What Is a Sidecut on Nordic Skis?

The deeper the sidecut, the more easily a ski turns.
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The sidecut is ski’s curved cut located mid-ski, and the shape of this cut is easy to see when you look directly down at the ski from above when it's flat on the ground. When the edges of a ski are as straight as a narrow wooden plank, it has little to no sidecut. A ski shaped like Marilyn Monroe -- a classic hourglass -- has a deeper sidecut. Nordic or cross-country skiing covers different styles, ranging from a tour on groomed tracks to a glide through rugged backcountry. Depending on your preferred style, you can choose a Nordic ski with more or less sidecut.

Nordic Skiing

    Nordic or cross-country skiing covers a spectrum of ski sports which includes traditional, skate, light touring and backcountry, according to “Basic Illustrated Cross-Country Skiing” by J. Scott McGee. All of these cross-country sports use boots that attach to skis at only the toe and leave your heel free. In contrast, alpine skiers use fixed heels. Nordic skiing arose from tending to life’s necessities, ranging from fetching wood in the middle of winter to escaping from an enemy in a war. Compared to clunky downhill gear, the boots and skis used for Nordic skiing are lightweight and more practical to walk around in.

History of the Sidecut

    In the 1860s, Sondre Norheim developed the sidecut – wider tips and tails and narrower waists – for skis, according to “Adventure Sport Physiology” by Nick Draper and Christopher Hodgson. Given this innovation of a ski’s shape, skiers could more readily perform dynamic turns in the snow. The purpose of skiing then began to shift from a mode of transport to a popular sport. While the sidecut for alpine skis evolved to become more extreme for carving turns, the sidecut for Nordic or cross-country skis remained minimal.

Amount of Sidecut

    As opposed to speeding downhill, the focus of Nordic skiing is to travel over distances through the snow. Skis with little sidecut are more suited for striding or gliding along a straight path in which you use a kick-and-glide motion. Minimal sidecut helps you to keep your skis on the tracks. If you’re skiing in backcountry with obstacles, such as trees or hills, and in deeper snow, use metal-edged skis with more sidecut for control and easier turning. In addition, the skis should be wider to achieve greater flotation. If you’re going to ski on groomed tracks, be aware that cross-country touring places may forbid the use of metal-edged skis.

Carving Versus Skidding

    When touring backcountry, skiers tend to use skis with more sidecut, which helps you to carve a turn by simply tipping your skis onto their edges. When you perform such a turn, the tails of your skis will follow the track created by the tips. If you’re gliding on straight skis with minimal sidecut, you’ll typically use skidded turns. To perform a skidded turn, you have to use your legs and feet to simultaneously turn the skis forward and sideways. Imagine skidding across a waxed floor in thick socks. You have to pivot your feet sideways in relation to the direction you’re heading.

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