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Guide to buying used cross country ski equipment

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old used skis

If you're in the market for used nordic ski equipment, make sure you know what you are looking for.  The worst thing is spending your well-earned money on equipment that doesn't work for you and you can't return.

Here's what to watch for.  Some of these tips may seem ridiculously obvious but here at the store we've seen it all.

Make sure you're not buying alpine equipment.  

Yes, this can happen.   Alpine equipment is meant for downhill skiing and there is no way you can make this stuff work for you on a cross country trail.

If you don't know the difference between alpine and nordic equipment, ask someone who does to help you purchase your gear.  

Boots need to match the binding system.

Since the old 75mm 3-pin system there have been a lot of binding upgrades, and each one is different.  Your boot has to be designed to fit the binding on your ski, or you won't be able to attach yourself to it.  End of ski story.

nordic ski bindings

There are two main types of bindings: the New Nordic Norm (NNN) System, and the Salomon Nordic System (SNS).  NNN boots have two narrow grooves down the sole of the boot and SNS boots only have one, wider, groove.

But it's more complex than that.  SNS boots may have one metal bar under the forefoot, or two.  Regardless, you need to ensure that your boot will physically fit into the binding as they are not all created equal.

For more information on binding types, click here.

Poles should be the correct length.

To size poles correctly, stand straight with shoes or skiboots on, arms hanging naturally.  Measure the pole to the point where the strap comes out of the grip.  This point should come mid-shoulder for classic style (the traditional way of skiing).  Poles for skate style should come between the bottom of your chin and your mouth.

The skis... 

... the most important piece of equipment!  Where do we start?  There are so many different types and qualities of skis it is almost impossible to know what you're getting without prior knowledge.  

fake used cross country ski ad

One of the most common things we see are the wrong size of skis for the user.  It is not as simple as measuring a ski length to the wrist.  Some skis are soft (you can squeeze the bases together easily with your hands) and some are stiffer.  A classic ski that is correctly sized for you will be stiff enough to keep the kick zone off the snow in the glide phase yet be soft enough for you to compress during your kick.  If you get skis too soft for you, you will be working really hard to go anywhere as the skis will be dragging along the snow.  If you get skis too stiff for your weight, you will not be able to control them as you will have no grip on the snow.

sizing used cross country skis

You can get away with a wider range of flexes with skate skis as there is no grip wax/kick zone to worry about.  Keep in mind however skis that are too long or stiff for you will be hard to control and skis that are too short or soft won't glide as well, making skating difficult at best.

The brand of the ski can give you a clue sometimes.  Many Fischer and Rossignol skis are on the soft side, Salomon skis tend to be on the stiffer side. 

For a rough check if skis are sized correctly, do the Paper Test.  Here's how for classic skis:

1. Stand on the bindings of the skis with weight equally distributed.  Slide a piece of paper underneath the skis (they need to be clean for this) until it "bites" at each end of the kick zone.  This zone should reach from approximately your heel to about a binding length in front of your toe, and you can mark it on your skis with a crayon/marker so you know where to apply your kick wax.

doing the ski paper test

2. Stand on one foot now.  Raise up on the ball of this foot as if you are kicking off the snow.  The paper underneath your foot should be stuck or at least very difficult to move.

doing the ski paper test

To do the Paper Test for skate skis, stand with equal weight on both skis.  The paper should slide underneath the middle of the skis.  When standing flat on only one foot, the paper should only slide about 6-8" or so.  You should be able to get the paper to "stick" momentarily if you bounce your weight up and down on the ski, as this simulates applying your kick during the skating action when you want the full length of the ski against the snow for a brief moment.

For kids: the most important factor in sizing children's classic skis is their ability to fully compress the ski with one foot.  Classic skis for kids will often be about their head height or a handspan higher.  Skate skis are usually head or forehead height, but don't go too short - the child should not be able to fully compress the ski.  Kids vary a lot in their height to weight ratio, so don't be too hung up on how long or short the skis are in comparision.

Kids with cross country skis

Check the quality of the skis.

There are a few things to keep in mind when assessing the quality of a pair of skis.  Check the bases.  Some wear here is natural, but if the base material looks thin anywhere or there are some deep gouges, pass on them.  

