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Cross-country skiing, how easy to learn?

8:31 p.m. on January 5, 2011 (EST)
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I tried it once back in Yosemite during the spring from January to May, but never really got very good at it. It seemed easier in unbroken snow and much harder to keep standing (especially sideways) on tracked or solid snow.

Other than the training course's listed in Articles, is it hard to self teach myself? And what kind of skiis should I get waxless or non? What kind of boots/bindings are best? Guess maybe rentals would be the way to go before I get fully involved with buying?

As you may know, I am tall, very tall 6 foot 7 inches, do I need really tall skiis? And how tall should the poles be?

I saw a pair of long swedish made wooden skiis and bamboo poles, with 3 pin bindings at the local second hand gear shop. Could these be any good, or would I be better getting a newer pair? The wooden ones look very nice but not sure if they are worth the $99 they are asking for them and the poles?

I have snowshoed many times before but think Crosscountry looks faster?

9:02 p.m. on January 5, 2011 (EST)
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I have spent almost 4 years XC skiing in Alaska, mostly with a substantial pack, and in my opinion, will always go for wax skis.

I have also used "waxless" and they were extemely limited IMO.

Dry snow/wet snow/sparse/deep etc. can be dealt with easily if you have a wax assortment. I used SWIX brand, and it goes from "hard" to "bubblegum" in consistency. I was on a Biathalon Team, and on one course, we would go "bubblegum" on the base of the hill, then go to harder stuff once in the woodline, it took an additional 2 minutes, but shaved more from the total.

Repair- If you really hit the woods, your skis are going to get chongered, with wax skis, we would just P-Tex the cats when damaged, the "waxless" skis can be repaired, but due to the bottom profile, not as easy or correct for lack of a better term.

There are certian wacky moves that are best taught, I self taught and was doing Ok.............then a guy taught me some movement, and it was night and day.

Surprisingly, I could easily glide with conventional (but long) skis with 45+ pound packs (I weigh 185-190) where as snowshoes had to be 32-36" minimum to stay on top of powder.

9:43 p.m. on January 5, 2011 (EST)
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baby222.jpg
Typical norwegian above!

Well as a representative from the country that gave the world the words ski and slalom aso, I'm hardly unbiased. But anyway: yes skiing is much faster than snowshoing, btw I have never heard of a championship in using snowshoes either on flat ground or downhill :)

I guess that it is like windsurfing, you have to balance factors that are unknown until you understand how they work. But there was a TVprogram here about immigrants that started one winter and at the end of the winter completed the race Birkebeinerrennet  If you do not mind falling and struggling a bit is is easy as childs play. (ha ha)

Yes renting would be good to see what it is about. At the end of the season the shops will surely sell combined packages at good prices, then you get skis, poles, shoes, and bindings that fit your need. Yes the length of the skis must match the runner, also the poles. Old wooden skis demand more attention in preparing and waxing, but still will get soaked and heavy. Better buy the new type, i prefer waxables. But for a newbe the nonwax could be ok. My wife have one pair for spring and slush-snow-conditions. She used them a while ago, but she was not happy since they were noisy and slow.

Welcome to the world of skiing, I bet you'll love it, some day.

11:26 p.m. on January 5, 2011 (EST)
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Honestly, it can be difficult for adults to learn to ski properly (and not just shuffle around on the flats and fall on all the hills). I f you're going to do it right, plan to get several days in a row at least, and go out with a friend who knows at least the basics.  A couple of times a season will get you nowhere. It's all about learning to glide... Much easier to learn basic technique on prepared trails. I think Otto is right, you can try to find some decent used waxless skis to get started on. Avoid the old 3 pin bindings, modern NNN or SNS bindings are better. Skis should be matched by weight, not so much height -- i'm 6'4" but skinny at 175 lbs, so I ski on 210 cm skis, much better than the 215s or 220s I used to use. It's hard to find anything longer than 210 these days anyway. IMO wooden skis are nice for hanging on walls and occasional retro outings but fiberglass skis are more durable, fast, and fun and also lower maintenance.

Shoulda tried it while you were up in Jackson Hole...

2:44 a.m. on January 6, 2011 (EST)
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Hi Gary,

The others have all made good points, especially with regard to renting. Waxless skis will have less glide, and less stick compared to a properly waxed ski. However, the latter can be an issue in changing conditions, especially near freezing. So rent, and start off with waxless until you get the hang of it.

