Face it: cross season's over.
"I have a great idea -- wanna ride all winter doing base with our powertaps? It'll be above freezing, like, much of the time.
"Oh.. you don't?
"Well shit. What else are we gonna do?"
I assume this dialog happens fairly regularly in Boston in December, at least if the volume of "hey, what do I need to know about nordic skiing?" inquiries I get are any indicator. My standard response has been "I'll blog about it, just wait," so... time to put up or shut up.
Alright, so you wanna do some nordic skiing this winter, because you heard it's good cross-training for cycling. This is true. You know why it's good cross training? Because it's really friggin' hard to do. Even if you're technically proficient, you have to use basically every muscle group in your body to move quickly. If you're not, you have to use every muscle just to move at all.
It's like swimming -- technique trumps fitness. A 12 year old girl who takes swimming lessons can crush me in the pool. A 12 year girl will destroy you on skis. If your expectation is "I'm gonna pick this sport up in a couple weeks and it will be FUN," you're going to be disappointed. If your ok with "I'm going to flail wildly every time I try to go fast, and it may take years to solve this," then BOY do I have a sport for YOU!
Step 1: EquipmentAlright, so you're going to need some equipment. The path of least resistance is to rent stuff. This may not appeal to your inner cheapass (cuz, like, who would rent a bike??), but it's actually a good idea, especially if you've never skied in your life. It may turn out that you hate thrashing around in the cold (why do you race cross then, eh? eh?), but if you figure that out after renting equipment once, you could save some bills.
Let's assume that you want to commit a little more than that. You sold your 5th tubular wheelset off after the season ended, so you've got a couple hundred bucks to burn. Cool. Let's go:
Top-of-the-line nordic skis can be had for under $500, so if you're used to bike-gear-prices you might just pull the trigger on a top-notch setup. You could get the best boots/poles/skis/bindings out there for around $1000, which is what, the price of one Edge 1.68?
But guess what, just like wheelsets, 99% of people don't need to buy the best thing out there. Just get an "entry level skate package" and you'll be good to go. It's just like buying a road bike with Tiagra on it... believe me, it all still works just fine and it's a lot cheaper than Dura-Ace. But where to get it?
If you're going to the north country, then you should make a stop at a ski shop up there that carries a lot of nordic gear, and has someone who can help you that actually has a clue. Believe it or not, there are a lot shops that sell primarily alpine gear, and if you go in there to buy nordic stuff, they won't really give you very good advice. It's like asking a bike shop full of messengers for advice on your freeride bike -- they'll do their best to sound knowledgeable, but it's a total crapshoot. Your best bet is to hit a nordic ski center that sells a lot of skis (for example, Great Glen Trails), because you're guaranteed that nordic will be their primary business, and thus everyone involved will have some kind of a clue. Except you. Fortunately they want you to like the sport (and come back to spend more money), so you won't get played like you do at the car mechanic's.
Another option, if you are one of those types who goes outlet shopping, is LL Bean. They have an intro skate package for $460. Assuming you can use those skis for the next 10 years... $46/year... I'm just saying, you can afford this. Seriously.
Of course, if you are feeling lucky, or lazy, you could also call up one of the many internet retailers that sell this stuff. Akers Ski are some nice folks from near my hometown, with packages from $390 and a website from 1996. Reliable Racing and Gear West are two other big e-tailers, who don't seem to have any packages listed. All three of these establishments are the kind that I would trust to have a non-idiot answering the phone who can roughly match some skis to your height/weight, which is all you need.
I am also a non-idiot, but I don't want to try to advise you on pole and ski length, that would be an entire other blog post. Let a salesperson do it, that's why they exist.
Oh, but wait, you say. I wanted to get used equipment, because I'm a cheapass!
I have some bad news. The used ski market is not the vibrant, thriving marketplace that the used bike market is. The thing is, cyclists "flip" bikes, so you can find a 2-year old high end bike for cheap. But bikes change every year. There's actually a semi-legitimate reason for me to get a new bike. Skis get new graphics... and maybe a different sidecut. If you're lucky. My 2-year old skis are my new ones. I still regularly race on some 2001 Madshus Hypersonics. And I have 7 pairs of skis... if I ever replace the Madshus, they'll just turn into "rock skis." I would never sell them. You will not find many used skate skis of any quality on craigslist.
Furthermore, used boots are gross. Do you buy used bike shoes?
And if you get used skate skis that are too short, too long, too soft, or too stiff -- you'll have even less fun because your equipment doesn't fit. Just like a bike that doesn't fit, that you bought on craigslist because it was a "wicked deal." Get it?
If you find a used skate package on craigslist, you are allowed to email me/leave a comment and ask if it would fit you, but I am also allowed to make fun of you if the answer is "no effing way."
Just remember, you could have a full, brand-new setup for $400. That is why I can't condone "bargain" shopping.
Tomorrow: Where you should take your new skate gear!