The type of base is also important as it determines what your glide will be like.  Extruded bases are often plasticy looking and light coloured; these are durable but don't hold wax well so you won't get an easy glide.  Sintered bases hold wax better, making your ski experience a lot more pleasant as you won't be working as hard.  However there are many levels of sintered base qualities and it often doesn't specify on the ski what type it is.

What the core of the ski (the inside layers) is made of determines how the ski reacts, how heavy it is and how durable it is.  Many quality skis are made with wood cores with air channels of some kind, or dense foam.  Fibreglass and carbon layers add stiffness and structure to a ski.  Whatever you do, stay away from the old foam-injected skis.  You can pick these out because they have a little "button" scar on the sidewall where the foam was injected.  These skis lose their camber over time and the core material can break down.

Don't skimp on the kids.

It can be difficult to spend money on kid's equipment when you know they are going to outgrow it in a season.  However we strongly recommend you buy the best you can afford for junior, whether it's new or used.  Why?  A few reasons.  

First, if you want your children to enjoy skiing, they need equipment they will be successful in.  Second, kids equipment is a hot commodity and your chances of recovering a good portion of your investment is high.  We host a Junior Ski Swap every November where you can buy and sell kid's nordic equipment, and it is always well attended.  Third: your kids are probably in better shape than you are, who are we kidding ;)

child cross country skiing

Ask yourself: is it worth it?

Keep in mind that a brand new quality recreational ski package will set you back about $300.  That includes current boots and bindings, skis, and poles.  Plus mounting and waxing included.  This will get you the latest in ski and binding technology and a warm, comfortable boot.  So before you hand over money for used equipment, make sure it's worth it!

The final, and best, tip.

Make friends with local racers.  They don't need much of an excuse to upgrade their equipment and are usually keen to make some of that money back by selling their used - but high quality - gear.  Plus they are usually more than happy to share their extensive knowledge of all things nordic, and you may just find yourself (or your child) a mentor.

Ski racers watching kids cross country ski

cross country skiing kids

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  • Hi Joe,
    Unfortunately, unless you have the matching bindings, boots that old are not worth much regardless of condition. It can be difficult sourcing matching bindings. Call around and see if you can find bindings to match, and then you can ask a better price for the boots.
    - the Eb’s team

    ebsadventure on
  • Old style cross country ski boots. I have just purchased some items at an estate sale. Some of these are what appears to be older cross country ski boots, still in their boxes, never worn I believe. They seem to be 1980’s-1990’s, I am guessing. Any idea of these would retain a value

    Joe Tomko on
  • Hi Heather,
    If your Fischer skis still have enough camber to them so they still fit you, you can definitely mount new bindings and get new boots. Being 80’s skis, they will be set up for a direct mount binding (binding screws directly into the ski deck).. these are harder to find nowadays but not impossible. Your other option is to purchase a plate and binding combination: you need a plate that can mount onto the ski deck and the compatible binding to slide onto the plate. Most bindings nowadays are this type. One thing to note: new xc ski boots by any major manufacturer are made with an NNN style (2 grooves) sole, so if you’re looking at used boots/bindings, make sure they are this system.
    Hope this helps,
    -the Eb’s team

    ebsadventure on
  • Hi there, after 30 years of alpine skiing, I am rekindling my former passion for X-Country Skiing. I used to race at provincial levels back in the late 80’s and had the best Fischer carbon core skate skis you could buy at the time. I could never part with them and now would like to get new boots and bindings. How easy is it to switch out bindings these days? I’m generally not good at tossing ‘perfectly good’ items and with Covid last year I know there has been a shortage of equipment. Would love to get back on these old ones. As long as they are safe, I don’t care if they look dated.

    Do you have any advice for me?

    Heather Manning on
  • Hi Julie,
    Some wooden skis are great. You’re looking for ones that still have some camber left. Wood skis tend to be slower (softer, heavier) than fiberglass skis and give you more grip, but that’s often just fine with newbies ;). The maintenance is different: you need to get them tarred when the bases start looking like raw wood.
    -the Eb’s team

    ebsadventure on

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