Buying Cross-Country Ski Gear, for Beginners (Part 2): How Much Gear to Acquire, Evaluating Your Commitment, and the Value of Taking XC Ski Lessons

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen

If you would’ve told me years ago that I was going to own multiple pairs of cross-country skis and sets of skis boots, I would’ve laughed. And then had you told me that I’d also own a full wax kit, wax profile, and loads of cross-country ski clothing, I would’ve laughed even harder.

Not because I wouldn’t have believed you. But because I know myself and what happens to me when I get passionate about something.

I encourage you to first read Buying Cross-Country Ski Gear, for Beginners (Part 1) if you haven’t already.

At around $250-$500, buying a new set of recreational cross-country skis and its accompanying equipment (boots, bindings, and poles) is not a major financial investment. However, your initial purchase potentially could become the beginning of a disease known in the outdoor recreation industry as gear lust.

Of course, how severely you succumb to this disease totally depends upon your level of ambition and commitment to learning the fine art of cross-country skiing.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
Fischer Excursion 88 off-track skis with NNN BC Magnum bindings

What Exactly is Gear Lust?

I currently own 10 pairs of cross-country skis and about eight sets of cross-country ski boots. Believe it or not, this isn’t extreme compared to fellow Nordic nerds.

And, I’ve swapped out various sets of skis over the years. For example, I once found a set of orphaned skis on the side of the road near a popular backcountry skiing trailhead. I initially felt guilty for taking the skis despite finding them haphazardly discarded (and leaving a note for the owners at the trailhead). However, it was obvious that the owners were never coming back.

We’ve all lost gear in the backcountry. The best we can hope for is that it finds continued life in the hands of a new owner.

Support Tahoe Trail Guide with a financial contribution via PayPal (single contribution) or Patreon (reoccurring contributions). Your support of Tahoe Trail Guide is very much appreciated!

Support Tahoe Trail Guide
Become a Patron!

So, I brought them home and cleaned them up. But as much as I wanted to keep them for myself, they were designed to accommodate a person weighing at least 25 lbs. more than me. So, I gave them to a much taller and heavier friend.

Gear lust isn’t just about buying new stuff. The disease also causes you to compulsively acquire gear from any and every available source (such as the side of the road!).

A Tool for Every Job

I’ve previously stated that there’s a tool for every job and a job for every tool.

To an outsider, my collection of cross-country skis looks excessive. However, every set serves its own purpose.

For example, I own two sets of classic “waxless” cross-country track skis. One set is for “rock” skiing and the other is for use when there’s sufficient snow coverage on groomed trails.

My set of rock skis were actually “gifts” from employers. The pair of old skis were in our rental fleet for years and had finally been decommissioned.

If you don’t know, rock skis are a set of old skis that you use when the snow is spotty and you risk, literally, skiing over rocks and debris. Better to wreck the bases of those old skis than your new (or only) pair of skis.

I also have a set of rock skis for backcountry excursions early and late in the season (when coverage is thin). Those, too, were gifted to me by an employer. They had been sitting in our lost-and-found bin for years.

Additionally, I own four good pairs of backcountry cross-country skis for use when there’s quality snow. Those sets of backcountry cross-country skis are 62mm, 88mm, 98mm, and 112mm wide. They allow me to ski effectively at various depths of fresh snow.

There’s also that pair of waxable classic xc skis that I, again, inherited from work. Yet another set of skis long-abandoned in our lost-and-found bin.

At the tail-end of the 2019/20 season I actually bought myself a pair of skate skis. Until then, I had just been using skate skis from the rental fleet at my job. Then I purchased another set of similar skate skis that had been part of my work’s demo fleet in 2021.


Gear Lust is Fueled by Passion

I always advocate for buying quality gear. When it comes to outdoor-related gear, you usually get what you pay for. So, I’ll be the first to admit that working in the outdoor recreation industry has only fueled my gear lust.

So many skis already…

But as I further my education and exploration into cross-country skiing, I see there are still so many more that I want to buy!

This doesn’t mean that you, too, will wind up buying multiple pairs of skis. But as you develop your cross-country skiing skills and technique, you’ll come to realize that you can’t fix everything with a hammer.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
Snowy Banks Along the Upper Truckee River

How Committed Are You to Cross-Country Skiing?