I started XC in the early 70's and there have been a lot of changes. I still have wooden skis, but rarely use them. Oddly, wooden skis are making a comeback in some circles, not just because they are classic, but because they have more torsional rigidity than either a wood or foam cored ski. None are made with metal edges anymore, so they are strictly powder or track skis. They are made by specialists and do require more maintenance. The wooden skis you found are a great price, if they are in decent shape, but you shouldn't go for them, yet.

As Big Red attests, bindings have changed a lot. I first used cables then those went out, and now cables are back for back country skis. Pin bindings can be very good, but there were some pretty crappy ones that were made. The three pin New Nordic Norm are good. SNS is good too and cheaper to make. It does not have as much control as the NNN or cable bindings, but for track skiing, they are the new standard. The other key is to get a good boot. 

Ski sizing is part art and part science. That's why renting is important until you know more. A high skier weight doesn't necessarily mean a longer ski. Width, length and camber are all factors. The first two are obvious. The last is the "arch" of the ski under the foot. The idea is to have the ski relatively flat with your weight on it. Very much difference(too much weight on tips and tails, too much weight under foot) and the ski will be more difficult to control.

Will you be on groomed trails? Machine groomed? You'll need skis that fit in the tracks. However, a wider ski gives you more stability. A 65 mm width ski will still fit in machine groomed tracks, but be more stable, better to learn on. It will also allow you to ski out of the tracks if you want to do that. Most track skis are 45-50mm. Good for groomed, but you'll never do it in powder or soft snow.

As far as speed, yes XC is faster, especially in flat terrain. But in very steep terrain and/or forested, snow shoes will often be faster.

Have fun and welcome to the world of free heel skiing.

Erich

12:16 a.m. on January 7, 2011 (EST)
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I have a lot of experience downhill skiing at different resorts around CA. How the heck would you go uphill using cross country skis? You must take them off and put on snowshoes to walk up hills. The side step would be a solution?

 

1:04 a.m. on January 7, 2011 (EST)
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You would be surprised!

Pushing with skis "splayed" and with good cardio and technique, we could easily go up long hills. Without any momentum, sidestepping is used to get a favorable line, and off you go again.

For mountaineering, you can also tow an Ahkio (sled), and in the hills, would have 2 guys per sled. On a descent, you need a guy at the rear (on a harness) to stop the sled from running over the front guy on skis (even with the precaution, I have been run over countless times!) I will admit, we always had snowshoes handy on the Ahkio. With -30 without windchill, sometimes -60 (with wind chill, Eielson, AK), you had to have a serious tent, and gallons of fuel.

Winter mountaineering in very harsh conditions is great sport.

Anyway, XC skiing is a great skillset for the self styled Woodsman, and is worth learning IMO.

1:36 p.m. on January 7, 2011 (EST)
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Dr. Reaper, climbing hills with skis can be accomplished a number of ways. As you say, side stepping can be used, but it is very slow, and isn't practicable except in the very steepest terrain, and then only for a very short distance. As android says, the herringbone works as well. WIth XC skis, there are two main types, waxless and waxable. The former uses some type of fish scale pattern under the middle third of the ski for traction. When unweighted, the ski slides forward, when weighted it has grip. Waxing works in a similar way, but is more efficient. Different waxes will provide both grip and glide, depending on temperature and type of snow.

For back country and randonee skiing, especially on steep slopes, "skins" can be used. When I first started, I knew someone who had a surplus set of seal skins. Seals have directional hair patterns. Today, all "skins" are synthetic. If conditions are icy further traction devices can be attached to the bottom of the skis. In the case of back country and randonee, the traction devices and skins are removed for the downhill runs. I have seen snowshoes used occasionally by randonee skiers, but it is extra weight and hassle except in certain conditions.(extremely steep or heavily wooded)

As android says, for overnight trips, an ahkio, or it's more common smaller brother, a pulk can be used. A rigid harness system is superior to a soft harness in controlling either, especially in steep terrain, and shallow keels are helpful for hills.

3:54 p.m. on January 7, 2011 (EST)
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I have a lot of experience downhill skiing at different resorts around CA. How the heck would you go uphill using cross country skis? You must take them off and put on snowshoes to walk up hills. The side step would be a solution?

