Cross-Country Skis and Poles
Pennsylvanian cross-country skiers use a wide range of skis. Close observation at a popular ski touring destination will reveal skiers on just about every type of cross-country ski. There will be three pin bindings on wooden skis, skis of nearly every decade, 80's, 90's to the present, as well as the very latest technology in boots, bindings and skis. Citizen racers tend to be more current with equipment but the ski touring group tends to be an eclectic and frugal bunch. The lesson to be learned is that just about any ski can be used for ski touring. The snow conditions will sometimes be a perfect match to a specific ski type. However, skis specifically designed for ski touring will perform better than skis that are not. Ski touring skis will perform better over a wider range of snow conditions. Finally, ski touring skis can be used on and off track.
Note: Cross-country ski touring centers provide groomed trails. Racing skis (both classical and skating), light touring (fitness skis), and ski touring skis, can be used on groomed trails. The ski touring ski can be used at the ski touring center and off track. In general, back-country, telemark, and mountaineering skis are too wide for groomed set tracks but are forms of ski touring. Telemark skis are often used at alpine ski resorts.
What are the features of a ski touring ski?
Width and weight are key features. The ski needs to have enough width to provide flotation in trackless snow and be rugged enough to handle off-track terrain. The side cut (a width measurement in mm taken near the tip, waist (middle), and tail of the ski) will be around 60-52-57 or 59-51-55. This would be an average size. Some ski touring skis are wider some are narrower. Note that the numbers are not 60-60-60 or 58-58-58. The curved shape of the ski is needed for turning. In track skis need less curve since the track provides a channel for the ski to run in, but out of track skis need a more curve for turning. The range of ski touring width is around 67-57-62 mm for a wider ski that would still work in tracks down to 52-47-50 mm that would be nearer to the side cut limit for an out of track ski. The weight of the ski has an influence on how rugged the ski might be. A really light ski for racing might weigh 1250 g and have a side cut of 44-42-44. The ski touring ski 67-52-62 with a metal edge might weigh 2300g. An average ski touring ski weighs in at around 1650g-1850 g depending on the ski length. The materials are strong and durable in a ski touring ski and add more weight to the ski.
Ski Length and Stiffness
In general the ski length needs to match the skier's weight and skill level. The heavier the skier is the longer the ski length will need to be. However, there are exceptions to this rule as the stiffness and design of the ski are important size factors. Also, newer technology has provided shorter skis than traditional length. Some skiers really like the shorter skis for stability and certain types of terrain. However, traditional length skis are better performers overall for Pennsylvania ski touring. They tend to be faster and perform well in a wide range of snow conditions. When purchasing skis talk to the ski tech and be honest about your weight. Equipment providers have improved the ways they match skis to skiers. It is also better to shop for skis in person if possible. Extra care can be taken to match the skis to your specific needs.
Metal edges are useful but not essential for ski touring in Pennsylvania. There are really great ski touring skis without metal edges. The metal adds weight. Ideally, one would have a pair of skis without metal edges and a pair with metal edges. Metal edges are useful for rugged trails and help protect the ski bottom from nasty nicks and gouges on the edges. More importantly they allow the skier to turn more effectively and are very useful in icy conditions. Some ski touring skis have full length metal edges and others have two-thirds length metal edges. Opt for metal edges if you ski deep into the woods on icy, rocky, terrain or if you like the really steep hills. If you stay away from icy conditions or stick to the fields and well maintained trails then metal edges are probably not needed and you'll have a lighter ski.
Waxless or Waxable
If waxing skis would take all the joy out of skiing and prevent one from going skiing, then choose waxless. However, for performance ski touring and the ability to ski in the widest range of conditions, waxable skis are the choice to make. Waxless skis are convenient but limited. Waxless ski can be treated with a liquid to improve glide and reduce sticking. They work well in some snow conditions but not all, and sometimes waxless skis are slow and noisy. Use them on really warm days when the snow is soft, wet, and dirty. There are numerous models of waxless ski touring skis to choose from and the higher priced skis generally perform better. Waxless skis are useful for introducing beginners to the sport and for taking groups out cross-country skiing.
Waxable skis can handle the widest range of snow conditions and waxing is easy to learn for ski touring. Racing has given waxing a mystical aura that has negatively influenced recreational skiers. For ski touring, waxing is not that difficult or time consuming. An iron, plastic scraper, glide wax for tips and tails, and grip waxes (including klister) for the middle third of the skis (kick zone) are all that is needed. Handy types can construct their own ski forms to hold the ski for waxing or these items can be purchased. Here is a video on basic waxing to give you an idea of what waxing is about. Waxable touring skis are getting harder to find and choices are more limited than what they used to be. However, there are great waxable touring skis out there and they perform incredibly well in Pennsylvania's variable snow conditions.
Boots and Bindings
Ski touring boots and bindings need to be durable enough to withstand off track skiing. Ski touring boots and bindings are easy to find. Some lighter back-country boots and bindings will work as well. The boots, binding, and ski width need to match. Boots that are warm, tough, and comfortable make the most sense for ski touring. Skis can be upgraded by replacing bindings, allowing the skier to upgrade the boots as well. A ski shop can replace the bindings easily if one is not up to the task. When the bindings break or the boots get old, upgrade those favorite skis instead of purchasing new ones . The staff at good ski shops will assist with the selection of boots and bindings. Be careful not to overdo the boots and bindings as this can negatively impact your technique. Sometimes skiers install a heavier boot and binding system than they actually need (for PA skiing) and this will be out of place on the ski. Using the same boot and binding system on all of the pairs of touring skis you own saves money.