With participation rates soaring some 18 percent in just two years, cross-country skiing is the fastest-growing segment in the industry. Five million people participated in nordic skiing during 2016-17, according to Snowsports Industries America, and those numbers are likely to continue climbing in the wake of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
New England in particular is a hotbed for the sport, thanks in large part to the legacy of Bill Koch, the Vermont native who became the first American to win an Olympic medal in nordic skiing (he won silver in the 30 km in 1976). Koch also popularized the “skate skiing” technique so popular today, and his New England-based youth leagues introduce countless participants to the sport.
“I see what has happened even in just the past few years — the success of the women’s U.S. cross-country ski team, and the emergence of a really strong and growing juniors program in the U.S.,” said Amie Smith, executive director of the New England Nordic Ski Association. “I see younger kids watching these new role models and wanting to be just like them. This is great for our sport, and great for our nation. If more people cross-country skied, just for the love of being outdoors and the joy of gliding across the snow, the world would be a better and happier place.”
Smith, a Bennington, Vt., native who began racing nordic at the age of 5 with the Prospect Mountain Ski Club (before it became the Bill Koch League), has witnessed the sport’s growth in popularity first-hand through introducing her own two daughters to racing. “When my oldest started high school in 2007, she was one of two kids on the cross-country ski team,” she said. “Now, 11 years later, that same team has over 60 kids on it. These ‘no-cut’ teams allow accessibility to continue, whereas sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, field hockey, et cetera all have teams that can only have a certain number of kids on them, and if you are not good starting out, you most likely will be cut.”
Smith says NENSA’s beginner, intermediate and race clinics are sold out with a wait list each year. And its Nordic Rocks programs in school systems in multiple states have expanded, serving as feeders into Bill Koch League race clubs. “I have also witnessed many a parent getting on skis after being encouraged by their kids who love it so much,” she said. “It really is the perfect family sport.”
And that’s why the surge in popularity comes as no surprise. “Crosscountry skiing is an accessible sport, that can be enjoyed by anyone — at any age — from young children getting on skis for the first time with their parents or grandparents, to masters skiers well into their 80s and even 90s,” Smith said. “It is a great activity that brings families together and outside enjoying winter, even celebrating it.”
Whether you are racing, touring or simply getting out in the backyard to enjoy sliding around, nordic equipment is functional, reliable and fun to use. Here is a quick look at some of the equipment out there today:
▸ Fischer Speedmax Skate With its revolutionary Cold Base Bonding technology, this ski resists warping from heat and pressure, no matter what the outdoor temperature, to ensure optimum wax absorption, thereby provide the best performance given surface conditions.
▸ Rossignol Ultra Life Waxless-IFP | Built with a Wood Air core waxless AR Plus base, this on-trail touring ski features traditional XC sizing for increased glide to make it popular for winter enthusiasts.
▸ Salomon S/Lab Carbon SK | With its full carbon construction, this ski is designed for athletes seeking the ultimate in skate-skiing performance. The product garners high marks in glide, acceleration, lightness and stability.
▸ Atomic Redster C9 Skintec X-Hard | Atomic takes its original waxless Skintec technology to a higher level for racers with its fastest and lightest production Skintec ski that is ready to race right out of the shop.
▸ Madshus Nordmarka | Part of Madshus’ classic performance series and designed for miles and miles on the groomed trail, the Nordmarka delivers XC performance with a little extra width and sidecut for better stability to go along with its waxless IntelliGrip integrated skin.
▸ Fischer XC Control | Constructed for skiers who have a great deal of touring experience or little to speak of, this boot’s performance sole and flat construction helps extend gliding, and its soft flex provides for a smooth kick.
▸ Rossignol X-Ium Carbon | An ultra-lightweight premium carbon skate boot, the X-Ium is the result of multiple seasons of testing on the World Cup circuit. It is an elite-level competition boot weighing in at just 450 grams, stiff and rigid to drive energy directly into the ski.
▸ Salomon Siam 7 Pilot CF | This boot has a women-specific fit (slightly narrower heel, higher instep volume), as well as a Quicklace system with hook-and-loop straps and thermos-moldable liner. Its two-axle pivot system boosts control and flex.
▸ Atomic Motion 25 | The Motion 25 is designed for skiers who like to dash off the prepared track to break their own trails. Insulated for reliable warmth, a zippered lace cover reduces snagging, and an internal heel counter boosts torsional stability.
▸ Madshus Glittertind BC | Built for ascending and descending in the backcountry, the Glittertind has a stiffer forefoot flex and a higher cuff for optimum torsional rigidity. A Thinsulate and Mem-Brain Softshell ensures comfort, warmth and dryness.
▸ Fischer Turnamic | Co-developed by Fischer and Rossignol, Turnamic is a new binding system featuring seven mounting positions on the plate to allow skiers to customize their position over the skis. Adjusting the balance point over the ski optimizes how it performs relative to the terrain (climbing vs. flats vs. track vs. backcountry, etc.), snow conditions and skier’s technique. The Turnamic includes tool-free installation and adjustment on the IFP binding plate, a TurnLock mechanism to ease entry and exit, and a “floating” heel piece so as not to compromise the ski’s flex. Turnamic is cross-compatible with Rottefella NNN and Salomon ProLink boots.
▸ Salomon SNS Propulse Carbon RC | This lightweight, World Cup-level classic race binding mounts close to the ski for maximum kick efficiency and is perfect for fast, high-level skiing. Its SNS Propulse one-rail system with full-length Guide Ridge enhances control. The SNS Propulse Carbon RC is compatible with SNS Pilot soles.