 

 You use climbing skins. With skins, you can go straight uphill. I had skins for my bc skis and they are the equivalent of tire chains. Tele skiers use them all the time. I used mine when I was pulling my sled.  I had waxless skis, which are fine without the sled behind me, but with the extra drag and on a slick road or on solid snow, skins work great.

7:44 p.m. on January 7, 2011 (EST)
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I looked up the skins on youtube.com. I will be looking for a set of skis at garage sales now as well as snow shoes.

 

4:19 a.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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DrReaper,

Not only can you go straight up hills with skins, you can carve some pretty decent turns going downhill with the right skis.  When I lived on the Olympic Peninsula I would ski past the lines at the pomo lift back to a couple of nice little bowls where I was often the only skier. 

When you practice it the herringbone is very effective for going up hills.  In Michigan I got to know a couple of really good XC racers who could fly up hills with the herringbone.  I took a couple of trips to the western end of the Upper Peninsula to ski and saw people going up some pretty large hills like that.

3:15 p.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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Looks like the reverse of a snow plow. Now I really want to try cross country.

How resilient are the skins? Could you put them on your downhill skis and ski them all day at a resort? Would it burn them out or would they be OK? 

4:12 p.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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Looks like the reverse of a snow plow. Now I really want to try cross country.

How resilient are the skins? Could you put them on your downhill skis and ski them all day at a resort? Would it burn them out or would they be OK? 

 No, that is not how they work. They are for going uphill or on flats where you are more or less just shuffling along.  Skins are artificial mohair, essentially stiff bristles on a base material that face one direction. They catch on the snow to keep you from sliding backwards.  Mine were made by BD and looked like blue and white Jersey cowhide-the BD GlideLite. They don't make them that style anymore, but they looked really cool.

My skins had a D shaped loop on the front to fasten them to the ski tip. The bottoms have a glue on them that adheres to the ski and some have a tail clip you can add. You stick them on, go whereever you are going, then if downhilling, take them off, fold them together and put them in your pack before going downhill.

I was using mine on the Glacier Point Road and off trail in Yosemite, so I kept mine on most of the time, but when I got to a flatter or downhill section, I would stop and take them off.

Skins work with tele, AT or bc ski bindings where your heel isn't locked down. I've never tried it, but I don't think you can use them with downhill skis because you can't really slide your foot forward or lean uphill like you can with a freeheel binding.

I was a beginner (still am) when I bought my skis. Got a great deal on them from Sierra Trading Post. My setup was Atomic Rainer skis (waxless bc metal edge skis) and Voile cable 3 pin bindings on Voile release plates-most xc bindings don't release, but Voile makes some that do. Personally, I like that feature. I had one release on me last winter when I fell over backwards, probably saved me from spraining or breaking my ankle.

4:57 p.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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I don't know how many times bindings that pop saved me when I was learning to ski. I also have to have skis with their own brakes on them. The cord around the ankle isn't enough in my opinion.

 

 

 

10:19 p.m. on January 8, 2011 (EST)
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10:00 a.m. on January 9, 2011 (EST)
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Wow, Gary there is a lot of information for you here, but some of it is unintentionally misleading. Folks answered according to their activities, but something tells me much of this information is irrelevant to your intended use.  In offering the advice below, I am assuming your curiosity in XC skis goes beyond shuffling along a track or over gentle terrain, that instead you intend to use skis to provide access to winter back country camping activities.

Most posts thus far seem to describe traditional XC skis technology, that is skis propelled with a kick and glide locomotion, or skated along over the snow.  Neither require metal edges, but these are not well suited to someone who wishes to explore much of the western US mountainous regions.  There was also a mis-statement in a prior posting that metal edged XC skis are no longer manufactured.  In fact many hard core back country skis and telemark skis are equipped with metal edges.  These heavy duty backcountry and telemark skis are what you want if your are touring mountainous areas and intend to negotiate inclines.  I personally do not even bother with wax any more, since skins provide far more traction.  While there are occasions where a little kick and glide would be nice – you can only shuffle step with skins – the truth is the sudden failure in traction that occurs when the wax loses traction with the snow can result in unpleasant face plants if you are muling a pack.  Waxless technology isn’t any better.  I prefer keeping my skins on almost all the time when shouldering a pack, because your skis are unlikely to suddenly lurch out from under you.  Thus skins provide traction going up AND act as a low gear when in descent.  As far as sizing your skis, it depends on the age of the technology.  I love my old Tua Extremes, 215 Cm boards I got back in the early 90s, but I am told the newer stuff is sized shorter, so I’d probably be set up with a pair of 185 or 190 Cm skis nowadays.

