly under the foot to provide kick or alternately a kick wax is placed in that location. These are narrow, long, lightweight skis built for faster, more aggressive skiing. Race and performance skis generally have a very stiff flex. This can provide the best speed but also makes them less forgiving, requiring better technique and well prepared surfaces.
Light Touring Ski - Touring skis are designed for groomed trails and a limited amount of ungroomed trail skiing. For example, touring skis would be appropriate for a group of skiers breaking trail on a road but would probably not be appropriate for a narrow trail in the woods with some ups and downs. These skis and are generally long, narrow and lightweight but less so than performance skis. Nonetheless, these characteristics make the skis fast and efficient. Due to the warmer temperatures we in the Cascades usually experience, most skis have waxless patterned bases to grip the snow for 'kick'.
Groomed tracks are 70 mm wide and light touring skis are generally narrower than 70 mm. This is a good fit. If you have a wider ski (e.g. back country ski listed below) you probably will not get yelled at when you bring these skis to a groomed track but it is better if you have a narrower ski so that you preserve the groomed track.
Boots for these skis are lightweight and attach to the ski with lightweight binding such as NNN . These skis are targeted to the vast majority of skiers (who often only ski on groomed tracks) and the cost is relatively low.
References: Onion River Sports has a YouTube video on How to Select Recreational Nordic Skis, Boots, Bindings & Poles
Metal Edged Backcountry Ski - Metal-edge touring skis are made for skiing out-of-track or on steeper terrain. Compared to touring skis, they are typically shorter for better maneuverability and wider for more stability and flotation in deeper snow, and they have metal edges for better grip in icy conditions. Their greater sidecut enhances turning ability on steeper slopes. All these features make them heavier than touring skis, more suitable for out-of-track terrain but at the cost of efficiency. In a groomed track these skies will be slower than Touring skis. This class of skis is probably the best all-around ski for the vast majority of ONC tours. They may be a little slower than touring skis but you will have the control you need when the trail gets a little more adventurous.
Boots for these skis are heavier and may provide ankle support, additional straps to ensure a snug fit (needed for control) and may be made of leather and even have some plastic components. These boots attach to the ski with an NNN-BC (Back Country version of NNN binding) or possibly with a three pin binding. These skis sell for a premium above touring skis but not at the same prices as the other more specialized skis listed in this section.
Telemark Ski - Telemark skis continue the trend with metal edged touring skis. These skis have metal edges, are heavy, have a very wide tip and tail and a narrow waist and flex very easily. These design changes make initiating a turn much easier but there is a high cost in efficiency. Touring with these skis on a flat trail would be very slow. In fact a number of Telemark ski have given up on flat touring and removed the patterned base entirely. The intent with these skis is to put skins on the bottom when ascending and remove skins when ready to head back downhill. These skis are exceptional for ski mountaineering (e.g. Mount Saint Helens) but unsuitable for the vast majority of ONC tours.
Boots for these skis are extremely heavy. They may be made of leather but more likely from plastic and have buckles and straps for closure. These boots attach to the ski through a three pin binding or more likely some sort of cable binding system ( detailed binding discussion ). The cost of these this equipment is high. A new pair of Telemark skis alone(without boot & binding) can be over $800.
References: BlisterGear Review - Telemark 101
AT Ski - AT quipment is specifically designed for ski touring in steep terrain. A special alpine touring binding, otherwise very similar to a downhill binding, allows the heel to be raised for ease in ascending but locked down for full support when skiing downhill.
Like Telemark Boots for AT skiing are very heavy (essentially downhill ski boots). The cost of this equipment is high. A new pair of AT skis alone(without boot & binding) can be over $800.
General References for Equipment
- REI - Cross-Country Ski Gear: How to Choose
- Backcountry.com - Cross Country Ski Guide
- Backcountry.com - How to Choose Cross Country skis
- Sierra Trading Post - Nordic skier guide
- MEC - CROSS-COUNTRY (NORDIC) SKIS
- Book excerpt - SELECTING THE RIGHT CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING EQUIPMENT
- SKIS.com - Buying Guide