How to go up to the hill without slipping and how to go down the hill as fast as possible. The solution of this two oppositely standing factors is the long-lived problem of cross-country skiers. The wax was the solution for years, but then the other problem arose. How to spend less time in the wax room with skis preparation and spend actually more time outside skiing. Hence, the invention of waxless cross country skis was an inevitable step forward. However, the evolution of waxless skis technology is still ongoing and we are moving from scale patterns via skins to twin skins cross country skis. Let’s look at the advantages of different types of waxless cross country skis.
Waxable Cross Country Skis
Before we move to waxless cross-country skis, we need to start with waxable cross-country skis. They are still used by professional cross-country racers. Professionals need to adjust the skis to any small difference in snow and weather conditions. Usually, they have a team of servicemen ready to help them during the practice and race. Generally, this is not a viable solution for recreational skiers. Using waxable skis means you have to spend a time in wax-room before skiing. You need to know what wax to use and how to apply it. You have to re-wax your skis on long backcountry trips because of wax wearing off or change in snow condition on the trail. Moreover, if you choose the wax poorly you will hate the skiing that day.
Waxless Cross Country Skis
Waxless cross country skis was a step in the right direction for every recreational skier. At least they save time spent in wax-room before skiing. Currently, there are three basic technologies used on waxless cross-country skis: Scale or Fish pattern, Skin, and Twin Skins.
Scale Pattern Waxless Cross Country Skis
Scale (or fish) pattern at the bottom of the cross-country skis was at the beginning of waxless cross country skis era. The crown pattern introduced by Fischer in 1976 was the first universal climbing system. The pattern works in every snow and weather condition. The scale pattern is placed at the bottom in the middle section (under the binding plate) of the skis. The pattern provides the necessary grip and reduces the backward slide of the ski when going up the hill.
However, the negative side of the pattern was the reduction of the speed when going down. The grip which prevents slipping in climbing reduced the speed substantially.
Fortunately, the developers went further in modifying the pattern shape to improve the kick and slide behavior of skis. Currently, the profile of pattern is tuned to provide maximum kick effect and smooth gliding in every snow condition. The difference in speed between waxable and waxless skis is still visible, but the comfort when climbing levels it.
Another important point is the durability of the scale pattern. It should hold on for many hours, days and months of skiing. It is probable that your skis will be outmoded when your pattern wears definitely off. However, it has to be noted, that if you damage the scale pattern on a rocky trail, the repair of the skid with a pattern is very difficult and in many cases impossible.
Skin and Twin Skins Waxless Cross Country Skis
As we already mentioned the evolution of waxless cross country skis is still ongoing. Ski companies are trying to improve the gliding effect and save the climbing one. The next step was an introduction of Skin Waxless Cross Country Skis which was followed by Twin Skins Skis.
Skin strip is usually made from mohair or combination of mohair (65%) and nylon (35%). The strip gives you additional grip or improves your kick action when climbing. Furthermore, the skin strip improves the glide comparing to scale pattern and can be used for any snow or weather condition.
The strips are not as durable as scale patterns but still should last for hours of skiing. The exact time till they wear off depends on the trails you ski on. For example, Madshus says their Intelligrip Skin lasts for hundreds of hours.
In contrary to the scale pattern, the skins can be replaced after they are worn off. The replacement is pretty easy. Usually, you do not need anything (no glue, no wax iron) to put a new skin on your skis. You have to remove old skin, clean off the skid and stick the new skin. Replacement skins have the glue on them, so just remove the plastic cover.
There are also a lot of ski skin care products (skin cleaner or anti-ice skin wipes) for prolonging the durability of skins.
Some of the companies went further in skins technology and introduced twin skins technology. They applied two separate skin strips to a ski instead of one skin strip. Two separate skin strips are arranged parallelly in offset positions with variable base depths. This setup should improve gliding skills and kick slides when skiing.
The development of cross-country skis is fast in recent years. As a recreational skier, you probably do not have a better choice than waxless cross country skis. The professional skier will always prefer personalized preparation of skis with wax for subtle changes in snow and weather conditions. However, the recreational one can afford the luxury of a waxless solution. Less time spent in wax-room means more time on skis in nature and decreased the chance for error in picking the right wax. Waxless cross country skis are a natural choice for beginners and even advanced cross-country skiers.
The choice between scale pattern and skis with skins is harder. The better gliding with skins (or twin skins) points to skins cross-country skis at least for advanced skiers. We will see what will be the trend in the coming years. I would say that twin skins skis is not the last word of skis engineers.