Should I try classic skiing or skate skiing?

By Robert Arnold

Employee of Arlberg Sports 

Robert (pictured) breaks it down for us on the different Nordic ski options.

Nordic skiing offers one of the best ways to experience our beautiful surrounding areas. With Leavenworth, Lake Wenatchee, Chelan, and the Methow trails to the North; Wenatchee has access to more cross-country ski trails than any other population in the country. All of these areas offer miles of beautifully groomed trails for both classic style cross-country skiing and the wider track needed for skate skiing. So which style of skiing should you choose to experience these beautiful trail systems? At our local retail and rental shops, this is one of the most common questions people ask when getting ready to head out for a nordic skiing adventure and choosing the right one can make a huge difference in the amount of enjoyment you and your family have while playing out in the snow. Both are incredibly fun and rewarding, but because of the differences in equipment and skills required, how should we choose between them? To make the best choice for your adventure it can help to understand a little bit of what makes skate skis different from classic Nordic skis.

Tell-tale fish scales of the classic ski.

Nancy McPartland enjoying some classic skiing in Leavenworth. Photo by Sarah Shaffer.

Classic Nordic skiing is the more common of the two, and one of the oldest forms of skiing. The difference you would notice if you were to look at the bottom of classic skis is that they have grip. The grip section is the middle third of the ski, with smooth glide sections at the front and tail of the ski. This grip is either created from fabric “skins” or the plastic base of the ski is molded into a “fish-scale” texture. The skins or fish-scales are directional, they provide grip when the skier presses their weight down with one ski as the other ski glides ahead. This underfoot grip allows you to scoot along at any pace you choose, making classic skiing the easiest style for anyone to first try nordic skiing. Beginner level classic skis are meant to flex more easily, providing more grip; faster skis will be stiffer to provide a longer glide. Classic skis also come in a larger variety of styles. A very popular style that several brands offer have a wider base and metal edges which is great for additional control and stability, allowing them to be used in areas not specifically groomed for Nordic skiing such as snowy forest service roads.

Skins, glued on the base of classic skis with directional fabric.

Skate ski bases on the other hand, are all about glide. Often sized shorter than classic skis, but much stiffer and with completely smooth bases; skate skis are meant to be used in the 12-ft wide flat groomed track that is found adjacent to the parallel groomed lines for classic skis. This wide area allows the skate-skier to propel themselves forward using an elongated V-shaped skating motion very similar to that used with ice skates or rollerblades. To assist in balance and to add some extra boost, extra-long poles are used compared to those for classic skiing. The boots for skate skiing also vary from a classic skiing boot. The skate boot is built stiffer with an ankle support to allow the sideways pushing motion. The true essence of skate skiing is felt when one is able to efficiently tempo their skating motion with their ski-poles to create a smooth pace that can be much faster than classic Nordic-skiing. This technique definitely requires more effort and patience to master; 100% of people wanting to try skate skiing for the first time would benefit by taking a lesson. People with prior experience in ice skates or familiar with skating their downhill skis through flat parts of ski resorts may have a slight advantage in the learning curve, but everyone will feel like a beginner skate skiing during their first several attempts. With practice, anyone can become a confident skate skier, including young kids. Skate skiing has become the go-to method for those that want the most speed, distance, and workout out for the time they have available on the trails.

Mark Shaffer gliding along on his skate skis. Photo taken by Sarah Shaffer on the Methow trails.

The smooth base of a skate ski.

Both classic skiing and skate skiing are fun for the whole family, choosing the right one is all about knowing what your goals for your outdoor experience are.  If you’re looking for a workout, speed and enjoy learning new skills; then you might be an excellent candidate to try skate skiing. You can also get a phenomenal workout while classic skiing, it allows you to slow it down and take it easy while feeling more balanced and stable. Classic skiing gives you the opportunity to look around and take in your surroundings more than skate skiing does. Snow conditions on the trails can also play a big factor in enjoyment. Skate skiing can be easier to learn and much more fun in prime snow conditions when trails are freshly groomed in the morning. Classic skiing can be more forgiving if trails are super soft, chopped up from high usage or icy. Most importantly, both offer amazing opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy winter in the beauty of our local mountains. Which one will you try first?

Arlberg Sports in Wenatchee and at their Leavenworth location sell or rent a variety of classic and skate skis.

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