Why would people plod over the snow on snowshoes when they could glide on cross country skis? That's a question Nordic Touring Center operators have been asking themselves for more than five years as snowshoeing came from nowhere to become one of the fastest growing winter sports.
Now, a significantly different new ski from Fischer is causing people to take a second look at cross country skis.
"I see the Nordic Cruiser line as the ski that's bringing back people who gave up and went to snowshoeing," said Antonio Marxuach, an instructor at the Steamboat Ski Touring Center.
Marxuach said aging baby boomers who were looking for a gentler sport than Alpine skiing formerly had a difficult time making the transition to cross country skis. The narrow skis and the loose-heel bindings made the skis seem far more difficult to balance on than the relative security of Alpine skis with their metal edges.
"There was a lack of edge control, and people were completely intimidated by downhills," Marxuach said.
The Nordic Cruiser line is restoring much of that feeling of lost stability. The skis are both shorter and wider than traditional cross country skis. That makes them easy to stand on and easy to maneuver. And although they offer the simplicity of a waxless kick zone, they don't sacrifice as much speed and gliding ability as old school waxless skis.
Todd Givnish, who works at Ski Haus, said the difference in length between classic cross country skis and the new Cruisers can be as much as 35 centimeters.
There are only three sizes of Cruisers, Givnish said -- small medium and large. The right length for a particular skier depends not on their height, but on their weight. The goal is to match the stiffness of the ski to the skier so that their weight is just sufficient to flatten the kick zone on the ski, giving proper traction on the snow.
"Anybody who weighs 142 pounds or less, we'll put them on a 160-centimeter ski, Givnish said. "Before, they might have been on a 195-centimeter ski."
The skis are modestly priced -- in the $215 to $230 range. Marxuach and Givnish agree they pretty much sell themselves after customers take them for a trial ride.
"For beginners, they are perfect," Kyrill Kretzschmar said. "Everything is easier on Nordic Cruisers."
Like Marxuach, Kretzschmar is an instructor at the Touring Center. He's also a former member of the German national team and a World Cup racer. More recently, he coached at Denver University.
Marxuach observed that the skating style of cross country has drawn the most attention from athletic skiers during the past decade. But he thinks classic style offers many advantages for training. Skating demands a high level of energy just to move across the snow, but classic allows racers a better chance to dial down the intensity of their workouts.
Ironically, classic is easier to get started in and harder to excel in, while skating is harder to get started in and easier to excel at.
"If they give me the option, I always start beginners on classic" technique, Marxuach said.
Skate skiing offers power and speed, but it's virtually worthless in the backcountry surrounding Steamboat, he said, and the Nordic Cruiser is the easiest way to get into the sport of cross country skiing.
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