Author Topic: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie  (Read 2867 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« on: October 24, 2017, 02:23:25 PM »
Hello Mustachians,

I live in the Northeast. This winter, I am thinking of taking up cross country skiing. I will be skiing for the first time. I can downhill ski, but, not very good at it.

With that in mind,

1. How much should I be spending on the following equipment. Since this is something I want to do for next few years, I don't mind investing some money into good equipment.

 - Skis
- Boots
- Poles
- bindings

2. Is it better to buy new? if so, what are good places to buy this? is it better to buy online or in store? I have EMS and Dick's nearby.

3. If buying used, where would I buy it?

4. What are some important things to look for in the ski's - length/size?

5. Are there any DIY videos to learn skiing on my own?

6. Any tips on attire, jacket, gloves?

Thank you all!

Morning Glory

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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #1 on: October 24, 2017, 02:36:45 PM »
I bought my set for $20 used from someone who was moving south. Boots are slightly too big but I see replacement as a low priority as I only use them a few times per year. Mine are Rossignol waxless traditional skis. You may want to rent skis a few times before buying to see if you prefer traditional or skate skis. Also if you are doing any back country skiing (not on groomed trails) you want a ski that is a bit shorter and wider than the ones meant for going fast on groomed trails. If you buy used just try to get them from someone the same height and weight as you.

For other gear you will want a lightweight waterproof jacket and trousers, and warm gloves and a hat. I usually wear a long sleeve shirt underneath so I can take my jacket off if I get hot.


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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #2 on: October 24, 2017, 02:52:56 PM »
If you can get them used, skis and boots can be had very cheaply.  A good pair of skis and boots will last you years and years.  The only real reason to buy new is simply that you can't find any used equipment in your size.

I started cross-country skiing with my family at 6.  I can't help you regarding how to do it . . . My parents showed me how to at 6 and it's just second nature to me.

As far as stuff to wear, the key (as with most high intensity winter sports) is to wear stuff that lets you stay warm without cooking.  Ideally you want a jacket that has zips all over for ventilation.  You want breathable gloves and hat.  Whether or not you need much more than this depends on what temperatures are like while you're skiing.  It was -30 to -40 most of the winter where I used to go cross country skiing and I didn't wear much more than that for 2 - 3 hours (but you have to keep moving).

If you're just learning you will be going slowly and regular winter stuff should be fine  . . .  any jacket, gloves, hat, ski-pants or long underwear/heavy pants combo is a good idea.

Lady SA

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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2017, 03:49:42 PM »
I was a varsity XC skier/racer and community coach, so I've been skiing for quite a few years (12 years give or take). Keep in mind my advice is coming from someone who values good equipment and is an advanced skier, and I'm generalizing a lot of advice I give to my students (I don't know your exact circumstances or level of knowledge or direction you want to go in). Sorry for the novel coming up, I want to be thorough as I see a lot of new skiers getting in way over their heads.

For basic knowledge, there are two XC ski techniques: skate (kind of like ice skating) and classic (the traditional shuffle with parallel skis in a track). Those two styles have different equipment needs, or you can go down the middle and get equipment that will work for both techniques (which is what I recommend). For recreational skiing, you want flexibility and stability and don't care so much about speed, so "combi" (made for use for both techniques) or equipment designed specifically for recreational skiing is perfect for your needs. Don't get caught up in getting fancy equipment.

I always recommend students rent equipment for a season before buying -- make sure you like the sport before you go all in and buy equipment. You can also take lessons and try out the different techniques and see if there is one you like better. I start my students on the classic technique first (it is easier/movements are more natural) before trying skate, so you can center your initial equipment rentals/purchases around classic skiing (like poles, I'll explain below). Skate technique is quite difficult to master unless you ice skate well, and even then, learning the coordination between legs and arms is difficult. I recommend a few lessons when/if you are interested in trying skate.
Some people find they like both, so when they do decide to purchase equipment, they want equipment they can use for both. Others really strongly like one over the other, so they can specialize.

Another thing to note: you don't have to purchase all the equipment at once. You can buy boots, and then rent skis and poles at reduced cost. Then you can get poles, and just rent the skis. Or any other combination. That way you can keep your eye out for deals for all the different bits of equipment pieces you need.