As far as boots and bindings go I am hesitant to recommend anything other than traditional three pin and/or cable bindings for back country use.  NNN and SNS tech binding systems have been known to fail and pull out of the boot sole.  An adequate field repair of a broken cable and 3 pin binding is possible, but a  tech binding broken thusly cannot be field repaired.  I recommend a boot stiff as a heavy trekking boot.  You want the boot to flex at the ankle and toe so you can walk, but you don’t want any torsional flex in the boot; if you can grasp the boot by the heel and toe, and twist it along its axis without significant effort, it is too flexible.  Do keep in mind you may need to negotiate significant walk in approaches before you can don your skis, so be sure your boots can walk, or bring along other boots when you have to carry your skis.

As far a learning goes, get a book, read it beforehand, then head for the snow. Learn the basics, like the step turn, stem turn and kick turn, before attempting the various telemark techniques.  While some will comment you should earn your downhill miles the hard way (i.e. by shuffling up hill with your feet and not by riding a lift) I believe lift serviced slopes permit you to focus on acquiring these skills, providing the maximum vertical miles for the least amount of effort and fatigue.  In any case you first forays should be limited to very gentle terrain.

As you ski further from the road, it behooves to have snow safety skills, and appropriate gear for contingencies.  I always bring an ice axe and crampons.  I have embarked on day trips with lovely fresh snow, only to have the mid day sun bake it then refreeze it with a hard ice glaze unsafe for ski descents.  BTW: Tranceivers, snow shovels, legal disclaimers, etc.  The following link has some more information about XC skis.

Lastly the front range and Salt Lake City are both good areas to obtain really good advice, as well as deals on excellent used equipment.  I believe Black Diamond, maker/distributor of some of the best back country ski gear is located in Park City…

Ed

5:20 p.m. on January 9, 2011 (EST)
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Whomeworry brings up a good point. The original question was, how easy is it to learn XC skiing. Quite easy in the basics. But that also begs the question of, do you really mean classic XC on groomed tracks, or some other form as I mentioned earlier, such as back country, randonee, skating. As an example, I frequently head over to the Methow Valley in eastern Washington. It's the largest XC resort area in the country. At the one downhill area at Loup Loup, there are number of tele skiers, using gear specific to tele skiing, most just using lifts. In the Methow proper, skating and classic XC are the norm. Further north there is hut to hut touring using back country gear, further west and you find people climbing slopes with randonee gear to ski the steep powder. Tell us what you want to do and that will narrow it down.

5:47 p.m. on January 9, 2011 (EST)
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Gary, back to your original question about the wooden skis. Without seeing them, they sound like track skis, an early version of what you see at the Olympics in the cross country events, especially since they have the bamboo poles.  If they are what I think they are, they are double cambered, narrow straight skis without a metal edge. They are likely not backcountry skis. Modern backcountry skis like the Atomic Rainiers I had are a composite, fairly wide (varies with the ski) parabolic camber and a half ski with metal edges.  You should be able to find a used pair something like mine with a simple three pin binding on them for about $100. You can upgrade the bindings if you like the ski.

I took a lesson on track skis at Yosemite. They are almost impossible to turn for a beginner because the lack of a metal edge and how narrow they are. They are also too narrow for soft snow. I was sinking in fresh snow on my skis and they were 88-68-78 160cm. and I only weighed about 160 with a pack on.

9:34 p.m. on January 9, 2011 (EST)
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You are right Tom, they are most probably track skis as they are more common. Gary's in Flagstaff, though, so they could be what we used to call General Touring skis. I have Trysil Knuts with the lignistone  edges, but a buddy had a pair with metal edges. Neither worked well in tracks, as they were quite wide, but were quite good in deep snow. I agree, though, Gary shouldn't mess with those at all. But I might be interested in them. Ultimately, he needs to decide where he wants to go and what kind of skis to do it.

