Ford Sayre BKL Introductory Guide to Nordic Ski Equipment
This guide is intended for BKL families and skiers who are new to the club and/or Nordic skiing as well as those looking to upgrade equipment. This page has a lot of information, don’t be overwhelmed! For pretty much all of our BKL athletes the brand and line of ski will make little to no difference, it is much more important to find a solid pair of skis that fits the athlete well. As the athlete becomes more experienced they may tend to prefer a specific brand, grind, or fit but for most of our BKL athletes none of this should make much of a difference.
Keep in mind that Ford Sayre welcomes a range of members from novice and recreational skiers to those who enjoy competition and racing. We are providing information on a significant range of options.
Checklist for Team Night Purchases (3-page PDF)
Quick-links to Information:
- Buying or Leasing Equipment
- Equipment Basics
- Ski Brands and Price Point
- Ski Fit Basics
- Ski Base Basics
New: Our fine local sports shop Omer and Bob’s organizes a “team-night” each year during which members of all local ski teams and clubs can speak with representatives from the major ski companies and place orders for substantially discounted equipment. Unfortunately this year Omer and Bob’s will not be holding a team night so families should call Omer and Bobs or stop by if looking for equipment.
Used: Ford Sayre has an ongoing online gear exchange for family-to-family ski sales. Check the key dates to find out when the Ford Sayre Ski Sale will be happening at the Richmond Middle School, Hanover.
Lease: Omer & Bob’s will lease a limited number of waxless ski packages (pick-up and drop-off at Omer & Bob’s in Lebanon, NH).
Beginning skiers may select 1 pair of combination (“combi”) skis that work for both classic and skating technique. This is an economical choice and a choice that makes sense for younger children who are “trying out the sport”. However, you should consider that ski technique is alternated between practice days (e.g. classic on Tuesday and skate on Thursday or varied by weather conditions). Between each practice you or your skier will usually need to remove the sticky grip or “kick” wax from the middle of the skis, clean the bases with wax remover, apply glide wax, and scrape and brush the skis. These are necessary steps to perform in order for the ski to glide properly for skate-technique practice. If you don’t perform these steps, your child will not be able to skate. For the change between skate- and classic-mode you need to remove the slippery glide wax from the middle of the ski with wax remover before you can apply the grip wax of the day. Changing the skis from one mode to another takes a bit of time. It also may add a small additional wax cost. Consider these aspects of combination ski use before you purchase. You may decide to purchase separate classic and skate skis.
For intermediate and advanced skiers we recommend you purchase 2 pairs of skis. You should select one pair of classic skis and one pair of skate skis. Skis designed specifically for one technique or the other make it easier and more enjoyable to perform each technique. They may allow a skier to progress in skill development more rapidly. Another advantage of owning separate classic and skate skis is that you often can get by on the same glide-wax preparation for multiple practices and you don’t have to scrape, clean and rewax to switch between classic and skate technique. You simply grab the other pair of skis. This saves time, and sometimes saves wax.
*Important note on waxless skis. For younger or newer skiers waxless, or “fishscale,” classic skis are often best choice as they are easy to kick. As skiers get older, they may find waxless skis frustrating as these skis glide slower than waxable skis. On the BKL Program Info page, you will find certain age groups require waxable skis – this is mainly due to the speed of the ski. With the improvement of skin ski technology (see here for an example), we have found that skin skis are an acceptable alternative to waxable skis for skiers transitioning out of waxless skis. By 7th grade, we still recommend that a skier own a pair of waxable classic skis so that they can learn about kick waxing!
- K to 2nd Grade and 1-day/week skiers need 1 pair of classic-length poles.
- 3rd-8th skiers will benefit from owning 2 pairs of poles:
- Skate technique poles should reach approximately to your mouth standing in the store wearing ski boots or sneakers. On snow, the poles will feel shorter and reach about to your chin.
- Classic technique poles are typically about 10 cm shorter than your skate poles. They should reach the mid point between your armpit and the top of your shoulder standing in the store wearing ski boots or sneakers.
- If you want to try and get by with 1 pair, select poles at shoulder height in the store.
Boots and Bindings
- All skiers need a minimum of 1 pair of “combination” a.k.a. “combi” boots. These boots can be used for both Skate and Classic techniques.
- Most “junior” boots are combi boots. If your skier is a tall 7th or 8th grader, his/her foot size may be moving into adult sizes. Make sure you are selecting a “combi”, “skiathlon”, or “duathlon” adult boot.
- Some advanced 7th or 8th grade skiers may choose to purchase separate boots for skate and classic technique.
