First-timers can rent cross-country skis and shoes at the ski resorts that maintain trails, as well as at many ski shops. However, cross-country skis, poles, and shoes are relatively low priced compared to alpine equipment. It makes good dollar sense to buy your own equipment.

The cross-country shoe looks somewhat like a modem running shoe, with a sole that extends an inch or so forward of the toe. There are three holes in the extension. The binding is little more than a hinged toepiece with three upright pins. The three pins in the tip of the binding are inserted into the holes in the shoe, and the binding snapped shut. A sole grip is attached to the ski to guide the heel as it rises and falls.

A slightly different shoe is the push-button model. This boot’s narrower and extended toepiece has a single hole, which the single pin in the binding slides into. Manufacturers say the extended toepiece in the pushbutton enables the skier to lift the heel higher, thus permitting her to take longer strides.

Within the past 20 years, fiberglass skis have begun to replace wooden models. They do have certain advantages over the wood. They’re stronger, more durable, and easier to both to learn on and to use, especially the new breed of “nonwax” skis with a base that has a sort of fish-scale or curbed - step pattern. The ski slides forward easily, but the patterned base prevents it from sliding backward. This design is based on that of the traditional ski, in which special skins were attached to the base, with the hairs sloping backward. When the skier glided forward, the hairs laid back. On uphill climbs, the hairs, like the patterned fiberglass base, prevented the ski from sliding backward.

Wood or fiberglass, all smooth-base skis need wax, and patterned fiberglass bases also work better when waxed. There are a variety of waxes for a variety of snow conditions, temperature ranges, and ski usages. However, the average recreational skier will find two waxes to be adequate: a soft, or “plus,” wax for temperatures above zero, and a hard or “minus” wax when the temperatures drop below zero.

Long and strong is the description for cross-country poles, because they’re used to push the skier along. The usual standard of measurement is that the pole should reach up to your armpit.

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