I always have a few tips for newbies:

1. put most of your spend into your boots. If you have uncomfortable feet you will hate skiing. Your boot will then determine the type of binding (there are two binding types) -- so everything depends on what boots you choose.
There are 3 types of boots styled for the different ski techniques: skate boots, classic boots, and "combi" boots. Skate and combi boots have more ankle support. I personally just got a pair of skate boots and use them for classic too because I have weak ankles and need the extra side-to-side support. I would suggest focusing on a skate or combi boot, too, they are more versatile. You can use a skate boot for classic skiing but you can't use a classic boot for skate skiing.
Boot manufacturers also have two binding types, and depending on what boot you ultimately choose, you will pick out the corresponding binding type to attach the boot to your ski. The two types are SNS and NNN -- basically you are either attached with two "pins" or a single "pin". Neither is better than the other, just different.
If you can buy used, that's great, but you will have more options if you go new. I know a few ski shops around me are having sales now before winter sets in.
Put on the boots, tighten them up, and walk around in them for a while. No pinching or discomfort. You will spend a lot of time balancing on the balls of your feet so make sure there is enough stability and comfort. Different manufacturers use different foot molds so try on a bunch of them.

2. skis - just like boots, there are different ski styles based on the technique you do: skate or classic or combi. Skate skis are shorter and flatter and stiffer. Classic skis are longer, bendier, and have a more pronounced lip in the front. Most skis are glide waxed, and competitive classic skiers also use sticky wax under their toes for grip. No sticky wax is used in skate skiing. However, I DONT recommend newbies deal with the headache of sticky wax -- there are way too many variables to get the right amount/type of grip in the different snow conditions. Instead, newbies should look for "fishscale" skis, ones with texture on the bottom which gives you grip and then you never have to deal with sticky waxing (you should still glide wax). Competitive racers don't use fish scales because there is more friction (=slower), but you won't care about that.
Combi fishscale skis will be your best bet. You will be able to skate ski and classic ski with no hassle or frustration.

If you get skis that already have bindings on and they are not the right bindings for your boots, you can buy the proper bindings separately and a shop can install them for you.

3. poles - again, two pole lengths for the different techniques (are you sensing a theme yet?). Skate skiing requires longer poles, about level with your nose or eyes. Skate style skiing involves a lot of power coming from your upper body and longer poles allow for extended power phase. Classic skiing, on the other hand, you need shorter poles, about chest or shoulder level.
Also, the lighter you can get your poles, the better. Heavy aluminum poles really tire your arms out, but aren't a deal breaker. Wrist loops are fine, but even better are the hand/wrist grip things -- your hand and forearm muscles have to do a lot less work to keep your poles attached to you.
I recommend new skiers learn classic really well first before ever trying skate skiing, so I'd just get/rent classic poles and if you decide you love skiing, you can get the second skate pair of poles later.

For your specific questions:

2. If you can buy used, it will save you money. I buy new at a small local ski shop though because I like to support them and they have great service. If anything, I might buy the boots new, but everything else is relatively easy to find used if you know where to look. For new items, I wouldn't go to a big chain retailer. They know almost nothing about XC skiing in my experience. Smaller specialty stores will have much better inventory and better equipment and more knowledgeable, helpful service.

3. for used items, I'd check craigslist, facebook swaps, local ski swaps. You are in the northeast, there is a big ski community there and that means a lot of equipment swapping happens. You just need to inject yourself into the community so you know when these events are occurring. Find facebook groups, google "ski swap in my state", etc. Craigslist should also work fine. Email the seller and ask their general measurements for fit if it isnt included in the ad (see below)

4. Length/weight of skis depends on your height and weight (informs how stiff the ski needs to be). If buying used, just find someone around your same measurements and you should be fine for your purposes. If buying new, they should fit you for your skis (using a fitting board and wax pencils to measure the "pocket" underneath your feet. If someone tries to sell you new skis without properly fitting them and making sure the pocket ratio (half weight to full weight) is correct, run away.

