Nordic Skiing vs. Alpine Skiing

December 8, 2008

Living in the Upper Peninsula during the winter can be very depressing for many people. Ranging from the cold all the way to looking outside and seeing everything in a dull grey white color, I see why it can be depressing. For many people though, it is a time to get outside and hit the mountains and trails. Many people come to either down-hill ski or cross-country ski, which is a growing sport and recreation. Cross-country skiing and downhill skiing have many similarities, yet at the same time differ in many ways too.

For the most part, the size of skis all depend on the person and their body type. Most Nordic skis do not get longer than two meters in length and five centimeters wide. Alpine skis are similar to Nordic skis, averaging about two meters by about five centimeters wide or just a bit longer. Nordic skis come to a point at the tip of the ski. Alpines have an oval front and are wider at the front for better turning. Both types of skis have poles that are roughly about waist high and have sharp points at the end of them to help you grip into the snow to keep moving.

Nordic skis, as everyone knows, are used for flat surfaces and medium grade hills and have a slight arch to them. With that being said, “Cross country skiing is the oldest type of skiing, having evolved out of a need to travel over snow-covered terrain. Along the way, about a century or so ago, some of these travelers realized that skiing could also be fun.” (Goodwin 1) Alpine skis are used for mostly downhill skiing and competition and have a flat surface on the bottom. Here is a little history on alpine skiing,It was during the 1930’s that alpine skiing became a popular European pastime, as ski lifts were invented that eliminated the labor of climbing a mountain before experiencing an exhilarating descent.” (Author unknown 1) Nordic skis, because of their design, are meant to glide along with each forward motion you take. The arch is centered in the middle of the ski, so as weight is added and released, it will help move the ski forward. The boot you use for Nordic skis are a single snap on type boot. What this means is that the boot snaps on in the front, and is free moving up and down at the heel. Alpine skis do not have an arch in the middle of the ski. Because these skis are flat, they gain so much speed going down hills, that if you’re not trained properly on stopping, you could get hurt. These types of skis are also used for competition skiing such as in the Olympics. Alpine and Nordic skis, when setup right can be used for high air jumps.

On one hand, the types of competition that Nordic skis are used for are biathlons. How a biathlon works, is the cross-country skier will ski, and then stop and use a rifle for target shooting. They will do this so many times before there is winner. Alpine skis are used for slaloms such as the G-Slam. Slaloms are competitions where skiers start on top of a hill and have to ski through flags and record the best time. The bigger the Slalom, the harder the grade of the hill and the flags are setup to be difficult. Yet, both types of skis can be used for many of the same jobs as one another. Nordic skis can be used for slaloms though rare from what I hear, and Alpine skis can be used for plains skiing.

Alpine skis and Nordic skis have many similarities on how they are made. Alpine skis used to be made of all wood, but now are made up of materials such as glass fiber, Kevlar, titanium, other polymers, hardened plastic or composite materials, though many may still contain wood cores. Alpine skis also have a metal lining around the outside of the ski. On the contrary, Nordic skis are made up of materials such as aluminum and fiber glass. More expensive skis are made from graphite or carbon fiber. There is not a metal lining around Nordic skis. However, both types of skis use two poles for their respective sports. The poles have a sharp barb at the end to help break into hard snow for gripping. Poles also have a plastic disc called a basket that ensures the poles will not sink too deeply into the snow.

The two types of skis have different uses for wax too. Alpine skis use a heavy coat of wax, because as you go downhill the ski will melt the snow, creating a thin layer of water and the heavy coat of wax will allow you to fly. Nordic skis differ drastically. The types of wax they use are categorized into four groups: glide waxes, kick waxes, klisters and wax tapes. Glide waxes are used to make a ski move smoothly. Kick wax is to provide grip on snow when weight is transferred on a ski, as the snow becomes older and snowflakes lose their sharpness, in case of re-freezing or of water, kick wax cannot provide any more grip, and it becomes useless. One must therefore resort to klister, which is basically a glue-like paste. Finally, a wax less ski has a fish scale, cross-hatched or ridged pattern in the kick zone to provide grip. In certain circumstances both skis can use all these types of waxes, but mainly stick to the waxes developed for the skis.

Many people have never skied before in their lives. If they have, they probably have only tried one type or the other. Yes Alpine skis and Nordic skis are very different in many ways, but they also have a lot of similarities. I recommend that if you haven’t tried one or the other, you have to before you state which skiing type is the better of the two.

Goodwin, Tony. Cross Country Skiing 101. http://skiing.about.com/od/crosscountryskiing/a/crosscountry101.htm

History Of Skiing. http://www.speedski.com/HistoryofSkiing.htm

at_st12_skis_blue_071Alpine skis

trak_omnitrakl-classic_back-country_skis_collage1Cross Country Skis


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