December 12, 2018

Cross Country Ski Selection

Contributed by Ross McKinnon

Cross-country skis come in two types, the traditional classic ski as well as skating skis.  This article will deal with how to select both types of skis for junior development and junior racing skiers.  Ideally the ski will allow for both good kick and glide for classic and for skating a combination of good stability and speed.  All the major ski manufactures will make good skis; the most important factor is finding a ski with the correct flex for your skill, weight and height.

Ski Construction

When selecting skis it is important to understand some basics of ski construction.

The first basic is camber; this refers to the space between the skis when the bases are held together.    The second basic is residual camber (also termed the wax pocket); this refers to distance between the base of the ski and a flat surface when half the body weight is applied to the skier.  The average wax pocket should, at least in an adult ski, be about 40-50cm in length.  The third basic is termed expressiveness; this is the force needs to completely flatten the ski onto a flat surface i.e. set the wax onto the snow.  Expressiveness is often measured by lbs or kg through pressure testing (more on that below).

ski camber pocket

From Cross Country Canada – NCCP ski prep manual.  P – Powder, K- Klister, BP – Balance Point

Ideally a ski will have both a proper residual camber to allow good glide as well as the proper expressiveness to allow grip while “setting the wax”.  Newer skiers would do better with a softer ski as they lack strength and technique.

Classis skis, when compared to skating skis will have a softer camber and more flexible tip (front) and tail (rear).  Skating skis will be much stiffer throughout the entire ski; this design allows the sideways push needed.  At both the junior development and junior racing level one pair of classic skis and skating skis are suggested rather than one ‘combi’ pair.  Skis will range in price from $200 plus

Ski bases come in two forms and extruded base and a sintered base.  A sintered base will come on more expensive skis and is better because the base has more pores (which allow for better wax absorption and retention) and is a harder material (scratches more easily).

Classic skis will have three types of ski bases for grip.  The first type of classic base is a completely smooth base which will have the residual camber (wax pocket) sanded which is then grip waxed for skiing.

The second type is the traditional fish scale type ski that allows for reasonable grip but has poor glide in all conditions.  These skis are suitable for jackrabbit and beginner skiers only.

Fish Scale base on classic ski

Fish scales on the base of a classic ski

The third type of base surface for grip are the newer ‘zero’ skis which have microscopic hairs for grip.  These are a specialized ski for temperatures around zero when waxing becomes very difficult.

Ski length

While length is less important the selecting the right flex generally speaking the classic ski tip should touch a skiers wrist when the arm is overhead.  For a junior skier this can be slightly less than the wrist all the way to head height for bunny rabbit / jackrabbit skiers.  Skating skis can be sized around 10-15cm less than classic skis.  In order to be race legal, they must be at least the same height as the skier and are normally 5 to 10 cm taller than the skier.  The most important thing is flex.  Each manufacturer is different but around 110% of body weight is typical.

Classic Ski Flex Testing

Flex of a ski can best be tested at a ski store with either a testing board or a pressure tester.  The test board is typically a rigid flat piece of aluminum, which is place upon the floor.  The skis are lined up and stood upon with feet equally on both skis.  A sparkplug ‘feeler’ or business card is moved back and forth determining the residual camber / wax pocket.  The body weight is then shifted to one ski where this same ‘feeler’ or card should not be able to be removed i.e. the skier is able to compress the ski and attain grip.   This test is also termed the paper test.

The pressure tester is similar but relies on compressing the skis together and determining the residual camber and expressiveness based on number on the gauge.

ski pressure tester

Pressure testing skis

Most ski manufacturers have guidelines based on your weight that help determine which length and flexes to pick, this can then narrow down selection to a few pairs of skis which can then be further tested to find the most suitable pair.  For example if you were looking for a classic ski you could go to the Fischer ski site then click on length recommendations.


RCS (length in cm)
> 55 kg 187
50 – 54 kg 177 – 182 – 187
45 – 49 kg 172 – 177 – 182
40 – 44 kg 167 – 172
35 – 39 kg 162 – 167
30 – 34 kg 157 – 162
25 – 29 kg 152 – 157
< 24 kg 152 – 157

Fischer RCS junior classic ski sizing chart

Skating ski Flex Testing

Skate skis are chosen based primarily on the manufactures recommendations for length and flex based on your weight.  This is the most accurate but other suggestions includes standing on the test board ensuring that the middle third of the ski does not compress onto the paper but is no more that 6cm off the board i.e. is too stiff.


RCS (length in cm)
> 55 kg 177
50 – 54 kg 172 – 177
45 – 49 kg 162 – 167 – 172
40 – 44 kg 157 – 162 – 167
35 – 39 kg 152 – 157
30 – 34 kg 147 – 152
< 29 kg 142 – 147

Fischer RCS junior sizing chart

For development and junior racers it is recommended that each skier have one pair of classic and skate skis.   More experienced provincial team skiers will begin to accumulate multiple pairs of skis based on a variety of snow conditions (soft track, powder, etc.)

Binding and Boot Selection

In cross-country skiing there are two binding manufacturers: Salomon and NNN.  Unfortunately the boot binding systems are not interchangeable.  Both are good systems and are more a matter of personal preference based on which boots fit the best.  It is best to stick with one system for both classic and skating.  NNN has the advantage of having a larger selection of boot manufactures using their binding system i.e. Alpina, Rossignol, Fischer.

It is recommended that at the junior development and junior racing that one ‘combi’ boot can be purchased.  A strictly skating boot will have a very high ankle cuff and have a very stiff rigid sole.  A classic boot will have both a lower and softer ankle cuff with a softer sole.  A combi boot will have characteristics of both.   Combi boots can be purchased starting around $160.

Ski Poles

For classic skiing the ski pole should come to the top of the shoulder, whereas for skating the poles should come to just below ones nose.   The more expensive the pole the lighter and stiffer it will be, and pole stiffness is very important for racing.  Expect to pay AT LEAST $80 for entry-level race-quality poles.   Ski poles are either made from aluminum or carbon fiber with carbon being lighter but more expensive.

Where to Shop?

When picking skis and ski equipment it is best to work with a local specialty store to ensure the proper ski selection and good service.  It is best to avoid the mall — in general the skis sold by the mall retailers are not suitable for racing.

Thankfully in Kelowna we have two great local stores Fresh Air Experience and Kelowna Cycle.  The staff in both stores have a very high knowledge level about race gear and they regularly work with the Telemark coaches to keep up to date on the needs of the race athletes.  Both stores offer discounts to the junior racing and development programs, so be sure to mention you are part of the program.

Still have doubts or questions?  Ask any of the coaches for help!