Ins and outs of the new cross-country ski boots

If you're buying cross-country ski boots this season, you could be confronted with enough choices to overload a computer, let alone just a simple Nordic skier.

Until the last couple of years, most modern cross-country skiers used boots with a common toe width -- 75 mm. -- and bindings to fit. Then a new boot concept grew popular with racers. This featured a narrow forward extension of the boot sole. Instead of a pin binding clamping around your toes, the new smaller and lighter "norm 50 mm." or 38 mm. pin bindings could grasp the new boot extensions in front of your toes.

The design allows much greater control on prepared tracks, said a growing army of racers and expert skiers. Moreover, it permits a very full stride. A racer can go clear up on his or her toes after a kick.

Better control and performance brought a deluge of new norm 50 and 38 mm. boots onto the market. Designed originally for racing, however, they featured a very stiff nylon composite sole, which also was very thin (7 mm.), cold, and slippery.

So this season, there are no less than 66 "touring" versions of the "norm 50" boot, according to Nordic Skiing magazine. Generally, these include a thicker ( 12 mm.), less slippery and warmer sole (rubber or polyurethane, the same as used in traditional 75 mm. boots).

Unfortunately, the durability of this thicker, softer material when put under the stress of the "norm 50" design is somewhat in question. The performance of these new touring boots is also said to be more like a 75 mm. boot than the racing "norm 50." And cross-country skiers who revel in downhill runs are said to prefer the 75 mm. boot.

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