Questions you need to ask yourself regarding your intentions for cross-country skiing are…

  • How often will you xc ski?
  • Where will you primarily xc ski?
  • Are you athletic?
  • Will you be taking xc ski lessons?
  • Will you ever race in an cross-country ski event, even just for fun?
  • Are you an ambitious and passionate person who tends to commit to anything and everything you do?

Invest in Relatively Inexpensive Gear at First

Despite my personal experience, I agree that you don’t need multiple sets of skis.

If you only plan to ski a couple of times each season, you can manage with one pair of all-around cross-country skis.

Even if they take a beating from skiing across less-than-ideal terrain, you’ll be fine with owning one pair. But initially go with something relatively inexpensive.

It’s not worth investing lots of money into gear that’s going to spend the majority of its time stored in your closet or garage. Besides, you don’t want to ruin that expensive pair of xc skis running them over thin coverage.

I can’t stress enough that if you do decide to buy just one pair of skis and only plan to ski occasionally with them, don’t purchase the latest and greatest setup.

Invest in Technique more than Gear

Better skis don’t mean you’ll have better technique. In fact, a set of high-quality skis will most often illustrate just how unskilled you are. It’s like a new driver operating a high-performance sports car. The skill set to properly handle the machine requires a lot of practice and experience.

Although it doesn’t happen too often, it’s always shocking to see the aftermath when a customer who has seldom cross-country skied falls simply trying to negotiate a small hill.

The broken ski(s) often looks like it completely exploded. You don’t want this to happen to your one pair of $850 skis that you’ve grown to covet.

So, wait to buy higher quality skis for when you become more proficient at skiing.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
This does happen occasionally.

Another example of the reality of xc skiing early (and late) in the season…

At the beginning of the 2017/2018 winter season an expert skier came into the rental shop where I worked to rent a pair of skis. He had just snapped one of his skis in half while trying to negotiate debris-filled terrain.

I felt bad because me and another employee had recommended just prior to the incident that he take the resort’s free shuttle (providing quick access to better snow).

It was the beginning of the season, after all, and some of the trails had very thin coverage. Hence, our shuttle service.

You would do well to purchase an entry-level to mid-level recreational cross-country ski package. Search for ski packages at local ski shops and online. And then figure out how you can take some lessons to help you develop your cross-country skiing technique.

Once you gain a baseline level of proficiency you can upgrade to a better quality ski.

Then, you’ll have that original pair of xc skis for your rock skis!

Necessary Personal Information for Buying XC Skis

Provide the necessary and accurate information about your weight (and to a lesser degree, your height) to ensure you buy the appropriately sized set of skis.

You’ll only be setting yourself up for failure if you don’t disclose your true weight.

I’m not talking about the weight you hope to achieve after a season of consistently skiing. Cross-country skis are designed to accommodate specific ranges of body weight, so be honest.

Also factor in the average weight of the clothes and gear you’d normally be wearing while xc skiing.

If you weigh too much for a ski, it’ll drag and slow you down. This may sound like a good thing to a beginner. However, it just ends up being frustrating because you can’t get any glide with them.

Glide, by the way, is a huge part of the enjoyment of cross-country skiing!

Buying skis designed for a person heavier than you makes it nearly impossible to get anywhere. Your body weight (and how you focus it on the ski) is what causes the ski to compress and allow the kick zone/scale pattern to make contact with the snow.

Without being able to fully flatten your ski, you’ll just slip and slide and never be able to push off.

Beware … this is the Beginning of Gear Lust

If you’re planning to dig deeper into the art, consider acquiring at least two sets of skis early on.

Pick up two of the same styles of skis (like classic waxless skis for groomed trails), with one set for rock skiing and another set for good snow conditions.

Or if you have access to groomed cross-country ski trails and open terrain, buy a set for the groomers and then one for use in the backcountry.

Let this process be organic. Get that first setup to accommodate the majority of what you plan to ski. Then, start to build from there.

For People Who Consider Themselves Intermediate Skiers

If you’ve already rented skis multiple times, have taken lessons, and have decided that you’re going to commit to cross-country skiing, go ahead and purchase a setup that’s at the top end of a recreational ski or at the low end of a racing ski.