6:26 a.m. on January 10, 2011 (EST)
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Funny how we all read our own experiences into Gary’s skis.  The description perfectly fits the first pair of mid weight wood soled waxable touring skis I owned back the 1970s, the Bonna 1800.  As for Gary's skis - are they track skis, touring skis, who knows?  I think we all are going out on a limb to nail down the pedigree on such a brief description.

For what is worth, Gary, I still own my Bonnas.  I have gone through several pairs of telemark skis, which I use both to get around in the back country as well as ski lift serviced slopes.  I mostly use the telemark skis, but if I am going somewhere that has logging roads or other gentle graded passages through snow, I must say nothing beats the magic of gliding along on those old boards.  Its kind of Zen, like the feeling and sound of the winds rushing through the spokes of a quiet well tuned bicycle under way.   But it is getting harder for me to find the pitch used to prime the bases for waxing.  As for waxes, I don't promote a brand; experience has indicated the snow conditions you see are what determines what works best.  I will say, however, waxing is a craft that takes experience to master, and you may find tinkering around with the stuff to be either an unwelcome nuisance, or a challenge, much like fly fishing.  

Ed

11:08 a.m. on January 10, 2011 (EST)
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Ed, if you need a source for pine tar, I can link you up with several places. The smell of it still brings back great memories. Wood skis are still "hot" and being made in Scandinavia and Italy, and a few in the US.

 

Erich

5:42 p.m. on January 10, 2011 (EST)
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Ed, if you need a source for pine tar, I can link you up with several places. The smell of it still brings back great memories. Wood skis are still "hot" and being made in Scandinavia and Italy, and a few in the US.

 

Erich

 I am all ears!

Ed

11:16 p.m. on January 10, 2011 (EST)
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I have found it rather easy to learn as well as teach my six children.  I start in late February or anytime in March.  Become proficient on basically level ground.  I also start with areas with machine groomed tracks.  Become proficient with the kick and glide" stride.  Learning how to "bail-out" (NOTE) is also very useful to beginners.
NOTE;
Bailing out is learning how to fall with some degree of control, such as squatting down as far as you can then falling to the side.

Don't confused being proficient with a simple day pack as being good enough with a forty-five pound (plus) backpack.  It requires more acute balance as well as better technique in both the herring-bone stride and the snow plow for stopping.
When a hill is to steep  to use herringbone to move forward then, side-stepping up the hill.  Unfortunately, side stepping up the hill is a very slow process.

Dr Reaper, the herringbone and snow plow are similar in that the ends of the skis in the direction of travel are close together... that's about it.

2:11 a.m. on January 11, 2011 (EST)
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Ed, here's one source for pine tar in the US. There are others

http://www.skinnyskis.com/Products/Swix-Pine-Tar-20102011__7045950395229.aspx

 

12:22 p.m. on January 11, 2011 (EST)
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Most posts thus far seem to describe traditional XC skis technology, that is skis propelled with a kick and glide locomotion, or skated along over the snow.  Neither require metal edges, but these are not well suited to someone who wishes to explore much of the western US mountainous regions...  I personally do not even bother with wax any more, since skins provide far more traction. ...  Thus skins provide traction going up AND act as a low gear when in descent. 

As far as boots and bindings go I am hesitant to recommend anything other than traditional three pin and/or cable bindings for back country use.  NNN and SNS tech binding systems have been known to fail and pull out of the boot sole.  An adequate field repair of a broken cable and 3 pin binding is possible, but a  tech binding broken thusly cannot be field repaired. ....

As far a learning goes, get a book, read it beforehand, then head for the snow. Learn the basics, like the step turn, stem turn and kick turn, before attempting the various telemark techniques.

First, Gary (and others) may be interested in traveling on (trackless) terrain and snow conditions where good kick and glide technique can be efficient and enjoyable, for example USFS roads on firm or not too deep snow. Certainly most of the hut-to-hut routes in Norway are very amenable to this kind of skiing. I only use skins for extended uphill climbs, preferring to be able to glide on flats and downhills, even with a pack.

