Like any sport, Nordic skiing has its own set of highly specialized gear, especially as you drill down into its more arcane disciplines, like skate, classic or backcountry touring. And as with other endurance sports, skiers have become obsessed with faster, stiffer, lighter, more breathable and water-resistant equipment and clothing. Gone are the days of woolen knickers, a pom-pom cap and hickory planks, replaced by Gore-Tex, merino and carbon fiber.
Winter is only half over; you might as well enjoy the rest of it. Here’s the gear to get you out the door and on the trail.
Helly Hansen LIFA Dry Stripe Crew
Helly Hansen hails from Norway and has been making clothes to keep its country’s sailors and adventurers warm and dry for over a century. Its LIFA line, with the trademark striped sleeves, was one of the first technical base layers available back in the 1970s and after 40 years of fine tuning, it’s still one of the best around. The HH Dry fabric of the Dry Stripe Crew ($40) pulls sweat away from your skin quickly to ward off chill when you slow down or turn into the wind.
Craft PXC High Function Jacket
Craft is another Scandinavian brand that makes high-performance clothes for cyclists and skiers. The PXC High Function jacket ($160) is an ultra-light softshell that breaks wind and light precipitation (i.e., snow) while fitting close to the body for unrestricted arm swings and no rustle. When the snow melts, this jacket makes a great spring cycling jacket.
Icebreaker Nova Hat
With your head exposed and pouring sweat as you put in the kilometers, merino wool is the best choice for staying warm when wet. The Nova Hat ($35), which blends soft, warm merino with 50 percent acrylic, pulls down tight and keeps its shape. It also won’t stink up the car if you leave it in the backseat when you get home.
Pants: Ibex Breakaway II Pant
Don’t be deceived: these may look like your weekend sweatpants but they’re far from it. Made from Climawool, a blend of merino wool, Cordura nylon and Lycra, the Breakaway II ($250) will be your go-to adventuring pants from October till April. Warm, windproof and stretchy, they may not be the sleekest ski pants around, but you won’t care when you’re skiing laps after a fresh dump, dry and warm. They also are a hell of a lot more acceptable than tights in the coffee shop afterwards.
Outdoor Research Stormtracker Gloves
Gripping poles on a raw, windy day makes for cold hands. If they get wet, you might as well pack it in. The problem with most warm gloves, though, is that they’re too bulky to fit in the hand straps. The Outdoor Research Stormtrackers ($68+) are low profile, with Windstopper softshells to keep wind and water from penetrating, and the soft tricot lining is toasty to well below freezing. Goat leather palms give good grip on poles even when damp.
Even on a cloudy day, the reflection off of snow can be blinding and even dangerous, so sunglasses are a must. But when you’re in and out of trees in variable light, it’s hard to choose the right tinted lenses. The Julbo Dust’s ($82) photochromic Zebra lenses adapt to changing light quickly, lightening up as you move into the trees and darkening when the sun comes out. They also are well vented so they’re less likely to fog up when you’re slogging up that long hill.
Skate Skis: Fischer Carbonlite H-Plus
Skate skiing is all about speed, and Fischer’s Carbonlite H-Plus ($600+) racing planks are the skis Fischer provides to its elite team of World Cup skiers. It’s easy to see why. The ultralight carbon fiber and Air Core construction is further improved with the cut-out tips that slash weight even more and lower swing resistance. Edge and camber tuning ensures maximum kick power and uniform wax wear. Beware, though: show up with these skis and you’ll have one less excuse for not making the podium.
Skate Poles: Swix Triac 2.0
Fast skis are only half the equation. Match your World Cup skis with poles that suit them. The Swix Triac ($440+) design features a triangular cross-section to maximize stiffness and strength. Quick-change baskets mean you can fine-tune your basket for snow conditions without all that messy glue.
Skate Boots: Fischer RCS Carbonlite
Transferring power to your skis requires boots that don’t rob energy from your legs as you’re pushing off. The RCS Carbonlite ($440+) features a narrower last and a stiff Race Frame to provide a firm platform for efficient kicking. A waterproof membrane with a sealed zipper closure keeps feet warm and dry, and an odor-resistant lining keeps the boots stink-free all season.
Classic Skis: Atomic Redster Skintec
To wax or not to wax: that is the question. Waxing gives you the ability to fine-tune your grip for different snow conditions, but it’s messy and time consuming. Wax-less skis have traditionally been too much of a compromise for purists. The Skintec technology on Atomic’s Redster skis ($490) solves the wax-less conundrum by fitting the kick zone of the skis with removable mohair skins that can be swapped out for different snow types. Changing out the tread is simple with a small tool that can be carried as you ski for on the fly fine tuning.
Classic Poles: Exel Centra Pole
All-purpose poles needn’t cost as much as your skis, and the Centras ($100) are the happy medium that can go from off-trail touring to track skiing. 45 percent carbon shafts keep weight down for tireless and efficient arm swings and a 10-millimeter basket keeps poles from plunging too deep.
Classic Boots: Alpina ECL Pro Classic
The ECL boot ($350) surrounds the foot with a one-piece waterproof overboot and waterproof zipper, while inside, your toes are toasty thanks to a Thinsulate liner. The molded plastic heel counter and stiff sole keep the boot locked onto the binding for smooth, drama-free kicks and glides.
Backcountry Touring Skis: Madshus Glittertind MGV+
Plowing through off-piste knee-deep snow with a pack on requires specialized skis; those touring skis you take to the park on weekends ain’t gonna cut it. The Glittertinds ($230) are up for rough duty with full-length steel edges for breaking through crust and a wax-less grip zone that adapts to the slop in the valleys and the powder up high. With laminated wood cores, these aren’t lightweights, but you need the support and firm platform that purpose-built backcountry skis provide. So go ahead, load up the pack and go hut to hut with these planks.
Backcountry Poles: Swix Mountain Pole
These Swix backcountry Mountain Poles ($60) are specially designed for remote off-trail adventures. Beefy grips and wide straps accommodate thick mittens, wide leather baskets are designed for deep snow, and the shafts eschew carbon fiber for more durable reinforced aluminum.
Backcountry Boots: Alpina Alaska Nordic Boot
A big boot named for a big, wintry state. The Alaska ($250+) looks like a mountaineering boot and it almost is. A full rubber rand, thick lugged sole and full, to-the-toe lacing are as capable for hiking as skiing, if conditions call for it; yet the semi-rigid sole is set up to pair with backcountry bindings and wide skis for when you take the road less traveled and have miles to go before you sleep.