Make Your Own Nordic Backcountry Skis and Outfit

Cross-country ski equipment can be expensive, so make your own Nordic backcountry skis and outfit to make your new, exciting hobby that much more thrilling.

| January/February 1975

  • Skiing
    Cross-country skiing could be your new favorite winter hobby.

  • Skiing

Cross-country skiing is a fun sport to participate in during the winter. But the price of cross-country ski equipment can turn you away. Make your own Nordic backcountry skis and gear to ease your wallet and add a personal touch to your new winter hobby.

All across the northern half of the country this time of year, snow-covered woods and fields tempt lovers of the outdoors to explore the winter landscape — and more and more of us are doing just that, by the old Scandinavian technique of cross-country skiing. There's just one drawback: Although the Nordic version of the sport is less expensive than the Alpine (or downhill) variation, beginners can still spend close to $100 getting outfitted with quality gear. By carefully ignoring the advice of the local sporting goods dealer, however, an enterprizing novice can obtain a very usable outfit for $20 or less.

If such a proposition attracts you, you'll probably have to begin by broadening your conception of cross-country equipment. The fact is that the widely used "skinny skis" which you most likely associate with this sport are best suited for racing and very light touring, and are not the back-pasture skier's ideal choice. They're quick and very low in weight, true, but they're also rather fragile and nearly useless in powder or deep, fluffy drifts. Anyone who anticipates carrying a pack or tackling rough terrain or soft snow would be well advised to use wider "heavy touring" boards, such as Nordic backcountry skis, which offer greater strength, stability and flotation and are also easier for a beginner to control.

Although new heavy touring skis are nearly impossible to buy in the U.S., equipment of this type was used extensively in the 30s, 40s and early 50s when cross-country was the most prevalent form of the sport. Many of these old-time outfits survive in good condition and may be purchased at a Goodwill or Salvation Army store for $3 to $10 per pair. When you shop, look for: [1] absence of cracks or warping, [2] wood rather than synthetic bases, [3] no metal edges and [4] correct length (reaching from the floor to your upheld wrist).

To prepare your bargain Nordic backcountry skis for use, first remove all old varnish and wax from the bases with a sharp paint scraper and sandpaper (a power sander, used carefully, is very handy for this job). Then buy a can of pine tar at a drugstore or veterinary supply outlet and paint it on the bare wood on the bottoms of the skis only. Heat small sections of the tarred surface with a propane torch until the coating bubbles, and quickly wipe off the unabsorbed compound with a soft cloth. The skis are then ready for the application of cross-country wax according to the manufacturer's instructions. This step is usually postponed until the actual ski trip begins and snow conditions are known.

If you wish, you can also sandpaper the tops and sides of your skis and finish them with a coat or two of marine varnish for an attractive appearance.

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