Physics of Cross Country Skiing


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Cross Country Skiing has existed since prehistoric times. The oldest pair of skis were found to be over 4500 years old. Skiing was used as a way to travel or hunt during the winter season. The skis were designed not so much for speed but to keep the skier on top of the snow. Traditionally, the skis were made of wood, the poles were made of bamboo with leather hand straps. The boots were also made of tough leather and were fastened to the skis with sinew made from animal hides. Skiing was believed to have originated from the Scandinavian countries and this fact is complimented by active skiing lifestyle that we see today. When a man by the name of Jackrabbit Johansson came to North America in 1900, he introduced skiing to locals.

Skiing has evolved into a sport that has been proven to be one of the most physically demanding compared to any other sport. In Scandinavia, it is a way for families to connect with each other on the weekends, and to give the children some way to spend their endless energy during the week. Coming from Canada, I noticed that the American school system incorporates sports such as cross country skiing into the curricular activities. This is a good way to give students the option to explore their physical capabilities which may lead them to an active lifestyle or may even lead them to Olympic success. Just being outside brings about a positive mood, especially if you are out with your friends andjust having a good time.Cross Country Skiing is a lifelong sport that anyone can enjoy because the excitement can bring you up to levels you never thought possible.

Wax is used in Cross Country Skiing to reduce the amount of contact between the skis and snow, or to produce the proper friction to help the skier propel him-/herself forward.
Glide wax is applied to the base of the skis (but not in the 'kick-wax zone') which is in the most contact with the snow. This enables the skier to travel at faster speeds. This part of the ski is always in contact with the snow.Most glide-waxes contain a substance called paraffin which is insoluble with water (meaning that the was will remain on the skis the entire duration of your excursion!)

There are two types of glide wax: hard and soft wax

The hard wax is generally used in colder temperatures because it provides a good resistance to the firm cold ice crystals.

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Soft wax contains petroleum-based products and paraffin substances which help to be highly resistant to water. This wax even provides an uneven surface which allows the ski base to break the suction created between the water and ski.

Fluorocarbon wax is manufactured and sold by companies at high prices because it makes water act in a 'slippery way'.

Kick-wax is applied to the skis for the classical technique to act like a 'skin'. The kick-wax is only applied to an area on the base about 4-6 inches in front of the toe and a range under the foot the reaches just under the heel.

There are two types of kick-wax: hard-wax and klister.
Hard-wax is used for new, fine grained snow and klister is used for old, coarser snow.


Sam Colbeck puts the perfect mental image as to what the kick-wax and klister actually do. He stated that "they look like fingers hanging down from the base of the ski". He went further on to say that he believed when a skier thrusts down and initializes the kick-zone, the fingers reach into the snow and lock themselves into the ice crystals beneath.

Skiers like the idea of friction when they are trying to climb to the top of a steep hill. In order for a skier to move on a pair of skis, he/she must first overcome the coefficiant of static friction. Once this is done, it is possible for the skier apply a certain amount of constant force in order to remain in motion. Idealistically, the skier wants grip for the hills and fast glide for the flats and the downhills. In order to have a proper diagonal stride, the skier must be able to tranfers his/her weight well. The weight transfer means that the skier shifts his/her weight on to one ski to be able to depress the ski into the track (to get good kick!) while the other ski is able to glide freely with very little frictional forces.

One of the most prominent equations used in Physics today is the equation, F = ma. To excell in Cross Country Skiing, you need to apply a forward force and one that is strong enough to overcome the kinetic force of friction, F(friction) = μF(normal). This constant force of friction that acts in the oppostie direction of travel helps to stabilize the skier while he/she is trying to maintain good skiing form.

Snow is a form of precipitation that falls from the clouds during the winter. It is a granular material which means that it has an open structure. Once it hits the ground it remains there until it melts or it becomes interlaced with the other snowflakes to form 'snowpack' because it settles under its own weight. New snow that falls usually has a density of 5%-15% of water. Dry snow has a lower density because it has more spaces between the arms of the snowflake. Depending on the climate and the temperatures/physical processes within the cloud will affect the shape the snowflakes will take.





The types of snow that most skiers have to deal with are:

artificial snow--made using a hose with a special valv that pumps out high pressured water to create tiny granuled snowflakes)
Snow Cannon





Corn snow--this is a course granular snow



Packing snow--this is snow which is at or near melting point



New snow--snow that has just landed from the sky


Slush--snow melts upon reaching the ground or is melted by the sun above the snow pack.



Snow is becoming more and more of a delicacy these days. As climate change takes its affect on the world, cross country ski enthusiasts have to migrate towards the poles. At the highest level of cross country skiing, the world cup racers usually have to race on artificial snow which is quite a bit harder than regular snow (because the snow crystals have shorter 'arms' than the traditional snow that falls from the sky). What is the future of cross country skiing? Will we all end using roller skis and end up skiing on pavement?

The construction of ski bases consists of a complex recipe which requires components such as glass fiber, kevlar and other polymers. The bases of the skis were originally added with carbon (the reason why they are black) to help reduce the electro shock attraction between the snow and skis which slows the skis down.







New research suggests that the black base may help absorb more sunlight which melts the snow thereby providing a thin water layer between the snow and ski. In warm temperatures, a black base may prove to slow the ski down but in colder temperatures, this may increase the speed that the ski can travel at.





Skis vary in terms of flex, camber, and length. When someone wants to purchase a pair of skis, their weight, height, and overall ability are the determining factors. The camber is the upward arch in the middle of the ski which helps to distribute the weight evenly along the length of the ski. Classic skis have a double camber (meaning a higher arch) and this helps to keep the wax pocket from the snow when the skier is gliding. When the skier kicks, the arch in the ski is depressed down to the snow to allow the wax pocket to come in contact with the snow.



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