Examining cross-country boots and bindings

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Ah, how simple yesterday appears from the vantage point of today. At least, it does if you're talking about cross-crountry ski boots and bindings. Time was when you bought a cable binding and a soft leather boot, and that was it. Three-pin toe bindings, fiberglass skis, and prepared tracks alowed for lighter weight and helped popularize the sport.

Technological breakthroughs stemming from racing, a rise in popularity of back-country skiing,and skiing ''downhill'' on cross-country gear over unpacked slopes - all have had important effects on the evolution of boots and bindings. (They also have helped to multiply the kinds of skis available today for particular kinds of skiing, but that's another column.)

Racing helped develop 50 and 38 mm. bindings, which allow skiers more lateral stability and a greater extension onto the ball of the foot during the kick phase of a long stride, compared to the traditional 75 mm. binding. But 50 mm. racing boots were too thin-soled for comfortable warmth for most recreational skiers, and attempts to thicken the soles for touring were generally considered counterproductive in terms of improving stability and performance.

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In the last couple of years the idea of an integrated boot-and-binding system , as developed by Salomon, has caught on with performance-minded skiers, particularly those who ski and race in prepared tracks and want maximum lateral support and better gripping potential on ice. The disadvantage, of course, is that your boots are married to your bindings forever.

Some experts say the integrated boot-and-binding is the way to go for performance-oriented skiers. Generally, however, the standard 75 mm. binding and boot - low-top for track skiing, high-top for back-country - are the choice of most skiers today.

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