As a twenty-plus year user of NNN-BC I can heartily recommend them, precisely because they work so much better for kick-and-glide skiing, and are at least as good on the downhills as old leather/three pin systems -- I have had countless flawless powder runs in VT trees and on steep corn using NNN-BC (but I have also been frustrated by more difficult conditions in the highly variable snow in Norway). It's still my preferred system for hut-to-hut tours with side trips to the tips when the conditions are good, but I've gone over to heavy telemark/randonee for the steep stuff -- probably not where Gary's headed at least in the short run. 

For an adult learner, book learning won't do it, and just as spending time riding lifts is good for developing downhill technique, spending some time in tracks and getting a lesson, maybe from a friend, is a fast shortcut to getting the mix of skills you need for the backcountry. Ultimately I think you want a good mix of skills and the right kind of gear for the terrain and conditions you want to ski in -- that's different for different people. I'll put in a vote for gear and technique for rolling terrain and long approaches. That may be a better place to start for an older adult learner.

11:43 p.m. on January 11, 2011 (EST)
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Once you have conquered the basic balance there is a very good way to learn the kick-and-glide motion. Just go skiing without the poles on a flat ground, and you will very soon be proficient in it. Preferrably in a track so you do not have to think about steering the skis. If you have waxable skis be sure they are properly waxed for the snowconditions you have, with waxless you need not worry (but the glide will be a bit inpaired).

Main thing: get out and do it, nobody learned to bicycle from reading a book. It is trial and error for some time.

4:13 a.m. on January 12, 2011 (EST)
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No problem.

As I stated in my opening remarks of the post you reference, I believe most respondents are expressing views based on their experiences, but these may well not be what Gary will be facing nor seeking.  Gary seems to be doing most of his excursions in the mountains of the western US.  There are roads within that region that may provide skiable venues, no doubt, but is that the venue he is seeking?  Gary seems to have a penchant for making extended journeys, certainly of longer duration than most of us ever make on a regular basis.  It was my impression Gary was looking for a mode of transportation for these journeys, one that will get him into the interior of the wilderness, not just a novel diversion to entertain himself with on weekend jaunts along a NPS road or at some Nordic center.  I did not want to form the impression that light touring skis are the gear of choice for getting him to remote western destinations. 

I have not visited Norway, thus cannot compare the touring conditions of Norway with those of the western US, other than to state we have relatively few hut operations in place, and even fewer linked into a system.  But I can say it has been my experience that light touring gear enables only limited access to a significant portion of the western US mountains.  Most of this terrain is highly contoured, and has relatively few roads running through it.  None of the people I go snow camping with use anything less than metal edged touring and telemark skis on skins.  Of those I know of that start with light gear, most eventually move on to heavier touring and telemark gear, once they realize the limitations imposed by light gear.  Most that remain with light gear cite the cost of discarding their current skis and upgrading to different ones.  Others continue with light gear not even aware better suited gear exists.  And of course there are those who are totally happy with their light gear, but they usually limit their excursions to jaunts along groomed tracks, and day skiing along snowed-in roads and gentle rolling trails.  For them skiing is a means to its own end, not a means of transportation per se.  That is not to say it can’t be done, people do tour in the back country on light equipment all the time.  Regardless there is a big difference between coping with equipment limitations, and utilizing equipment that facilitates your attaining your objective.

I agree reading a book and limiting practice to lift serviced slopes will not hone all the skills required to become a versitile back country skier.  In that vein this sport is like rock climbing; you can learn certain skills and build strength in the rock gym and ski resort, but such practice normally doesn’t hone the finer points of constructing anchor stations on a ledge, or skiing breakable crust and performing kick or traverse turns on mid slope. 

The reason I emphasize refining downhill skills on lift serviced slopes is I have found lack of ability to control skis while going down hill is the number one limiting factor that discourages those new to this sport, here in the west.  Many are not content merely shuffling along some road; they want access to that high lake they camped at last summer.  At some point these trekkers become discouraged, because they feel it is taking too long to progress using snowed-in roads and gentle sloping foothills as the classroom.  I think many folks give up because the learning curve seems too long.  Expedite this learning curve and the nascent skier is less likely to lose interest before these skills are reached.  Lift serviced slopes allow the learning skier to immerse themselves in learning downhill skills, meanwhile not wasting the energy this requires on “earning” (a phrase many old timers often use in disparaging reference to lift service skiing) their vertical feet with fatiguing uphill slogs.