- Boots from different manufacturers use different binding systems. This is where it can get confusing. Alpina, Rossignol, Madshus, and current Fischer boots use New Nordic Norm or “NNN” bindings. Salomon and Atomic boots usually use “Prolink” (which is compatible with NNN) but older versions may use Salomon Nordic System or “SNS” bindings. SNS has 2 versions “Profil” and “Pilot” that are not completely interchangeable (Pilot boots will fit in Profil bindings, but not the other way around). We recommend that skiers choose boots and bindings that are either NNN or ProLink, if possible. Both NNN and SNS offer skate and classic specific bindings.
- Be sure to your boot and bindings are compatible. See above.
- Match your binding (skate or classic) to the ski on which it will be mounted. For “combi” skis, opt for a skate binding.
- Buy a boot that fits comfortably and securely. Different brands fit different kinds of feet. Try them on if you can!
- If your child pronates (ankle collapses in) significantly, consider using special insoles. It is very hard to balance on a flat, moving ski if your ankle is collapsing. This is a core component of ski technique in both classic and skate skiing. Don’t skimp here. Fit boots in the store with stock footbeds removed, Superfeet inserted, and the socks your child will wear in the winter. If he/she is growing, try to allow for that too.
- NNN and ProLink bindings currently come in three different flavors:
- Screw-mounted to the ski. Installation of these bindings should be done by a shop.
- The Nordic Integrated System or “NIS” versions for skis with NIS plates. NIS plates and NIS-NNN bindings allow the binding position to be adjusted slightly forward or back on the ski. This makes it easier to get an ideal fit of the ski to the skier. Depending on skier experience, skiing style, and ski characteristics, moving the binding position forward or back can make a significant difference in how a ski performs. Ski performance can also be adjusted somewhat for the snow conditions.
- Turnamic Bindings. Similar to NIS plates, these bindings are easily mounted on a plate that comes already adhered to your ski. Unfortunately, Turnamic and NIS bindings are NOT interchangeable.
Ski Brand and Price-Point Selection
All of the manufactures produce fine junior skis. We know kids who have experienced tremendous enjoyment and also great racing performance on each brand. All of the manufacturers produce skis at different price points. The more expensive skis tend to be lighter and may have more expensive base material (meaning better wax retention, more anti-static additives, a better factory structure grind). These are all nice things for an aspiring racer, but their importance is far less than getting a good fit. Often the 2nd from the top-of-the-line model will be an excellent value offering similar ski characteristics and base material as the top-of-the-line ski, but will be slightly heavier. For example, the Fischer Carbonlite Junior Skate skis weigh 890g for a 162cm length ski while the RCS Junior Skate skis weigh 970g / 157 cm. The Carbonlite Junior Skate is 11% lighter than the RCS (when corrected for ski length). The Carbonlite has a different base grind, the “Plus” structure which is optimized for warmer and moister snow, while the RCS has a “universal grind” designed to give good performance across a wide range of conditions. Beginning or intermediate skiers can have a great experience on the RCR level ski. Ski materials and construction are so good these days that the base models will often be very enjoyable skis.
Ski characteristics do differ between brands and price points and skiers may find they prefer the “feel” of a particular brand and level ski. There are World-Cup skiers skiing on every brand. We offer some general information about the characteristics of different brands below. You can use the links provided to explore each manufacturer’s web site. There are many opinions on ski brands. If someone in your circle of family and friends feels good about a particular brand you should feel comfortable purchasing from that line. If you have different information or opinions than those expressed here based on your family’s personal experience, please let us know. We are always trying to gather (and return back to the community) a better bank of information. We are always happy to have a conversation with you to help you sort through the information available.
Atomic junior skis have a very smooth yet energetic action enjoyed by many skiers. Atomic bases are the softest of the brands and absorb and hold wax well. Atomic skis handle a wide range of snow conditions well.
Fischer junior skis are super stable on the glide (skate and classic), have secure kick and excellent base material. They perform well in a wide range of conditions. You will see a lot of Fischer skis on the trail.
Madshus junior skis are light and energetic with excellent torsional stiffness in the skate skis. They have excellent base material that absorbs and retains wax well. Madshus skis tend to have closer to the snow feel as compared to the Fischer ones.
Rossignol junior skis are the most energetic of the group and are often selected by heavier, stronger, or more aggressive skiers or for those skiing in generally firmer conditions. The higher price point “Xium” skis demand more energy, but give it back in spades. They are also quite light. Rossignol used to be known for its harder base material, which can be advantages in certain conditions. They have switched to the “new” white base material on at least the Xium Junior skate skis this year.
Salomon skis are growing in popularity in the U.S. Their skis are a common choice for both junior and elite skiers. Much like fischer they offer very stable skis with excellent base material. Their universal skis also perform well in a number of conditions.
The single most important determinant of ski performance for both pure enjoyment and racing performance is proper ski fit. Selecting a ski that fits your skier well is much more important than the brand you choose. For BKL, we are looking for a ski that matches the skier’s weight, height, and experience and that will perform reasonably well in a wide range of snow conditions.
