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  • Writer's picturerganderson915

How I Choose a Race Ski

I got a request for a ski/equipment blog, and I’ve found that some (some) people seem to be interested in the nuances of cross country ski equipment. If you’re one of those people, this one’s for you. I’ll try to make it entertaining, I will!

My ski sponsor is Madsus, who supplies me with everything I need before every season. So, I have somewhere around 16 pairs of skis, about 8 per technique - different types of skis for skate and classic skiing. From there, all of my skis are suited for different snow conditions. I am no ski genius but here are the basics of how I choose a pair for race day:


Do you know what material the base of a ski is made up of? I didn’t either, but I googled it and now I do. It is called Ultra High Molecular Weight polyethylene (UHMW). Reading that word alone almost made me stop writing this blog out of boredom but I will keep going, for the one guy reading this who I know will be interested (that’s you, G!!).

Anyway, you can get the base of your skis “ground,” where they basically put different textures into your ski that help them glide over the snow. The bases are porous, so they can absorb wax, too. You can get specific grinds for wet snow, cold snow, new snow, artificial snow, etc. So, as you can imagine, the world’s best skiers have a pair (or 5) for every possible snow condition.


Cross country skis have a subtle bend to them, they aren’t just flat boards. Differences in stiffness or “flex” make a big difference in how different pairs of skis feel, and how fast they are in different conditions. You can feel differences in flex by squeezing a pair of skis between your hands. This is a simplification, but it is relatively easy to squeeze them shut, the skis are described as soft, and if it’s difficult, they are described as firm. Soft skis are better for soft or loose snow, whereas firm skis are better for hard packed or icy snow. It is important to have a ski that is appropriate for your body weight.

Other considerations

People can have different styles of skiing which can alter which skis work for them. The different ski brands have slightly different feels - for example Madshus skis have a foam core, whereas others are made of wood. I think this makes Madshus feel light and agile compared to other brands.

My process for choosing a race ski

It’s possible to have an idea of which skis will be fast on any given race day, but for me, it really just comes down to testing all of them and seeing what feels good! If the temperature is extreme, (maybe below 10F or above 35F) I can eliminate more pairs right off the bat, but if it’s more in the middle, I like to test as many as possible the day before, and even have a few on race morning to compare.

Some of my worst equipment mishaps have come when I assumed which ski should work, without testing. There have been times that I went on a ski that should have been “wrong” for the conditions, but that ended up being fast. The world of ski production and specifics still feels daunting to me, but I also choose to ignore some of these details to focus on what matters more for me right now, which is training. It can be tempting for skiers to get obsessed over the details of equipment - whether they chose the right skis, had the right wax, or whatever it may be, but it seems to me that the most successful people have a way of making it work no matter what they have on their feet.

Here’s what a typical ski testing process looks like for me (for a skate race)

  1. Day before race, test all skis that are a possibility

    1. Ski with a different ski on each foot and feel for differences

    2. Ski one pair, then ski with a different pair

    3. Glide down a hill next to a friend and see who glides farther (switch and repeat if different weights)

  2. Narrow down to 2 or 3 pairs for race morning

    1. Repeat abc above

    2. Pay attention to downhill glide, how the skis feel climbing, how “free” they feel compared to each other when I push off (skating)

  3. For classic skiing, I go with whichever ski gives me confidence that I can kick forward easily while still able to glide well. I apologize for a massive oversimplification here but if you want to talk about this more, reach out to me! I could write a novel here but I’m cutting myself off.

A Note on Wax

All of the skis have the same wax on them when I test (Toko blue), so they are zeroed out for comparison. Wax is another huge variable in ski speed, but when I choose a pair to race on, I am only thinking about the ski construction. Race-day-specific wax goes on after testing (skate), right before the race. I am very lucky to be on a team where I don’t need to worry about waxing my skis - our coaches wax our skis. Finding appropriate wax for the snow conditions is often described as an intersection of art and science, and I will not get into it in this little blog.

I hope you enjoyed some of these specifics. It is important to remember that the skier is more important than the skis - train yourself before you go crazy looking for the perfect ski (that goes for me too!!)


My ski fan technique is not refined yet but I'm working on it

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1 Comment

Gowtham (G)
Gowtham (G)
Apr 04, 2023

Thank you! This is very helpful :)

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