Ski Selection & Trail Type

What type of ski (and ski width) is best for the type of skiing you enjoy most?

There are two important questions that need consideration before selecting a ski. The first is “What type of trails do I have access to, or enjoy skiing the most? And the second question is What kind of skiing, or level of exertion, do I prefer when skiing?

Trail type and available trail grooming will dictate the type of ski techniques that can be used, which effects the ski type and ski width. Evaluate and determine the kinds of trails and terrain you will ski. The following is a quick visual reference to help.

Groomed Terrain 

This is a groomed trail with flat “corduroy” on the left and groomed tracks, or rails, on the right. Skate skiers ski on the corduroy, while classic and touring skiers generally ski in the rails. If the majority of your skiing is done on groomed trails, then you can choose between the three ski types (Light touring, Skating,Classical) to match your skiing expectations.

For groomed terrain only, a ski width between 43mm and 50mm is optimum. The narrower skis are race and performance skis, and the wider skis are light touring widths.

For both a fitness and a touring orientation, a ski width from 50mm to 55mm works well. The narrower widths are faster and more appropriate for fitness. Wider widths are nice for recreational workouts and for skiers seeking more stability.

We do not recommend a touring ski wider than 60mm, or a metal edged touring ski for these types of trails. The skis will rub (or not fit) against the rails slowing the ski substantially.

Skied-in Tracks

This is a skied-in track. These tracks are made by skiers following the same tracks. They are not groomed, which makes them less stable and consistent than groomed tracks. Skied-in tracks are very common in both suburban and backcountry venues.

Light Touring Skis are the best choice for skied-in tracks.  Skis 50mm and wider will work, however skis 53mm to 60mm have the best balance between stability and efficiency, or speed. Narrower skis are good choices for shallower snow depths (4 to 6 inches), and unmaintained parks or golf courses. Wider skis work well for new skiers, and those skiing in deeper snow and backcountry environments.

Untracked Terrain

Snow depth and steepness of terrain are important considerations.

Light Touring Skis with 59mm-60mm widths work well for flat and rolling terrain in  snow up to 8-10inches – not deeper than mid-calf.

For flat and rolling terrain in snow deeper than 10 inches or mid-calf, a touring ski with a width of 60mm or wider will provide the float necessary for deeper snow. BC or 3-pin bindings will be needed for skis wider than 60mm.

For steep ascents and descents in deep, untracked snow, a Telemark or Randonee set-up is your best choice.

** Note: Backcountry skiing is the term generally used to include both Telemark and Randonee skiing. This is not to be confused with BC boots and bindings, which are designed for cross country ski touring and not for steep descents.


Exertion Levels and Skier Expectations

There are a variety of different expectations when it comes to cross country skiing. Knowing what your expectations are will allow you to match the appropriate gear with your skiing style.

In terms of intensity and exertion, skate skiing and classical technique can ramp up to an intensity level as high as you want to take it. These skis are narrow and fast for packed, groomed terrain.

Ski touring can take place on both groomed and ungroomed terrain. The exertion and pace can range from a leisurely walk to an aggressive stride. Wider skis will most likely suit the leisurely skier, where narrower skis will be preferred by fitness skiers. The mid-range widths of 53-54mm are the most versatile for a variety of conditions and intensities. Blending the trail type and snow depth with the skier expectation is the best plan when considering light touring skis.

Deep, untracked snow has a similar intensity level to snowshoeing. Experienced skiers may choose to go with wider light touring gear (60mm max) for the lighter weight and faster potential pace, while new, or less aggressive skiers may choose a wider, more stable BC set-up.

Tips for Ski Selection:
» New Skiers looking for more stability should select skis on the wider end of the ski range for each terrain type. New Skiers should also search for groomed trails and skied-in tracks for more stable ski surfaces to start.

» Pick a ski for the type of skiing you do most often, not the most extreme condition you might face.

» Think about your lifestyle, and the time available for skiing when selecting a ski.  Is skiing after work on skied-in tracks more important than skiing on groomed trails on the weekend, or vice versa?

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