How tall is your skier and how much does he or she weigh now with ski clothes and boots? But wait, these skiers are growing! What will her or his measurements be in January and February during the heart of ski season? Based on data from boys and girls normal growth tables, you can expect girls age 5-12 to add about 4% in weight and 2% in height over 4 months. For girls age 13 the change is roughly 3% in weight and 1% in height. For girls age 14 the change is roughly 2% in weight and 1% in height. Boys four-month average change in weight is 4% and 3% for ages 5-14 and age 15, respectively. BKL-age boy’s 4-month height changes are between 1 and 2%.
Ski sizing charts from the different manufacturers can be found on their websites. Use these charts to determine the likely ski size you will need. Looking through this information ahead of time will allow you to focus your questions on team night to the kind of information you need to select a brand and price point.
Here is a helpful sizing chart for determining pole, ski, and boot size.
Most brands now offer flex ratings for at least their top-end junior skis. These may be reported as measured values (usually given in kg) or relative values (e.g. soft, medium, hard). The flex value will differ for skate and classic skis. An approximate flex value for a beginner classic ski would be 55% of the skier’s weight in kilograms. For a more advanced skier the flex value would be closer to 60% of the skier’s weight. Flex values for skate skis tend to range from 120% (beginner) to 130% (advanced). Be sure to ask the brand representative to help you identify an appropriate flex rating for your skier’s anticipated weight, experience, and skiing style. Write down this information and include the flex number or flex range on your Omer and Bob’s order form. If you are purchasing from stock in a store or at a ski-swap, test the fit in the shop to make sure the ski has the right flex characteristics.
The following information is for those who have an interest in learning more about ski equipment and how to choose and care for that equipment. Newcomers to the sport should not hesitate to reach out to a Ford Sayre Coach or parent for help!
The second most important factor in ski performance after fit is having the appropriate structure in the base of the ski for the snow conditions. What is structure and why is it so important? Structure is a pattern of grooves either cut and/or pressed into the plastic base material of the ski. The grooves act to disrupt the film of water that forms under the ski due to either free water in the snow or melt water from frictional heating. Sometimes a lack of structure is desirable. When snow is cold and fresh it is very sharp and snow crystals can get caught in a medium or coarse structure pattern creating drag. In those conditions we don’t need to hand structure, instead focus on brushing all excess wax from the base and polishing it smooth.
There are two components of structure: the “grind” and the pressed-in or “hand structure”. Skis come from the factory with structure that is cut into the base by a rotating stone, “the factory grind”. You can also have skis ground by services such as Caldwell Sport with a specialty grind or to revive the base of an older ski that has had the original cut structure removed by many cycles of ski preparation and skiing. For most BKL skiers (especially with new skis) the factory grind will work just fine as the foundation of the structure in your skis.
A temporary hand structure is sometimes added on top of the factory grind to improve glide in moist and wet conditions. Hand structure is pressed into the base by rolling (with some pressure from your hand) a steel roller along the length of the ski. Hand structure tools come with different rollers machined with different patterns. Finer, linear patterns are used for colder or fresh snow and the coarser, broken or screw patterns are used for warmer or wetter snow. You select the structure to match the conditions just like you select wax to match the conditions. Conveniently, Toko has color coded their structure rollers to match their glide wax colors. If you are using blue glide wax, use the blue roller (unless it is really cold and the snow is fresh, then don’t use any hand structure). If you are using yellow glide wax, then use the yellow roller. This is a very simple and effective system.
Hand-pressed structure is removed when the base is heated during the waxing step. The basic ski preparation process is: glide wax, cool, scrape, brush, structure, and brush again. Running the structure tool down the ski takes less than 10 seconds per ski and does not add significantly to your workload when waxing. If the snow is wet or moist it will significantly decrease your workload skiing!
Is hand-structure only important to racers? Do the experiment for yourself. You will very likely find that your skis feel freer and have better glide when properly structured whenever the snow is moist or wet. If you have left coarse structure in your skis from a warm day and then ski in fresh cold powder your skis will feel very slow. If you change to a cold glide wax (remember you had warm glide wax on with the coarse structure so you needed to change anyway), the act of ironing in the cold glide wax removes the coarse structure from the ski. If you are waxing for the conditions of the day, you should never have a problem with residual hand structure.
If you managed to read through to here and feel persuaded that having some hand structure in your skis on the moist and wet days will put a bigger smile on your face, then consider purchasing the Toko Structurite Kit. Swix and others make good structure tools. However, the Toko tool has the combination of being the most portable and easiest to use (given the color coding with glide wax colors). It also produces an excellent result. Even if you use Swix waxes the Toko roller colors will make sense to you. If you are still skeptical about hand structure, then hold off on a purchase. We will be bringing some structure tools to practice and having kids and parents try them out. You will be able to take a few test drives before you buy.