Regarded as one of the best full-body workouts, cross-country skiing is an extremely popular wintertime activity in uber-fit Central Oregon.
Not everyone knows how to do it, though. Whether hoping to try a new winter activity or wanting to switch snow sports, you should know the differences between the two main styles of cross-country skiing — skate and classic — and the differences in the gear.
Skate skiing is typically performed on a wide-open groomed trail and involves a V-step and glide motion. Classic skiing is usually done with the skis in set tracks and the skier employing a kick-and-glide motion.
“Skating is generally faster,” said Susan Bonacker, owner of Sunnyside Sports in Bend, and “it appeals more to people who enjoy downhill skiing, mountain biking, that kind of speedier thing. People who enjoy walking, running, tend to enjoy the classic a little bit more. For classic, you don’t need grooming. So it’s a little more versatile that way. Skate skiing you need a groomed trail.”
Both types of nordic skiing are possible at Virginia Meissner Sno-park southwest of Bend and the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center.
Skate skiing offers an intense workout and is much more difficult to learn the proper technique. Classic skiing is easier to learn and does not require as much physical exertion.
Those looking for the most efficient workout and who do not mind the time it takes to learn technique would probably enjoy skate skiing. Those who like longer days in the woods with the ability to go off groomed trails might prefer classic skiing, also called touring.
“If you’ve never skied before, you can always go out and walk on a touring ski,” Bonacker said. “There’s a lot of technique to doing it right, but it’s more accessible.”
She continued, “Skate skiing you kind of need to commit to learning how to do it. You need to be taught, and you need to take the time to learn how to do it before it’s fun. It’s not something that you’re just going to go off and do once in a while on a lark. It’s hard. If you’re not doing it right, it is exhausting. Whereas, classic skiing, if you’re not doing it right, you’re walking.”
Sometimes, skiers will start out in classic style but then grow tired of skate skiers constantly passing them on the trails, according to Bonacker. She said renting gear and taking lessons can help skiers determine which discipline best suits them.
ToKo Gloves and Swix knitted hat
Ryan Brennecke / The Bulletin
Sunnyside Sports, WebCyclery, Pine Mountain Sports and REI are a few stores in Central Oregon that sell cross-country skiing gear. Bonacker noted that a complete package (skis, boots, poles) for classic skiing can range from about $400 to $2,000. A complete package for skate skiing ranges from about $600 to $2,000.
Ben Husaby, executive director of the Bend Endurance Academy, said good gear is crucial for beginners.
“The learning curve is vastly different with good equipment: good pole straps, good fitting boots and the appropriate ski,” Husaby said. “It’s really hard to learn how to skate ski on a no-wax ski. Equipment does, in fact, matter. I also like the idea of going with a friend. You can get some feedback. You’ll have more success if you go with somebody else.”
Skate skis are stiffer, lighter and do not have any tread pattern for traction on the bottom. A skate skier pushes off from the side of the skis. Skate skis usually have a more sophisticated base material because glide is so critical, therefore they are typically more expensive than classic skis.
Most classic skis employ a fish-scale pattern on the bottom that allows for sliding along the snow.
“All skis should be waxed, but a touring ski you can get away with waxing a couple times a season,” Bonacker said. “A skate ski really needs to be waxed on a regular basis with the right wax. Skate skiing is challenging aerobically, so you definitely don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by not using any wax.”
Skiers should apply a harder wax for cooler temperatures and a softer wax for warmer temperatures.
The main difference in boots between the two styles of skiing is that classic boots flex in the midfoot, so skiers can flex their heels up and down while skiing. Skate ski boots are stiffer, do not flex and come up higher on the ankle. The stiffer boots allow skate skiers to push off from the sides of the skis.
The poles for skate skiing and classic skiing are also quite different. Skate poles are much longer, and Bonacker sizes them to come up to the skier’s upper lip. Classic ski poles generally come up to the skier’s armpit.
“Because skating is so aerobic, and because you’re taking a longer pole and you’re moving back and forth, clear up and clear back, a light skating pole is a much bigger deal,” Bonacker explained. “In touring, you can get a away with a $40 touring pole. We typically sell skate poles from $100 to $400. They’re light and stiff because it takes a lot more arm work.”
For cross-country ski outerwear, skiers should dress in layers and wear synthetic or wool. Bonacker described the appropriate clothing as what one would wear to go running or walking in the wintertime. Tights, a windbreaker, and thin gloves and hats are helpful for staying warm but not overheating.
“I think the biggest mistake that people make is they take their alpine ski gear and they wear it cross-country skiing, and they absolutely roast,” Bonacker said. “It’s much more congruent to running or walking on a cold day than it is to alpine skiing. You warm up quickly.”
Husaby, whose Bend Endurance Academy offers nordic programs for both adults and children, advises beginners to first try nordic skiing on a nice-weather day, and to always keep a positive attitude.
“Go when the weather’s good,” Husaby said. “That makes a huge difference, because there’s always time involved with figuring out the gear. And you can always leave and come back another day.”•