What to Use

The Basics

Best choices for getting started - You might have, or know someone who has, some cross country ski equipment tucked away in the garage or basement that hasn't been used for eons. Using this equipment can be a good choice or a bad choice for getting started depending on the fit and what you want to do. Of course, the boots have to fit comfortably or you will ski in pain. The skis have to be about shoulder height or longer - shorter skis are easier to control but are not as fast. The skis will probably be "no-wax" with a fishscale or ridged base surface in the middle of the ski that comes into snow contact for "grip" when you press down during the kick phase of your stride. The bindings might be "three pin" or one of the early boot-specific bindings that attach to a rectangular metal loop molded into boot's toe area. Poles can be about shoulder height or a bit longer. Assuming a good "fit," this gear is all you really need to play around in nearby parks after the occasional snow storm.

If old or borrowed equipment isn't an option - Of course, you can always find used stuff on-line, but it's a sure bet to find good entry level equipment at a local ski shop or outdoor store. There, you can try the boots on and get their advice on bindings and ski selection. Packages start at about $150-$250 and, even in this range, you get what you pay for - especially for the boots. Plus, some places will mount the bindings while you wait (if there's not a snowstorm rush) and you can walk out the store and go skiing right away. REI in Conshohocken is good place to go locally although there are others.

Modern boot/binding packages come in two basic options and that choice will likely determine future purchase options. The two system options are the SNS (Salomon Nordic System) or NNN (New Nordic Norm) - boots are not interchangeable. There is also a new trend in these systems where the boot attaches both at the toe and mid-sole. Also, some new skis come with a NIS plate system - for NNN, but adaptable for SNS. The store will advise you about these.

Entry level gear is rarely a bad investment even if you become an advanced skier. This gear can be used for training when conditions are marginal or to share if you want to ski with someone who doesn't have any equipment.

Ski options if you're looking for more choices - In our local area, you might find three options for skis; back-country, in-track, and out-of-track. Back-country skis have metal edges and are good for skiing slow on un-packed woods trails in deep snow - not much opportunity for that around here. In-track skis are good where other skiers have made a track or if you go to ski areas with groomed trails with machine "set" tracks. Out-of-track skis are a bit wider and are somewhat easier to control, but are generally heavier especially if they have metal edges. Ideal length in these categories can vary and is basically based on your weight, the flex designed into the particular ski and your skiing technique. Shorter skies or those with a slight hourglass shape will be easier to turn. The objective of any ski is for the grip area to contact the snow during the kick phase and to otherwise glide on the smooth tip and tail of the ski. Both in-track and out-of-track, no-wax skis are fine for skiing around Philadelphia. At entry level, almost any pole will do but try to select an inexpensive carbon composite at a height between your shoulders and chin.

More Advanced Gear

Waxable and No wax skis - As your technique improves (including being able to turn and snowplow) and your ski fitness level improves, you will want to ski farther and faster. You then will have some other gear options to consider, one of which is whether to buy a pair of skis that is waxable. Most stores in the Philadelphia area don't carry these because waxable skis work best below about 25 degrees and in existing tracks. So, you might have to order these on-line or wait for a trip north to buy.

However, studies have shown that, under certain conditions, waxable skis are about 15-20% more efficient than no-wax skis (because there are no glide-robbing fishscales or ridges). You'll need some (e.g., three) basic grip waxes based on snow temperature and age. Then you apply them like a crayon onto the same grip area found on no-wax skis and rub the wax into the base with a cork. If you want to learn more about the hundreds of waxes and application techniques, visit the "OTHER LINKS" site above.

The question comes up about whether to buy a high performance no-wax ski or a waxable likeness to the ski you have. This choice will depend on where you like to ski and if you envision trying a few races. In the Poconos, where it is often 25 degrees or less, a good waxable ski for touring or training is a great advantage over those you ski with who have no-wax skis. Using waxable skis in the Philadelphia area where the temperatures are mostly at or above freezing will likely be frustrating.

However, if you don't want another touring ski that's waxable but think you'll want to try a race, a waxable high performance ski should be considered that you would use only for racing (see below). If you'll be skiing or racing mostly at temperatures right around freezing, waxes don't grip well and their advantage, if any, is slight. In those conditions, a high performance no-wax ski could also be a race-abe option.

Ready to learn to skate - Probably at this stage, you'll be thinking about learning the skating technique. If you've ever skated or rollerbladed, you will easily learn this technique. It's basically the same motion but you push with your polls as you skate. See the "OTHER LINKS" for websites with more information and instruction videos about this techique. In spite of much expert advice, you can learn the fundamentals of skating techniques on any skis using any boot. However, a pair of used skating skis and/or boots would be a good option both for learning and training. Skating requires a higher level of fitness than the classic (conventional striding) technique but is faster for the same amount of energy. Skating is definitely doable though for most runners and cyclists with a bit of conditioning.

High Performance Racing Gear

General considerations - Here's where the sport becomes serious and starts to involve serious money. If you just want to do citizen races and participate in loppets and large marathon events, the best values are just below what the elite skiers use. For example, in the Fischer ski line, you would choose the SCS model over the RCS model. In the Philadelphia area, you wouldn't want to train on these but rather, use these exclusively for racing - or up north on machine groomed trails. You would probably want a pair for the classic ski technique and another pair for skating. Skating skis have a metal edge, are designed so that whole ski rides on the snow with equal weight distribution (there is no kick zone), and have a ski cut for skating advantage.

Likewise, nice lightweight boots will improve performance and you will want a pair for classic and skating. Skating boots are stiffer and have high tops for ankle support but you can buy "combi" boots with removable ankle stiffeners to save some money. Of course, you can buy lightweight carbon poles which definitely help when you're swinging your arms for a few hours. Skating technique poles are typically longer (between the chin and nose) because your pole can be in snow contact longer at these higher speeds. Lastly, ski bindings can become racing specific and those with mid-sole attachments theoretically provide greater lateral support for skating.

Elite stuff and where to buy - If you've read this far you should know that your website creator doesn't have this stuff and will never be an elite skier so you're pretty much on your own. Here's where you need to talk to more experts with more experience. Of course, if money is no object, you can buy this level gear even for citizen races for maximum advantage. In this category, you're looking for highest performance equipment so you are building a "quiver" of skis for all conditions and techniques. Skis at this level come with specific flexes (for hard or soft tracks) and specific bases (for warm or cold snow). You are looking primarily at waxable skis so you'll be spending money on waxes (e.g., fluorocarbon) and base prepping tools (irons and rillers). High performance boots and poles are also available. We can all dream.
Unless you shop in cross country ski areas up north, your best and only real option is on-line since this equipment is simply not available locally. It's best to call the store and talk to them first.

Is a ski marathon in your future?

If you have progressed in your training and technique and are interested in setting some goals, participation in a nearby ski marathon is a rewarding experience. The above link provides more information about these opportunities. These events range from family centric events for skiers of all abilities (one just 4 1/2 hours from here) to major events with hundreds or even thousands of skiers not much further. Avid runners and cyclists can easily adapt to the fitness levels required for these events with just a bit of cross-training when local snow conditions permit.
So you need to buy something.

While it's easy to get by with just basic skis, bindings, boots and poles, if you really get in this sport, you will be shopping. Avid skiers will benefit from 2-3 pairs of skis for different conditions or skiing techiques, and sporty clothes will make skiing more comfortable. You can find on-line shopping links on OTHER LINKS.