I think using a manual as the primary source to learn proper technique is important because learning advanced Nordic techniques is not intuitive; however, most of us can’t afford or desire enrolling in a series of expensive lessons.  Learning the proper technique, how one’s weight is dynamically carriaged over their boots and skis, and the sequence of events that create the turn is not an intuitive experience.  Access to lessons out west is limited; often one must purchase private lessons at great expense since insufficient demand exists for group lessons.  A viable alternative is relying on a well written primer to get one though most of the learning curve, using lessons as necessary to get over challenges one cannot resolve on their own.  Having a well written primer with diagrams and links to web videos will help preclude wasting time doing the wrong thing, or spending a fortune on something you may resolve on your own. 

In any case I did not intend to suggest one’s first attempts on skinny skis should be focused on executing a telemark turn, or that ski resorts are the best place to start.  As far as I am concerned, the best place to start is anyplace with gentle terrain; you must lean to walk before you can run.  But as soon as you find yourself comfortable and coveting those loftier inclines, get to a ski resort and focus on turning skills.  That is the quickest way to get closer to the objective of backcountry skiing over varied terrain.

As for adults learning to XC ski, it has been my experience everyone can learn to shuffle about, and even learn to kick and glide, sufficient to enjoy skiing along a snowed-in road, or across a gentle meadow.  It always helps to learn something new with a knowledgeable mentor at your side, but the skills necessary to travel using XC skis along fairly level ground can be self taught by most people.  Attaining a competent kick and glide technique is not rocket science.  In any case I have found the kick and glide to be of limited utility on unbroken trails or while muling a heavy pack.

As for binding systems; tech binding (NNN, SNS) may be perfectly suited for light touring gear, but most folks I know who venture into the backcountry on heavier gear are of the opinion these systems and associated boots do not deliver torque to the ski as effectively as three pin Nordic norm and cable bindings.  Additionally there exists within the western ski community stories of tech bindings failing, rendering the equipment un-repairable and essentially useless.  Has this really happened?  I know of none first hand, but everyone knows someone who knew someone…

Adults progressing beyond the rudimentary skills are not held back by age, although endurance is more an issue than it is for the youth.  Learning to use XC skis on steeper terrain is more challenging, whatever one’s age.  Learning to ski downhill on XC skis requires both considerable desire and physical prowess.  If you required lessons to learn how to alpine ski you will require help learning to ski downhill on Nordic skis too.  Downhill Nordic ski skills are more difficult to master than alpine (downhill) ski techniques, if for no other reason all manner of Nordic skis are more narrow, which combined with the free heel, demand more precise moves to maintain one’s balance and control.  It doesn’t help that proper technique requires greater commitment to the turn on the part of a Nordic skier, than that required of the alpine skier.  Face it; many people are uncomfortable with lunging head first into the fall line, wondering if their feet will ever catch up with them.  Ultimately many adults are put off by the level of skill required to XC or tele ski downhill with control, compared to their experiences on alpine skis.  I have ski patrol in-laws who can ski down the rime coating a flag pole, yet lack the wherewithal it takes to master the skills required to ski down an intermediate slope on Nordic skis.  In any case most folks get by with sloppy technique on alpine skis, but poor technique on XC skis will result in performing more sitz turns (falling on their back side) than telemark or stem turns.  Lastly the deeper squat position required for executing any down hill turn on XC skis makes it more physically demanding than alpine (down hill) skiing.  Adults lacking good lower body strength will quickly fatigue, and lose the ability to control their skis.

Back to addressing Gary’s thread heading: how easy is it to learn how to cross country ski?  It is very easy to learn how to glide around on snowed-in roadways and along groomed trails.  It is easier to get about on gentle terrain with XC skis than attempting to shuffle about on balky alpine equipment.  It is harder to ski steeper inclines with control on XC skis than it is on alpine ski equipment.  Learning to ski steeper inclines on XC skis is also more difficult than it is on alpine skis.  If you use waxes they will impose another layer of required learning, on top of the physical challenges of the ski technique.  And if you ski off into the wilderness the terrain is more varied, and that too will add to the challenge.  If you choose to go into the backcountry, you will need to learn about snow safety, in addition to any ski skills. I recommend anyone going off into the western mountains also learn basic ice axe and crampon skills, since there eventually comes the day when the terrain you skied in on cannot be safely skied back out.  That’s more skills to learn.  And as you already know, if you add camping out over night there are the skills that make being comfortable in this setting possible.  Thus attaining the skills gain access to most of the western back country is a challenge, but it is well worth the effort.

