The gear that all skiers are expected to have
Every skier needs to have each of the following in order to actually ski:
one pair of skate skis
one pair of classic skis
one pair of skate poles
one pair of classic poles
one pair of skate boots*
one pair of classic boots*
one ski bag
*One pair of combi boots (combination boots for skating and classic) is fine for most skiers to use if you do not have both skate and classic boots.
If you are new to skiing and do not have all the gear listed above, the Booster Club has some gear available to borrow for the season. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your height, weight, shoe size and the gear you need.
To see that you have the right skate skis ski for your weight put the skis on a flat floor, stand on the skis as you would if you were going to ski (you don't need the boots on though). Take a piece of paper and have someone slide it directly under your boot area on both skis (up at least a foot in either direction of the front and back of your boot) - the paper should slide up and back easily between the ski and the floor. Put all your weight on one ski. If the ski collapses so that the paper can not move directly under your boot area, the ski is too flexible and soft for your weight. You will want a stiffer ski. A skate ski needs to be slightly stiff because you don't want it to make contact with the snow (directly under your ski boot area). If it does, it will work but it will be much slower because you have more surface contacting the snow - also you want the skate ski stiffer so that when you go to kick off in a "V" stride, it will give you more of a spring in the glide and it won't be so sluggish.
The test you want to do to see that you have the right ski for your weight is to stand with your classic skis on a flat surface. Stand on the skis as you would if you were going to ski (you don't need the boots on though). Take a piece of paper and have someone slide it directly under your boot area on both skis (up at least a foot in either direction of the front and back of your boot) - the paper should slide up and back easily between the ski and the floor. Then put all your weight on one ski. Slide the paper again from front to back. You want the ski to completely collapse so that the paper doesn't move at all directly under the boot area. This tells you that the ski will make direct contact with the snow (and the "kick wax"). If the paper slides easily under the boot area, the you are either to light for that ski or it is not a proper classic ski. It also means that the kick wax will not make contact with the snow when you put your weight down the kick wax will not help you propel forward.
Poles range in price from pretty cheap to more than you might consider for a first vehicle for a teenager. So what do you buy? The answer is a mixture of skill, desire to keep skiing, and of course, budget.
The entry level poles are often made out of pure aluminum. This results in a pole that is very durable, but quite heavy. They are not terrible likely to break (when they go, they tend to bend to the point where they are unusable), but they are extremely difficult to perfect poling technique with, due to the weight and flexibility. The limitations are most obvious in diagonal stride in classic skiing and double poling in both techniques. The upside is that these poles tend to be dirt cheap (as far as cross country skiing equipment goes). Expect to see somewhere under $50 for a pair of poles.
The mid-range poles are either a carbon composite or 100% carbon. In an ideal world, most of the skiers at Service would be using these poles. They are great for getting around on groomed trails and do not come with the high price tag of racing poles. The mid-range poles are lighter than the pure aluminum poles and are stiffer. If you want to see how important it is to have poles that can support more dynamic skiing, watch how much someone's, especially a heavier guy's, poles flex when double poling. The mid-range poles are probably going to be $100-$200, though they can be a bit more.
For those at the top of their game, they are going to want racing poles. The price tag that these come with might induce a few tears (and some full body sobs if one breaks), but an excellent set of poles used by an equally excellent skier is truly a sight to behold. These poles are usually 100% carbon, but much higher quality than you would find in a mid-range pole. The result is an extremely light ski pole that is very stiff.
Boots: Mostly Bindings
Boots combine the challenge of finding a pair of shoes that fits with a pair of boots that match the bindings on your skis. Unfortunately, there isn't a universal system for ski bindings (the plates on top of the skis where in interlocks with the bottom of the boot), so the buyer has to make sure they have compatible bindings and boots. The bindings on the skis can usually be changed with a bit of difficulty and some money, but the boots will always have the same bottoms.
Modern cross country skis often come with 1 of 2 popular binding systems: NNN and SNS. NNN (or New Nordic Norm) has a single bar in the toe of the boot and a corresponding latch in the binding. NIS (Nordic Integrated System) is fully compatible with NNN, but the way in which the binding is attached to the ski itself is different.
SNS (Salomon Nordic System) has three variants: Profil (one metal bar in the toe of the boot), Pilot (two metal bars on the boot), and X-Adventure (used for back country skiing). Pilot boots are compatible with Profil bindings but the opposite is not true. Profil boots cannot be used with Pilot bindings.
If this seems like a lot to keep track of, with lots of abbreviations to remember incorrectly, obfuscate matters, and confuse consumers, go with the simple method: stick the boot on the binding! Does it go in? Does it sit flat? If yes, you have a match. Always double check or have a contingency plan before making a purchase.