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Downhill and Cross-country Ski Gear Fact Sheet

by Andrea Sparksr

Skiers on a slope with downhill ski gear

Snow skiing is a popular winter sport, and having the proper ski gear can make it even more fun. Downhill skiing can be as exhilarating as it is technical, and cross-country skiing is one of the best cardiovascular workouts you can do, especially in the winter. No matter what type of skiing you plan on doing, you'll want the right ski gear to help you out. The following guidelines can help you understand the differences between downhill ski gear and cross-country ski gear so you can get the most out of your ski trip.

Ski Gear Fact Sheet:

  1. Boots and bindings: Some of the most important ski equipment is ski boots and ski bindings. Downhill ski boots attach to the ski bindings at both the toe and heel, allowing the skier to transfer energy from the body to the skis. This full-foot binding connection enables the skier to maintain control on descents, to change directions and perform a variety of other essential downhill ski moves with great precision. In cross-country skiing, the ski is only attached to the boot at the toe, freeing the heel to allow the skier to perform more of a skating motion for flat ground, uphill and mild downhill slopes. Cross-country ski boots are also much more flexible, more like a hiking boot than a downhill ski boot.

  2. Skis: When it comes to the skis themselves, downhill skis are designed to handle speed and to turn on ice and snow. There are a variety of downhill ski designs for powder, all-mountain, freestyle and backcountry. Most downhill snow skis will have a allover wider design, wider tip and tail and metal edges to aid in turning. Cross-country skis are generally lighter and stiffer than downhill skis and have a straighter tip; they don't have a metal edge, since turning at high speeds isn't necessary when cross-country skiing. While downhill skis are often bowed in a rocker shape, cross-country snow skis are cambered to arc away from the snow in the middle. Many cross-country skis also have scaled bottoms to grip the snow while skating across it or climbing up a hill to keep you from sliding backwards.

  3. Poles: Your ski poles are the piece of snow ski gear with the least amount of difference between downhill and cross-country skiing, but there are still a few important differences. Downhill ski poles are designed to provide stability and balance on descents and while turning. A downhill ski pole is straight and durable to handle the stress of alpine skiing. Cross-country ski poles are typically longer and slightly curved to aid in pushing across the snow. Some cross-country ski poles have a smaller basket, or even a partial basket, to allow a more angled strike on the snow while skiing.

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