As the winds blow colder and the snow arrives, thoughts of strapping on your cross-country skis, skate skis or snowshoes come to mind. Eventually, the snow base will be enough to wander out and indulge in a favourite pastime.
The gap between each winter season is about eight to nine months here in Ontario. Most sports do not have so long to wait ’til conditions again become favourable. For these snow sports, the season is a mere three to four months in the south (if we are lucky!) and Northern Ontario might get a month more of good conditions. So be ready!
Here is a quick read on what you should be thinking as we all get psyched for our first venture out onto the trails of a frozen winter wonderland. Are you primed and good to go without any foreseeable mishap?
Boots – Did your boots perform the way you wanted last year? Perhaps they were too tight or too loose? Did the laces forever need tightening? Maybe it’s time to replace them with more a modern bindings system and better ankle support.
Do your boots have seams that are starting to come apart? Before they do, use some contact cement to keep them together. Would thermal foot pad inserts in your boots help keep your feet warmer?
Bindings – These simple yet crucial devices keep your boot securely in place and pivoting freely, so check yours for cracks and loose screws. Skiing back on one ski is no fun (it’s happened to me).
Nordic Skis – Check for cracks, chips and scarring on the bases. These imperfections can usually be ignored if they’re just cosmetic, but rock scratches on your ski bases do add friction, so if you’re a speed demon, then tend to them or take them to a pro shop to be fixed. Give your skis some love.
You might be using hand-me-downs or used cross-country skis. That’s OK, but if you want to go faster, you may wish for a more custom fit. Perhaps you are considering skate skiing.
Getting Nordic skis that actually match your height, weight and skiing style will improve your push and glide strokes. This gets you farther with less effort and more enjoyment. Isn’t that what we all want.
And keep your old ski as designated “rock skis” for those outings when there is barely enough white stuff to ski on but you just have to go.
WAX – The really important part is applying NEW WAX. Last year’s base wax has surely worn off and a new base of glide wax would be wise on ALL skis. If you ski on “waxless skis,” that includes you. (You don’t need grip wax but you still need glide wax.)
For the rest of us Nordic skiing purists, time again for that annual ritual, messy as it is. But well worth it to go faster and farther than the waxless crowd (subtle jab there).
Scrape off the old gummed-up grip wax. Then start putting it all back on before your first outing. Do you need to get more wax for your favourite temperature ranges?
[I am not going to tell you how to wax your skis – look it up. For some that is a science and a degree in physics…surface tension, capillarity behaviour…much could be said, lol]
Snowshoes – Have your shoes been performing well last year? Do the straps need adjusting and are they still holding together? Are the boots you use in your snowshoes a good fit? Do they pivot properly, stay centred as you stomp through the snow?
Poles – You need poles to ski Nordic trails. It just cannot be done without them. Not so much for snowshoeing on even ground but good to have on steep or icy inclines.
A simple stick device with a grip on one end and a pointy part on the other. Are those ends in fine shape? Or do you need to adjust the grip strap (which loosens in time), or replace a missing metal tip or broken basket?
These long aluminum/fibreglass appendages have to endure a lot of stress, you occasionally falling on them. See any fractures, bending or breaks? It could be time to retire them before they fail.
Buying Gear – The used equipment market has served me well over the years with the odd find at a yard sale or on Kijiji, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. There is not always a lot of gear out there, so finding exactly what you need can be tricky.
Last year things got scarce and I expect the same this season. New equipment inventories are likely to be thin again, so get what you need now. Don’t wait.
Sports Clothing – Did your winter activewear perform well last year? Time to pull it out of storage and size it up. Are any of your garments wearing thin, unravelling, looking tired, or just not keeping you warm and dry?
Feeling comfortable – warm but not too warm – on the trail is your goal. Having ample movement without the bulk of thick layers gives you the freedom necessary to engage in this sport. I get into that whole topic of the science of ski clothing in this post from last year.
Your vehicle – Whatever gets you to the resort, ski club or woodlot to enjoy the trails needs to be reliable. Winter is not a time to wonder if your car, van or truck is going to give up on you.
Be sure your vehicle is fit for the road and full of gas. Check under the hood that fluid levels are topped up, especially the windshield wiper fluid. Nothing makes winter driving riskier than poor vision at night through a salt-encrusted windshield.
In the last decade, I could finally afford snow tires on rims. If you can too, they definitely give you more traction in the winter.
Coach Bus – When I belonged to a ski club, riding the bus to the trails was a joy. Not having to drive home tired, in the dark and/or during a blizzard was so worth it.
Check club bus schedules for changes before they surprise you. These days Covid may have caused cancellations.
And may I add, consider staying overnight at a motel to make the outing less of a gauntlet. You can also trek an extra day before heading home during the daylight hours.
The last thing to mention is buying a box(es) of your favourite snack foods for the trail loops. Look over what arrangements you have with water bottles, day packs and waist pouches for your outings.
If all this still works for you, carry on. If you are running out of water, munchies or whatever, don’t go through another year of grief.
Get organized and update your setup so you can enjoy your time away.
So that’s a good start to getting in gear (pun) for the winter months. May it be an enjoyable, peaceful and invigorating outdoor experience.
Stay warm and safe – Dan Roitner