So You Wanna Be One Of Them Skatey-Skiers, Part 1

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.
The dream

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!
The reality

Step 1: Equipment

Alright, 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?

This ski has a hole in the tip and costs $500. You don't need 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!


matt said…
I hope tomorrow's episode is more promising than this one....
SHopengarten said…
Colin, you forgot to add high accuracy rifles to the equipment section.
Nicole said…
If nothing else, your post reminded me that I've got a road bike with Tiagra components that I can sell to finance XC gear.

But I'm going the backcountry touring route - I want edges. Frankly, the no edges thing scares the crap out of me.
Greg said…
And I was just thinking today that I should try to go to Weston soon. I'm expecting Part II to negate the need for skate lessons. Also, someone should buy my bikes so I can afford to go more than twice this year.
Luke S said…
I guess expanding the sport is good and all...but do we really need more people with questionable technique flailing around Weston?
Colin R said…
Luke: Yes.
Oh, yeah. You've hit on the perfect subject to transition from cycling to skiing. Well played. I'd add New Moon Ski Shop to your list of reputable online ski shops. They do sell packages, and they are *great* over the phone. Plus, Garrott Kuzzy works/ed there.
Julia said…
Colin's mom chiming in (who slammed him into a snowbank at age 4 -- oh, that's what's wrong with him!): What better way to enjoy winter fairly affordably and stay fit? Get some decent equipment, take some lessons. Nicole: edges? Think weight, think light bike, light tennis racket... You don't need edges, really, unless your backcountry skiing is seriously alpine. Back to take some lessons.
megA said…

Your mom rules.

Can I hire her as my XCski coach?

Nicole said…
Hi Colin's Mom - thanks for the reply, and that makes sense. I only recently upgraded my road bike, so I'm just getting used to this whole "lighter gear" thing. [Although, somehow when I last upgraded ("upgraded" sounds nicer than "bought replacements for stolen skis") my alpine skis they ended up heavier.] Admittedly, though, part of my wish for edges is intended usage - I've found getting out of alpine huts and yurts is far less scary with some edges.
Parke said…
Kicking around improving my skate-ski technique and racing ultra-noob class this winter, do a google search and HOLY CRAP COLIN F'N REUTER'S blog pops up.

Hell, I didn't even know you had a blog, much less that there'd be something amongst all this crap that I'd find interesting.

Anyway, very helpful, thanks.
svenska said…
Shitty skate technique is born out of the absence of good classic technique.

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