The difference between cross-country skis and downhill skis.

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"The difference between cross-country skis and downhill skis."
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Snow acts like a form of sound insulation when it accumulates on the ground and tree branches. It is early in the morning and cold, the skiers are unloading their gear and the snow muffles the noise and their conversation. There is a light snowfall this morning and the crisp flakes rustle as they fall through the pine trees.

The path through the tall pine trees is visible but snow covered. Whoever is the first to start down the path will be "breaking trail" for those following behind. When skiing cross-country, "breaking trail" means to be the first down the path through the fresh snow, making the parallel tracks that others can follow. The trail breaker has to work somewhat harder than those following as he pushes through the fresh snow.

As the party moves down the trail they pass an area where the snow has been cleared roughly. The deer kick the snow away to get down to the pine straw and bed down together at night. Early in the morning the deer rise and forage for breakfast. Their paw prints are slowly being covered by the new snow.

The skiers are moving silently, enjoying the quiet scenery and effort that cross-country skiing engenders. They will stop around the mid-point of the trail for a drink and a snack, and then continue until they end up back at the start.

Cross-country skis tend to be longer than the downhill variety, with a slight arch in the center under the foot location. The skis are waxed, like their downhill brethren, but this wax is intended to act to gain traction, not provide smooth slipperiness.

The cross-country ski boot looks very much like a tennis shoe with an extended tab in the toe area. This tab is anchored to the skis but it is a flexible connection; the heel is free to rise and fall with the stride used when skiing.

Ski poles are nearly the same as the downhill pole, although they may be slightly longer. They are used to assist the skier in moving down the trail. The "diagonal stride" is the classic cross-country skiing move. The "snow plow" method of turning and stopping that is used in teaching beginning downhill skiers is the classic means of turning and stopping when cross-country skiing.

Many people who enjoy the outdoors, those who enjoy hiking, have found cross-country skiing a means of exercise and hiking in winter. This is a means of enjoying the snow and outdoors without paying for, and waiting at, a ski lift.

For those who prefer the thrill of speeding down a steep hill over the quiet serenity of a fresh trail through the woods, there is downhill skiing.

Downhill skis will be wider and much sturdier than the cross-country variety. Designed to effect a turn by getting on the edge, the downhill ski typically has metal edges. The bindings that anchor the ski boots to the ski are critical in reducing injury should the skier fall. When the skier falls (note this was not termed as "if" he falls) the binding must release. Failing to release would subject the skier's knees to an injurious twisting motion. However, because the skier controls his speed and direction by rolling his skis on their edges the binding must hold the boot in place during maneuvers.

Unlike the cross-country ski boot, the downhill boot is made of a hard plastic material and fit very tightly. They are designed to position the skier's feet correctly and to transfer the control movements the skier makes through the bindings to the skis. Finally the ski poles used for downhill are shorter and used for balance and assisting in turns.

Thus prepared the downhill skier purchased a lift ticket and rides to the top of the mountain. Once in place he pushes off and proceeds down the mountain, rolling his skis from side as he takes a serpentine path down the mountain.

With the arrival of winter the active person will want to find some release to stay active. Skiing, either cross-country or downhill, is an excellent means of keeping in shape and enjoying the winter season. Some hot buttered rum or spiced wine after a day of skiing is the perfect end to a perfect day.

More about this author: James Villano

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