Ed

12:23 p.m. on January 13, 2011 (EST)
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I think at this point, Gary needs to chime in on what he wants to do. Not his ideal trip(45 days across the Rockies) but his ideal regular trip.(20 miles FS road, camp, climb hill at base of Mt X, deep powder, great telemark area. Wide open. Some tracks from other skiers out on the road. Able to use their tracks.)

When he has told us what he'd like, then we can tell him what gear.

4:55 a.m. on January 14, 2011 (EST)
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When he has told us what he'd like, then we can tell him what gear.

Yea!  But I ain't done talking out of my hat, so wait a day or two, Gary, until all the hot air has blown out of this old wind bag. (But seriously what do you intend to do with them boards?)

Ed

6:24 a.m. on January 17, 2011 (EST)
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A couple of things that I don't think have been mentioned yet:

1. Plan to spend a LOT of time on your skis without a pack before you get proficient enough to ski WITH a pack.  The motions (of classic skiing) are so unique and good technique is so important (IMO) that you'll want to get fairly comfortable on skis before you throw a weighted pack into the mix. 

2. Learn how to fall correctly.  There is an injury known as "skiers thumb" that takes forever to heal and is really, really painful.  If I'm falling and I know I can't regain my balance I try to go soft and plop sideways onto a hip & shoulder.  The times I've gotten hurt it's because I've been tense or tried to stop the fall with a limb and I've wrenched knees, wrists & ankles.  Bruises heal faster than sprains or tears.

If you can learn on soft snow vs old, nasty, windblown crust your body will thank you for it :)

I must say that learning to ski as an adult (I learned in my 20's) was moderately difficult but so incredibly rewarding.  The experience of being out in the middle of nowhere in winter is truly spiritual and there 'aint no better way to get there than gliding :)  It isn't impossible to learn on your own, but I think the tips I got from experienced skiers were invaluable to my recognition of what was right & wrong.  If you can watch a good skier it helps to see the motions too.

As to speed vs snowshoes: that depends on how much time you spend on your rear end :)  A couple of days ago I ended up walking back to the car because the combination of: steepness, hard crust, 25mph wind, a pack & crappy skills left me on my butt more than my skis.  My dad tried skiing again recently and it motivated him to buy a new pair of snowshoes :)

Oh, one more thing... if you do start with touring skis and decide you want to move into the mountains with tele or randonee gear, that's OK!  A well fitted pair of waxable touring skis will serve you well over a lot of different terrain & conditions.  I'd say it's a good place to start.

6:49 p.m. on January 18, 2011 (EST)
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I just received some Elan Ski's...  that had been in an attic for 10 years.. the things are huge!!  and never mounted.  I found out they were/are high quality.. not cheap... but for me... free.

I figure i can't hurt them... no matter what i use them for.

I don't want them for skiing..  i want to use them for getting around a very snowy town... and messing around in wooded areas.

I'm guessing from all your posts that you guys will have some unique ideas on this subject...

What might make them most usable for what i want them for?

Binding suggestions can vary from ultra lite, to whatever..  I can even cut them short.  Again.. all experiment.

And what bootwear.. likt heavy???  Gotta admit i'm usually out for a considerable period of time... occasionally overnite... 

Maybe this seems like crazzzy...  but i'm thinking instead of snowshoes, i might be able to put together something kinda cool with the right sugestions?

Thanks 4 any thoughts,

Stocky

 

3:15 p.m. on February 2, 2011 (EST)
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  Take lessons.Friends that know the basics will only give you bad habits that are hard to unlearn later.Have down hilled,skimountaineering,tele skied and XC for almost 40 years and can say that you can go as far as you wnat with any style of skiing you choose.You can mix and match gear and styles all you want once you have them so dont limit your self at all.Start with lessons to gain the basic skills and then go out and practice and have fun.Try to ski with those who are better skiers to gain new skills as you grow into skiing.Have fun and enjoy!

April 17, 2014
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