5. I'll look for a few beginner videos and edit this comment to add them.

6. breathable outdoor gear. Non-cotton base layers, mid-layers, jacket, pants, hat, face scarf, gloves/mittens, sunglasses (snow/wind/sun glinting off packed snow in the eyes is pretty brutal). Think like running clothes, the same clothing runners wear in the winter, but add in an extra layer for skiing because half your time you will be gliding and not generating as much heat as you would running.
« Last Edit: October 24, 2017, 04:19:31 PM by Lady SA »


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2017, 06:51:37 PM »
WOW! Lady SA, you have given me the most complete answer I have ever gotten. I truly appreciate you taking the time and being so thorough. This gives me all the information I need.

I am going take your advice and pick Classic skiing. But, I am going to jump in it with both feet and buy new equipment. Usually, when I spend the money, I tend to be committed to it. Skiing is something I always wanted to do, your advice sets me up in the right direction. There is a local ski shop, I will check them out first. Otherwise, visit the REI store.


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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2017, 07:51:41 PM »
I'm primarily a downhill skier, and I've only cross-country-style skied on my parents ancient set of cross country skis (from the 80s, at the earliest), so my answers are informed by this.

Since you are inexperienced, I would very strongly urge you to avoid purchasing new, at least right away, for multiple reasons.

1) If nothing else, it would probably be worth researching a few places with rentals and trying a style or two before you purchase to get an idea of how things should fit and how you feel about various factors. This is an investment in understanding your equipment prefs and needs. This also gives you time to do some internet research on various brands and models.

2) Since you are a novice, presumably your skill level is going to change pretty quickly at first. By purchasing used, you leave yourself room financially to trade around as your skill and preferences change. It also gets you involved in the community, if that is important to you.

3) And as with most things, you can get nicer, higher quality equipment for the same price as low-end new equipment.

And as a note, I've skied on rented equipment for my entire ski life. First as a kid with season rentals to go with the season pass, and now as an occasional skier.

If you do decide to go new, research the discount retailers like Sierra Trading Post and see if they can sell you what you need.

/not an expert


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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2017, 02:31:27 AM »
 Rent a time or two to get a feeling for the quality and type of gear you will need.

Dundee, maybe you clarified this, but are you only considering XC skiing on groomed trails at a developed cross-country area, or are you considering skiing unmaintained routes, mostly on flatter hiking trails?

I am a fan of the latter, often callled "Nordic touring" in these parts of Colorado. This style of XC generally is best done with waxless, metal edge skis. These skis tend to be shorter and wider, and can cut through a bit more crust on the snow.

There are several Nordic Ski Swaps in my area (Colorado) sponsored by local ski groups and Nordic areas. Nordic touring gear is often available at steep discounts from list price while being in exceptional condition.

For touring, I have found purchasing used leather boots to be a fools bargain. The glue joint at the toe box often fails due to the moisture absorbed over a few seasons of use. The modern synthetic uppers appear to be less susceptible to this failure mode. 

There are old-timers and crumugines who love the 3-pin bindings, while I prefer the NNN-BC type. Annually, spray a little silicone grease into the NNN-BC mechanism or wipe the 3 pin plate to minimize icing effects.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2017, 05:42:17 AM »
Great comments.

Sounds like the best compromise will be new boots but used skis. I signed up for the local nordic ski club last night, so, I will get info about ski swaps locally.

at least in the first year, I will ski on groomed trails. Around here, there are hills (not mountains) and state forests. Once I get comfortable on groomed trails, I would definitely like to explore new areas.

Thank you all for your feedback.


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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2017, 05:55:33 AM »


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Re: Any cross Country skiers? - need tips for a newbie
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2017, 02:16:50 PM »
Was going to reply but Lady SA said everythign I can think of.  I'd start used or rent while you figure out what you like. Typically classic and waxless is best for hacking around the woods behind the house. I like skate/waxing for groomed trails and a big workout.  Boots are where to invest your $$ as they need to be comfortable or you'll hate it.

FInally, look into your local snowmobile association. Ours maintains a great trail network just down the road from my house that's free to ski on! I personally paid the $35/year membership fee just to contribute but there is no fee to use it.