Choosing The Right Skis For The Vasaloppet

December 4, 2023

Skin skis, double pole skis, or traditional classic skis: What should I choose for the Vasaloppet? The expert Erik Wickström has a clear recommendation.

Skin skis, double pole skis, or traditional classic skis? The right ski for the Vasaloppet and other long races depends on the type of skier you are, and each type has its advantages. But who should choose which type of ski?

Madshus sat down with Vasaloppet guru Erik Wickström about how to choose the right ski for the Vasaloppet, different types of skis, and which types of skis are suitable for different types of skiers.

Wickström has written several books on cross-country skiing and training, equipment, gives lectures, and hosts the podcast "Lagom Kondition" aimed at beginners and recreational skiers. Now, he also offers training guidance to athletes at all levels through his company, Wickström Coaching.

How to Choose the Right Ski
Skin skis, double pole skis, or traditional classic skis? The right ski for the Vasaloppet depends on the type of skier you are, and Wickström emphasizes that each type has its advantages.

Here, he discusses all three types of skis used in long-distance skiing.

Photo by: Nordic Focus

Skin Skis
Wickström started using skin skis as early as 2011 and believes it's entirely possible to go very fast on today's generation. 

“A lot has happened in the past 10-15 years. Skin skis glide mostly as well as other competitive skis, and they provide a secure grip. I actually think that skin skis are the best option for perhaps 80-90 percent of those who are going to ski the Vasaloppet, he says.

Wickström knows what he is talking about. He finished 11th in the elite class on skin skis in the 2019 Holmenkollmarsjen. To our knowledge, he is the only one who has qualified for the elite wave in the Vasaloppet on skin skis.

However, Wickström points out that skin skis have some limitations.

“When I did Holmenkollmarsjen on skin skis, I saw that I had just as good glide as everyone else downhill. But skin skis are not as fast when you switch tracks and when you go up on your toes to make a new pole plant. Double pole skis are superior in that regard, as that is precisely what they are developed for,” he says.

Double Pole Skis
Double pole skis are the segment in cross-country skiing that is growing the most. There are good reasons for that, according to Wickström.

Firstly, both the tracks and the skis have improved, but people also train differently.

“There are many more recreational skiers who roller ski a lot throughout the summer and fall, and then there is a lot of skating. Many have also started training on a ski machine. It's completely different now than just a couple of decades ago,” says Wickström.

In 2013, Jørgen Aukland became the first to win Vasaloppet on using skis entirely without kick wax, and Laila Kveli did the same when she won the women’s category in 2014. They used traditional classic skis. But shortly after this, ski manufacturers started working purposefully on developing classic skis specifically for double poling. Today, all major manufacturers offer dedicated double pole skis, or so-called DP skis, in their range.

The advantage of double pole skis is that they are developed specifically to be fast for double poling.

“They are quite similar in construction to regular classic skis, but they have a harder end span: meaning they feel quite soft, but it's hard to compress the very last bit. That gives a wonderful sensation of speed,” says Wickström, continuing:

“I think you notice the biggest difference between traditional classic skis and pure skate skis when you double pole with high intensity, especially in uphill sections. Then, double pole skis feel more agile than traditional classic skis. The feeling is amplified by the fact that double pole skis are often shorter. That delivers a unique feeling of speed.”

Wickström adds that double pole skis should not be confused with skate skis, even though both types of skis are designed for use without grip wax.

“Skate skis can work for some in certain situations, but they are constructed completely differently than double pole skis, and most people will find that skate skis are too stiff. They may work okay initially, but over time, they tend to become cumbersome to ski on, explains Wickström, who has previously participated in long-distance races on skate skis.”

Wickström also adds that you may not need to buy new double pole skis even if you have decided to double pole.

“Depending on the flex, traditional classic skis can also work as double pole skis. So, if you're a recreational skier curious about trying out double poling, I would recommend experimenting with the skis you already have. If you find that they work okay for double poling, you don't need to buy double pole skis,” he says.

Traditional Classic Skis
Even though more and more people double pole the Vasaloppet and other long races, or choose skin skis if they want grip, Wickström is clear that traditional classic skis still have a place.

“They are still a bit faster than skin skis. So those who participate in the World Cup and traditional elite-level cross-country skiing definitely need regular classic skis. But for a small group of those who double pole the Vasaloppet and long races, they are also the best choice for those who care about times, like to use diagonal stride, or don't want to double pole the entire way, traditional classic skis are the way to go,” Wickström says.

A significant drawback of traditional classic skis is waxing, especially when conditions vary between the start and finish.

“In the Vasaloppet, it can often be minus ten degrees at the start and several degrees above freezing when you finish. Then it's challenging to find wax that will work for the entire race. You definitely need to have a good understanding of waxing or access to a good waxing team,” Wickström says.

So, in summary: Which type of ski suits which type of skier?
“Most people should choose skin skis. But don't forget to choose a binding that you can move without taking off your skis. Move the binding forward from the balance point to get better grip and backward for better glide. I think this will be right for the majority of those who are going to ski the Vasaloppet. They glide just as well as double pole skis and traditional skis, and you don't have to worry about grip wax. Those who care about times and believe they will go faster by double poling the entire Vasaloppet, and who aim to be able to double pole the entire Vasaloppet, should choose double pole skis, says Wickström, adding:“And then there is a very small percentage of skiers who should choose traditional classic skis. Those who think times are important but don't want or can't double pole the entire Vasaloppet.”