Cross-country skiing for dummies

Time to hit the ski trails

The Ski Sheriff is always asked for tips when he mentions cross-country skiing (as if he knows what he's talking about and always demonstrates those skills himself).

So he volunteers from time to time to teach friends the basics of classic technique. And he always gets ski pros to critique his written description of that introduction, aka Cross-Country Skiing for Dummies, below.

Several years ago (OK, more like two decades), the Sheriff participated in an introductory classic ski lesson at the then-Kelowna Nordic Ski Club. However. Unlike other newbies who brought only their caffeine-enhanced brains, he brought a notebook and camera. While everyone else watched and listened, the Sheriff wrote detailed notes and took photos of instructor Cam Forbes as he demonstrated proper classic technique.

Brenda, a long-time hiking, skiing and kayaking buddy, whispered: "Put this in your Making Tracks column because I'm never going to remember everything he said."

The Sheriff recalls reading somewhere that people generally retain less than half of what they are told during verbal instruction. And a week after that, only a few points.

From that ski lesson, and a pile of others as well as tips picked up during the past 25 years of personal experience, here's the Sheriff's introduction to cross-country skiing.

The Sheriff starts with skis, poles and boots, followed by classic technique in the next column.

To begin, there are three types of skis—waxless, wax(able) and skate. The differences are obvious but it needs to be pointed out that contrary to their name, waxless skis aren't truly waxless. They are different from the other two in that the latest versions have a hairy "skins" grip surface on the bottom of the ski under your boot. The hairs point toward the tail so they catch in the snow when you put weight on that ski while the other foot slides forward. They evolved from the earlier “fish scale” models which had small sharp edges pointing toward the tail of the ski. Few stores sell fish scale skis anymore but there are still many around.

Do not put wax on the skins (or fish scale) because it ruins their grip on the snow. In fact, check the skins (and fish scale) regularly and remove any wax (with wax remover) which collected there from your skis or was left on the trail by other skiers. Also, if snow starts to stick to the fish scale, you can rub or spray on silicon (which comes in a can with a foam applicator or spray nozzle) to prevent ice-up.

The other two parts of waxless skis, the tips and tails next to the snow, should have glide wax which matches the temperature of the snow that day. By the way, wax doesn't last all season, Constant Companion Carmen. Just one or two days out and then she should re-wax her skis (and the Sheriff's). Unlikely.

Wax(able) skis should have the same kind of glide wax on the tips and tails to match that day's snow temperature. But under your ski boot, the so-called kick zone, there is special wax that grips the snow just like skins or fish scale. This grip wax must also match the snow temperature. Skate skis, on the other hand, have glide wax from tip to tail because they are gliding across the snow similar to ice skates.

• Ski boots should, above all, be comfortable but firm and warm enough that your feet don't freeze. A number of retailers sell chemical toe warmers. The best ones have a sticky surface so you can attach them to the bottom of your socks. The Sheriff has found that you should take them out of the plastic wrapper ahead of time, shake them and allow them to warm up before treading on them which sometimes keeps the chemicals from continuing to warm up. Ditto for the chemical hand-warmers you put in your gloves. Shake them several times to mix the chemicals and start them heating before you are shivering waiting for friends. The Sheriff uses battery-powered heated insoles in his boots.

• As a general rule, ski poles for classic technique should fit between your shoulder and armpit when held straight up and down, tip on the ground. Skate poles should be longer, about the level of your lips. However, as you improve, length becomes a personal choice. The Sheriff prefers the action method to determine the proper length. You start by gauging how high you are comfortable raising your arms in front of you before planting each pole beside or behind each boot.

Next week: The correct classic technique as you ski down the trail.


If this encourages you to take a lesson, Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club has a second session of Masters Social Ski Lessons in classic and skate styles, beginner to advanced, at 10 a.m. on Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25. Register on the website.

The Sheriff listened for more instructor tips as he took photos Sunday, then he checked out trail conditions. In a word (or two)—mid-winter ecstasy.

When it has been many months since the last ski, you forget the rush of gliding down a freshly-groomed trail. While descending a gentle hill, you can stretch your arms out to the side and it feels like you are flying, a cold refreshing breeze caressing your face as you glide past picture-postcard Canadian winter scenery. Mmmmmm.

Fifteen members of the Sovereign Masters group were so impressed with conditions, they skied 50 kilometres out to the Kallis Creek parking lot and back.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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