Picking the right cross-country ski for you

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It seems like only a couple of years ago (actually it was more like four of five) that I observed a test of waxless cross-country skis. The test was sponsored by the Trak ski company, and the results at that time confirmed the concerns of many of the testers. With the exception of Trak's and a few other waxless models, there was ''a lot of junk on the market,'' as one tester succinctly concluded.

In a few short years the situation has changed radically. Technology in ski making and the way people ski have combined to put enough different kinds of waxable and waxless skis in front of consumers to confuse even knowledgeable skiers.

The good part is that skis generally are much better. The hard part is having to know better than ever what kind of skier you are and what kind of skiing you will predominately indulge in. Do you want a waxable ski ''because the best skiers wax,'' even though you live where there are severe temperature changes and you mainly use your skis for short jaunts in limited time frames? Then you might do more skiing and less waxing and scraping by buying one of the fine new waxless bases now available.

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You need a ski shop with a good Nordic department for guidance through the maze of waxable versus waxless, straight-cut versus side-cut, narrow light touring versus wider touring, even general touring versus all the new metal-edged skis. The latter are used increasingly for downhill skiing on Nordic equipment, but even these models are becoming subdivided into ''backcountry'' and ''packed slopes.''

Keep it simple, and don't forget why you wanted the slippery things in the first place. And remember, the less experienced the skier, the softer flexing ski he or she generally wants. Rarely do even experts want a ski that requires more pressure than one's body weight to flatten the ski's camber to the floor.

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