Nordic Skis Are the New Toilet Paper

Who knew they'd go from niche to normal in such a short time?

cross country skis

K Martinko

When I decided to give my oldest son a pair of cross-country skis (also known as Nordic skis) for Christmas this year, I thought the process would be straightforward. I called the local outfitter and requested his size, only to be told they were sold out, and had been since October.

"Where do you recommend I go?" I asked the salesperson, who hesitated and told me that all the outfitters and sporting gear retailers in the region were in the same situation. I tried anyway, and she was right. Not a single Nordic ski or boot in a common size was left in southwestern Ontario. 

One employee at Garb & Gear in Owen Sound, ON, told me that he's even seeing people bring in decades-old skis with 3-pin bindings and asking him to convert them to new bindings. "I haven't seen those in years!" he laughed over the phone. "People are desperate."

I searched ski swap pages on Facebook, only to discover that every item sells within minutes of posting. I messaged a few serious skier friends to see if I could shop their surplus inventory, and while they had a few things that didn't fit, they both told me, "Good luck finding something. It's the new toilet paper."

This was fascinating (not to mention frustrating) to me. Just a few years ago, cross-country skiing was barely on people's radar – at least, the people with whom I socialized. When I signed my kids up for the Jackrabbits program to learn how to cross-country ski last year, my move was met with some light derision by a few friends who thought it was "nerdy" and "why didn't I put them in downhill skiing or snowboarding instead?"

I couldn't care less about the coolness factor – and my children love Jackrabbits – but this year, a gleeful part of me deep down is thinking, "Ha, told you so!" Because now everyone wants to cross-country ski. The coronavirus pandemic has created conditions in which people suddenly realize the appeal of being outside in the forest, on a solitary groomed trail, getting a phenomenal workout while enjoying the snowy winter weather. All of a sudden, everything about cross-country skiing is exactly what we want and crave. 

A similar buying frenzy happened earlier this year with bicycles. Demand for mountain bikes, road bikes, and cargo bikes surged as people realized that the only way they'd get outside safely for both pleasure and transportation was if they owned their own set of wheels. Skis are no different than bikes, though limited to snowy regions.

Those skinny waxed sticks, once viewed as hard-to-store dust-gatherers, now represent freedom. With Ontario entering a full lockdown immediately after Christmas, and no gyms or pools or skating rinks or indoor ball courts open, owning a pair of cross-country skis could spell the difference between going stir-crazy and doing well.

CBC reported a few weeks ago that many retirees, who would normally leave Canada around this time of year and head south to Florida, are buying skis as a way to stay active throughout a winter that they're forced to spend at home. Many others are trying cross-country skiing for the first time because it's a safe sport with a fairly low bar for entry – most people can do it, at all ages, different fitness levels, and physical abilities.

boys on skis
My kids caught the cross-country ski bug a few years ago, and now love it.

K Martinko

Eventually I did locate a pair of skis and boots that fit my son, at an outfitter four hours from my house. Fortunately my mother lives nearby and was able to pick them up, but without her help I am not sure what I would've done. 

I've said this before and I'll say it again: This pandemic has changed the way I view sporting gear and surplus household belongings in general. I've gone from being something of a minimalist to a reluctant maximalist, realizing that owning skis, scooters, hockey sticks, basketballs, board games, craft supplies, puzzles, toys, and innumerable books is what will keep my family sane and entertained throughout the upcoming weeks. 

I don't know what will happen with the Jackrabbits program over the next month(s?) of lockdown, but one thing's for sure – my kids and I will be hitting the trails on our skis, getting fresh air and exercise as long as there's snow, and having a lot of fun while we're at it. Thank goodness we have them.