Think skiing across a tranquil backcountry meadow. Think steep and deep powder stashes in hidden places around ski areas.
Think silky groomed skating lanes or tracks at a Nordic lodge.
The choices in Nordic skiing are wide open depending on what style of skiing you want to pursue.
“The beauty of Nordic skiing is the wide range of equipment that makes skiing all kinds of terrain fun and accessible,” said Ray Johnson, a ski expert with REI in Boise, Idaho.
Johnson has been skiing the backcountry since the early 1970s. His backcountry exploits have taken him to deep powder on the Wasatch Front in Utah to Copper Mountain near Stanley, Idaho, and many other areas in between.
Here are some options for choosing your Nordic pursuits.
What: Much of the growth in skiing is in alpine touring, or AT skiing. Skiers are seeking powder stashes in the side country surrounding ski resorts and in the backcountry.
They use chairlifts for getting uphill to ski outside areas or hidden areas within the resort for powder skiing. They also earn their turns in the backcountry. Skiers sometimes call it “side stash” skiing and also Randonnee skiing.
Skis: Many of the skis for Telemark and AT skiing are the same. The skis are wide and have all the features of regular alpine skis, but the binding is different for alpine touring.
Boots: The boots and bindings for AT skiing feature a locked-in heel on the ski when skiing downhill. This enables the skier to perform the parallel turn, the same that is used in alpine skiing on resort slopes.
When the skier is traversing or climbing uphill with climbing skins on their skis, the heel part of the binding can be released from the ski to allow the foot to raise up when walking for comfort and efficiency.
Then, the skiers’ heels are locked in place for the run. This allows more support in downhill skiing, but freedom for walking.
The advantage of the alpine touring binding is that you don’t have to learn a Telemark turn. You can ski your regular parallel turns.
Price: Expect to pay around $1,800 for a package of skis, boots and bindings.
What: Tele skiers are Nordic skiers who enjoy downhill skiing but earn their turns by climbing to the tops of ridges to get their runs.
They have the same goal as AT skiers, but they perform the Telemark turn, which is unlike the parallel turn in alpine downhill skiing. Tele skiers get into the turn by leading the downhill ski with the heel flat and the uphill ski pulled back and the heel up. In order to do so and also to climb or travel across snow, the heels need to be free.
Skis: The skis are heavier and wider for steeper terrain and deep powder skiing, and they look more like downhill skis.
You’ll see widths upwards of 135 mm. They have metal edges and also a regular base that has to be waxed for glide just like alpine skis.
Skiers need climbing skins for traversing and climbing ridges.
Boots: Plastic boots similar to alpine downhill boots are the norm for hard-core Telemark skiers.
The Telemark boot differs from alpine boots because of a bellows at the toe, which allow the boot to flex when skiers are in the walking or climbing mode.
Three-pin bindings were typical, but the free-pivot cable binding is now preferred. It offers more ease of movement in climbing mode with a free heel.
Price: Expect to pay around $1,800 for a ski package.
What: To break away from groomed areas and explore the backcountry, you’ve got to get beefier skis and boots for support and control for a variety of snow conditions.
Light backcountry skis are wider for better flotation on the snow and breaking trail. There are no groomed tracks in the backcountry.
You can do some Telemark turns in moderate terrain.
Skis: They are wider than track skis — typically running 100 to 120 mm. Backcountry touring skis have side cuts for turning and have a more aggressive waxless pattern for better grip and climbing. You don’t typically use climbing skins with these skis because of the waxless pattern on the bottom of the skis.
They also have metal edges for better control, especially on hard-packed and icy slopes.
Boots: You’ll start to see boots for off-trail skiing getting more stout for ankle support and torsional control. The boots will be warmer because you’re out on the snow longer.
The boots are made to fit either the traditional three-pin bindings or the Nordic step-in binding.
Prices: Packages range from $550 to $650.
What: Classic or track skiing on groomed trails is one of the most common and inexpensive styles of cross-country skiing.
It’s usually what beginners try first. From there, they may start specializing in another type of Nordic skiing.
Track skiing has changed the least over the years because the skis are designed to fit within the 70 mm track set by trail groomers at Nordic ski areas. The skis are 45-65 mm wide and designed specifically for track skiing.
Groomed tracks make it easy to perform the kick-and-glide motion of classic skiing.
Where: Just follow the groomed tracks and you’re set for exploring Nordic terrain in a developed ski area, such as Bogus Basin’s Nordic system or the Harriman Trail near Sun Valley.
Skis: Most classic skis come with waxless bases with a cross-hatched pattern for gripping the snow to push off for momentum. Matching your weight to the skis is important because you want to push down on the ski and connect the grip patterns on the base to the snow for kick and glide. These skis don’t have metal edges.
Boots: Boots for track skiing are typically lightweight over-the-ankle boots with moderate support.
Price: Expect to pay $250-$300 for a package of skis, boots and bindings.
What: Skate skiing is poetry in motion on groomed skating lanes at a developed ski area. The sport is taken up by those who like running or road biking. Skate skiing is different from classic kick-and-glide because you are propelled down the trail by a technique similar to ice skating or roller skating. There is no need for a grip wax on the skis, only a glide wax.
Skis: Skate skis are short, narrow and light for ease of motion. They are typically around 45 mm wide at the tips.
Boots: Skate skis offer a lot of ankle support for the motion of skating. They also have stiffer soles for torsional control.
Price: $450 to $1,400.