Choosing the Most Important Item in XC Skiing

The most important piece of skiing equipment is actually boots. Surprised? Well, consider this: the wrong skis might slow you down, but won’t give you foot cramps or frozen toes; a broken pole, although a big nuisance, can be replaced on the racetrack.

The first thought that comes to your head when you look at the prices of the xc ski boots is probably: “wow, that’s some very expensive stuff”. Well, they are expensive. In fact, top ski boots are more expensive that top skis. The fact of the matter is, almost all mid-level and top ski boots are still designed and crafted in good old Europe, and the price reflects their manufacturing costs.

Another reason they are so expensive is because they are remarkable pieces of engineering. The top models are now featuring carbon fiber soles – they need to, as carbon fiber provides stiffness and strength without sacrificing durability.

It is rarely spoken of publicly, but in the last decade the progress in cross country skiing boot technologies outpaced that in skis and poles. The models from ten years ago look (and feel) rather different from what your money could buy today. It is most obvious in top-of-the range models, aimed at serious sportsmen, but innovations do trickle down rather quickly into-mid range models, making energy transfer from your muscles to your skis more efficient and, ultimately, making your skiing experience more enjoyable

Now that you know what a remarkable piece of modern engineering you’re about to purchase, lets look at what you actually need:

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For the last fifteen years or so, skiing boots have come in two distinctly different shapes: those for the classic style, and those for the skating style. There are two major differences between them: the skating ones have sturdy cuffs gently gripping your ankles, which you need to stabilize your foot while in motion. The skating boots also have very stiff soles – for energy transfer and stability, the stiffer the better and. The classic ones lack ankle cuffs and have significantly softer soles.

Commonly asked questions include:
Can I use classic boots for skating style?
You can, especially if you have fantastic balance – but it’s significantly easier and potentially less traumatic to do so in the dedicated skating ones. Don’t save on your comfort and endanger your ankles.

Can I use skating boots for classic style?
Not if you’re planning to use a diagonal stride – stiff soled boots would not allow you to kick properly. Still, if you intend to stick to doublepoling without going diagonal(as many people, even professionals, do), there’s no problem.
Is there combo, a compromise?
Yes, there is – they are called Skiathlon boots. They’re used by the pros exclusively for the skiathlon races that are run half classic, half skating – with a change of the skis in the middle (but no change of boots!). These boots are quite difficult to find and, as with every compromise, they are worse than a dedicated type in its particular style.

So, you have thought it over and made your choice between the classic and the skating ones – or, perhaps, both? Let’s proceed to buying them:

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Advice 1: while we are getting more and more used to buying things over the internet, without ever seeing them in real life, it it still a very good idea to try your ski boots on. Lace them up and stand, sit, and walk in them for a few minutes at least. An even better idea is to rent the model you are considering and take them out for a spin on the track. Getting the right boots for your feet could be difficult. Moreover, different boot producers produce their wares for different feet. Cross country skiing forum threads on “which boots fit the best” are among the longest ones!

Advice 2: even the most carefully selected and tried-on boots might hurt your foot arches at the start. Then you have a choice: either grin & bear it (the pain normally subsides after a while), or visit a podiatrist and get custom-made soles – that will take care of the pain right away.

Advice 3: We do believe that, the more you’re prepared to spend, the better the product you’ll get. Of course, chasing the absolute latest top models that go for close to $1000 (yes, it’s a thousand) might sound foolish – but no more foolish than someone who never goes over 100km/h buying a Porsche. A good compromise is a top model from 3-4 years ago, or the second-best model of the last season or two. Unlike the procedure for cars or, say, running shoes, ski shops routinely sell older year models (one of us saw brand new boots in the shop that were all the rage in 2011; Petter Northug won at the World Championship in Oslo in that very model!). You could get a fantastic piece of engineering for a steal if you spend just a bit of time researching.

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