This will ensure that you have adequate gear to grow into. To help you determine the types of cross-country skis that are available, the popular manufacturers (Fischer, Salomon, Rossignol, Atomic, and Madshus) categorize their skis based on intended use.

This is no different than an auto manufacturer or a maker of kitchen appliances. It’s in the company’s best interest to offer a range of products to attract as many customers as possible.

If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll be happier with something more expensive because you’ll have good performance throughout your experience. And, you won’t find it so jarring to transition into something performance-oriented.

Low-end skis simply don’t perform as well as their high-end counterparts. And, you’ll notice this as you become a better skier.

But, again, you risk ruining those nicer skis if they’re your only pair and snow conditions are not ideal.

If you’re already racing, participate in club training sessions, and own multiple sets of cross-country skis that accommodate every snow condition and environment, well… you probably know way more than me about cross-country skiing.

I recommend looking elsewhere to help you in your search for another pair of skis. Sorry, but this blog is was written with the beginner cross-country skier in mind.

Copyright © 2017 Jared Manninen
The sun rising above the clouds as I climb White Lightning at Tahoe Donner Cross Country ski area.

Take Cross-Country Ski Lessons. Period.

Cross-country skiing, whether you’re classic skiing or skate skiing, is deceptively complex. It looks simple, but it’s not easy.

Regardless of your commitment to cross-country skiing, take a lesson (even if it’s just a group lesson).

The three core principles of all cross-country skiing, as taught by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), are:

  1. Push-Off
  2. Weight Transfer
  3. Glide

These three fundamental aspects of cross-country skiing don’t come naturally or intuitively. That is, until you practice them often and understand the design and function of cross-country skis.

Again, simple but not easy.

Therefore, if you want to have more fun and a better (and safer) experience while cross-country skiing take a lesson, or twenty. You’ll be glad you did.

Also be aware that the more you learn the more you’re going to want to spend on gear!

Cross-country ski instructor demonstrating technique to a student
Proper cross-country ski technique is deceptively complex. It looks easy to do. However, it’s very difficult to execute effectively and efficiently without taking lessons from an actual instructor. © Jared Manninen

Benefits of Cross-Country Skiing

There seems to be a belief that cross-county skiing is fading into the past, and that alpine skiing will ultimately render the art obsolete. However, from my experience working in the industry at Lake Tahoe, this isn’t an accurate perspective.

Nor is this evident in our current era of Covid, and people embracing activities where social distancing is inherently a part of them.

And, believe it or not, many people were beginning to transition out of alpine skiing and into cross-country skiing way before Covid.


Because cross-country skiing is…

  • way more aerobic, enabling a person to stay in shape during the winter.
  • less punishing on the body, allowing a person to enjoy a longer and relatively pain-free season.
  • less expensive.
  • and, there are no lift lines in which to wait.

Although injuries do happen in cross-country skiing, I see far fewer (particularly the catastrophic ones) than with gravity-based winter sports. Just ask any ski patroller at a groomed cross-country ski resort how many injuries they treat on any given day. I’d estimate, even at a big resort, it’s less than the fingers on one of their hands.

All around Lake Tahoe there is a thriving cross-country skiing community. Check out some of the larger clubs and resorts for more information:

Cross-Country Downhill maybe slightly dated (published c. 1987), but it provides some wonderful philosophy about cross-country skiing off the beaten path.

There’s also a lot of technical information regarding learning the Telemark turn on lighter cross-country touring gear. Highly recommended for those of you looking to cross-country ski in the backcountry.

Keep in mind, however, that this book is written with a more advanced mountain adventurer in mind. Follow the Amazon link and you should be able to find a used copy.

Cross-Country Skiing Explained Articles and Videos

Please note that I wrote and produced the Cross-Country Skiing Explained series of articles and videos with the beginner and intermediate cross-country skier in mind. This is the demographic for whom I most often serve(d) while working in the outdoor recreation industry at Lake Tahoe. I basically treat these articles and videos as extensions of the conversations that I have (had) with those customers.

That said, expert skiers probably could take away something of value from these resources. Just know that I don’t address race-oriented philosophy, technique, or gear selection.

Considerations for buying cross-country ski gear (new and beginner xc skiers)

Classic Cross-Country Ski Components

Waxing Your “Waxless” Cross-Country Skis (for beginner and intermediate xc skiers)