CROSS-COUNTRY SKIS UNDERGO A SIGNIFICANT REDESIGN

Three years ago, Fischer changed the American cross-country ski market when it introduced the Revolution, a fat, short cross-country ski (147 cm, about 4 ft., 10 in.) that worked. Nearly two feet shorter than traditional cross-country skis, it was more maneuverable but also had surprisingly good gliding and climbing properties. Its purpose was to shorten the learning curve and speed the fun factor for newcomers.

''And it did exactly what it was supposed to,'' claims Fischer's Nordic product manager Peter Ashley. Today, 30 percent of Fischer's cross-country ski sales are in the Revolution group, and their sales continue to rise while other groups are down. Fifty-five percent of the United States Cross Country Ski Areas Association's members now rent short skis, up from 35 percent two years ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making everyone a cross-country skier. Accomplished skiers found they liked the new skis, and today nearly every major brand has a stable of short skis for experienced skiers: skaters, classic striders, on-track, off-track, back country, and more.

Meanwhile, three new developments have entered ''the revolution'': Lengths have modified back up a bit (160-180 cm), with new mid-length touring skis like the Rossignol Tempo BC, Fischer's Revolution Touring or, for entry-level skiers, the Control. ''Cap ski'' design has spilled over from Alpine skis - a three-sided cap encloses the ski's core to add strength and precision while saving weight. And new lightweight boot-binding systems are providing sturdier support than did the soft-shanked, three-pin systems of yore.

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