Nordic Skiing - Learn The Basics

Nordic Skiing: 

Learn the Basics

While very popular in Norway, in the U.S. Nordic ski touring tends to conjure images of 80-year-old grandparents in Minnesota. But, if you give it a try, you might just fall in love. Nordic ski touring is attractive for many reasons. Among them are ease, cost, and scenery.  This style can be adapted to skiers of all levels, abilities and fitness, and while a brand new alpine touring (AT) package can cost upwards of $2,000, a Nordic ski touring set-up requires about a quarter of that investment. 

Going on a Nordic ski tour is kind of like going for a nice long hike. Things move a little mellower. You take breaks, drink some spiked hot cocoa while gnawing on a chunk of German chocolate and soak in the sun, snow and winter glory. Spandex is nowhere to be found, but a classy-looking sweater that brings out your baby-blues on a ski date is the norm. Nobody is stressing over first tracks, and it can be as hardcore as you want to make it. You can ski across Antarctica, race in the Norwegian wilderness or ski a mile to a nice spot in the woods for a picnic. 

Here are 8 tips to make your adventure into the world of Nordic skiing a success: 

1. It’s All in the Boot

Nordic boots are much more rudimentary than alpine boots, so it can take some take to find the right fit. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want too much motion in your heel (blisters), good toe room (warmth) and decent stability in the cuff with good flex in the sole so you can cover some ground. I like leather, but some folks swear by the synthetic. It all works, but the boot has to match your foot. This is the single most important piece of gear in Nordic ski touring.   

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2. 3-pin or NNN Bindings 

If you go shopping for Nordic gear, you’ll quickly come to the big binding decision. NNN BC works great, and there is a reason it dominates the market; it probably tours a little better than 3-pin. That said, most polar explorers use a 3-pin system, mainly because you can do chores like set up camp and go pee a little easier, and because they ice up less. Personally, I like 3-pin better, but that’s just because the boots fit my feet better. Regardless, you’ll be fine. 

3. Socks, Socks, Socks 

Save your day, and find a good sock system. Those razor thin socks used by downhill skiers? Your heel will likely look like burger meat after a five-mile ski. Go thicker, like a good hiking sock. Thicker socks are warmer and provide cushioning. Personally, I use a liner sock and a thick wool sock. My mentor, Gary Neptune, who got me into the sport wears two thick wool socks, and he never has a problem. Be sure to size your boots accordingly.   

4. Don’t be Afraid of Wax 

Nordic ski waxing has a perception of complexity and mystery, kind of like a James Bond girl. And on a World Cup racing level, that’s deserved. But this is Nordic ski touring for chrissake. You basically need three, maybe four types of kick wax and cork. Waxless skis are great in warmer conditions and wet climates like New England and the Pacific Northwest. But if you are fortunate enough to live in a place where cold temperatures are the norm, wax works better.   

5. Get the Right Ski 

For most folks, a ski with metal edges will provide better stopping power and be more durable. The only exception is if you ski with a dog…it’s no fun cutting your furry friend’s paws with your edges. Don’t get too wide or short a ski. Tip width should be between 65 and 85 mm. Anything wider than that and you lose efficiency moving forward. Anything narrower, and breaking trail becomes torturous. Have an expert shop help find the right ski for you, because chances are, you’ll be using it for the next two decades.    

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6. Learn at a Nordic Center 

Walking on skis doesn’t really highlight skiing’s true beauty, so it takes a bit of practice to learn technique. If you’ve never cross-country skied, head to your local Nordic center and take a lesson in classic style cross country skiing (not to be confused with skate skiing). One day should easily do the trick. You’ll learn cool tricks like kick-and-glide and herringbone that will make your first day Nordic touring a lot more enjoyable.   

7. Please Your Palate 

This is where life gets good. Nordic ski touring is not a sport of power drinks, gelatinous foods and space-aged packets that taste like crap. Nor is it the overpriced world of ski area cafeteria hamburgers and mystery meats. In Nordic ski touring, taste buds are indulged. Think good cheeses, meat and chocolate. Style points are awarded if such delicacies come from France, Italy or Germany. A flask is a worthy investment - a little sip of something strong with friends can warm the soul and jolly the trail. Hot drinks and soups make you a superstar.   

8. Pick the Right Day 

Like any sport, Nordic skiing has good conditions and bad conditions. Too often folks pick a bad day for their first go. It’s kind of like a first-time surfer showing up at the Pipeline in Oahu. Bad things happen. First off, make sure it’s cold. Don’t even fuss around for the first time if it’s above freezing, especially if you are using wax. Ten to 25 degrees is optimal. A couple inches of snow a night or two before softens things up and makes it more fun. 

My wife and I fell in love on a Nordic ski tour, no doubt aided by cold woods, a perfect little bridge over a stream and the exhilaration of being in a cold place and doing something pure and real. Go into nordic ski touring with an open mind, let go a little bit and just enjoy being out there. You never know what can happen…