Here's my recommended gear list for the intermediate, fitness-oriented skate skier. The target audience is the athlete with previous skiing experience that wants to get into skate skiing for fitness and maybe some local/casual racing.
Budget Expect to pay about $1200 for a really good skate skiing set up. You can do it for less, but that takes a lot of searching around for deals and probably some risk taking. Spring is a good time to look for deals on skate skis.
Race Gear for a Beginner?
Yes. If you are athletic and are now or were previously a high performer in another outdoor sport (biking, running, climbing, etc.), then you instinctively know to avoid "beginner" gear. With respect to skate ski gear, you want race-grade gear, but stop short of the stuff that sells for top dollar - the elite stuff. Your goal is one or two steps below the highest priced models of skis, boots, and poles on the rack at a good shop.
Skate Ski Brands Fischer, Madshus, Rossignol, Salomon, Atomic. These are the choices. Models at the upper range of each line are all basically the same. All "race", "team", and "training" skate skis are good these days.
Ski Fitting Start by looking at the Fischer RCS model then branch out to comparable models by other manufacturers (Rossi Xium, Madshus Red, etc.). The Fischers are well made, popular skis - a tried and true design. Always get skis fitted at a store for length and flex. Fitting will involve some time standing on and flexing several skis with a knowledgeable shop tech. You will feel dorky and impatient, but this is the right way to go. Flex is important and something you cannot figure out by looking at skis on a rack.
Soft Flex vs. Regular Flex vs. Hard Flex? In the lower 48, Regular Flex (medium) is best. Hard is for the cold, icy tracks of northern Europe or Fairbanks, AK. Some companies only offer Soft or Hard; go with Soft if you live south of 60 degN latitude. Even then, I personally wouldn't go with a Hard Flex ski. "Never go full hard" - Kirk Lazarus
Binding Systems Skate ski bindings are composed of two parts: the plate and the binding. There are also two different proprietary designs on the market: NIS - Nordic Integrated System (Rossignol, Madshus, Rottefella, Alpina, Fischer) or SNS - Solomon Nordic System (Solomon, Atomic). They both work great. Plates usually come epoxied to the skis. Match the boot and binding. The binding slides onto the plate and clicks into place. Binding position is easy to adjust and change using a goofy little key, but its unlikely you will need to after the initial set up. I use NIS Rottefella Xcelerator plates and bindings.
Boots Use whatever fits your foot well, but avoid "combi" boots. Higher end skate boots usually fit best ("race" or "team" boots). Often the very highest end race models are pushing the design limit, thus are kind of strange. Look for models that have been made for several years and fit your foot well. They should not feel weird. Skate ski boots have minimal insulation or padding, which is a good thing. I like the fit of Alpina boots.
Poles Aluminum poles with cork grips and proper basket-tip configurations work great ($40-$60). You can always buy lighter, race-style composite poles for more money (>$100). Look for sales at Play It Again Sports or similar used sports equipment stores for basic skate ski poles. The baskets should be small. The tips should be hardened steel or at least pretty darn sharp. I’m 5’ 9” and use cheap 160cm aluminum poles (One Way Diamond 930). I will likely upgrade to composite poles when I break these.
Straps Swix Pro Fit 2 ($50). There are others out there, but these work pretty well. Your hands/finger joints/wrist may ache after your first few days of skate skiing, especially when you're learning. So will your shins. Pain usually goes away pretty quickly as the season progresses.
Gloves I wear simple, black, Powerstretch fleece mittens (middle one in photo). I also have Swix Split Mitts for really, really cold days (in Anchorage, AK) and mid-weight Outdoor Research windproof gloves (left in photo), which I never use. Thicker gloves (right in photo) tend to make my hands hurt in the straps and I have rarely found a need for fancy, overpriced, leather gloves like those by Hestra or Swix. But you might. I would look for low-bulk gloves that are just warm enough and comfortable in straps. Fleece mittens work well for me and don't scratch my nose when wiping away snot.
Clothing Not being a big fan of lycra body suits or jackets emblazoned with neon logos, I try to choose ski wear in subtle colors: black, gray, red, blue, maybe white. It ain't easy finding subtle ski clothing these days. I try to wear just two layers on top and bottom unless its below zero degrees F. Underneath, I wear stretchy capri-length tights with a slippery outer face and a Patagonia Capilene mid-weight zip neck on top. Over these I wear Salomon Escape pants and a light, stretchy, zip up, semi-breathable softshell top. Always a thin fleece hat (Powergrid stretch fleece from wwwChucasHats.com). I always wear mid-thickness synthetic over-the-calf socks pulled up to my knees. Sunglasses. On really cold days or nights, I will wear a fleece hoodie (Eddie Bauer Synthesis Pro) or a Patagonia Houdini windshell, maybe a thin wicking shirt underneath everything (Nike DriFit), and, rarely, windproof briefs. If its warm (above 32 deg F), wear whatever. Running stores often have affordable, high quality, stretchy jackets in modest colors. Or check out offerings by companies that make outerwear for sailing. Flappy nylon hoods are always annoying.
About 20 years ago, I figured out which hiking/climbing/skiing socks work best for me. I use medium-thickness poly (>60%) and wool (<30%) blends that stretch, give a little cushioning, don't cost that much, and pull up to my knees. Darn Tough makes good socks. All socks wear out.
Waxing a couple of times a season is plenty. If you ski every day or ski on glare ice, then wax more often. Waxing is not important unless you believe waxing is important. Some people care a lot about waxing. I don't. What I do is prep and wax my skis every 10-14 ski days by using the usual scraper, brushes, dedicated waxing iron, and wax. I don't buy superfancy wax. You need two waxes that cover the typical temperature ranges that you will encounter locally; blue wax will be one of them. Get a good iron and a dedicated clamping-bench set up. Waxing and scraping will make the floor quite slippery, so get yourself an $8.00 moving blanket and put it down before you bust out the iron. Swix sells everything you need; look for deals at general sporting goods, like Dick's, stores or online.
Local Shops, Regional Meccas & Online Discounters Missoula, where we now live, is not a nordic ski town. Lubrecht, a local ski area, is in desperate need of a sober groomer who actually participates in snow sports. Anchorage, where we used to live, was a real ski town. Grooming is a fine art there. In Montana, we have to travel some distance away from Missoula to find good help and proper gear. Online dealers tend to offer a lot better selection than local shops. In Butte, try the Homestake Lodge located at the pass east of town. Shops in Bozeman will have good selections, as will those in Kalispell and Whitefish. The very best shops in the West are found close to nordic ski meccas such as the Methow Valley WA, Sun Valley ID, Canmore AB, West Yellowstone MT, Big Sky MT, Truckee CA, Boulder CO, Crested Butte CO, and Aspen CO.
Goat's Beard Shop in Mazama, WA has gear you should buy.
A simple, single size, padded bag like those by Dakine or any of the ski companies are great for hauling skis inside an SUV or truck bed. The bag we have looks like the the one below. It fits 2 pairs of skis and 2 sets of poles no problem. I put my binding key on the zipper pull using a car key ring. Don't pay more than $40.
Even if its unlikely you will be competing, try to do a local race or two. Sign up for a 25k. Racing will change and improve your skate skiing faster than anything else will. Races are not about winning or beating other skiers. Finish times don't matter. Races are about skiing continuously for a long distance, which will force you to be efficient and use proper technique. It will also force you to eat cookies at feed stations along the way. Races will expose your bad habits (which only you will notice) and remind you how important cardio training is. Races will also reveal your strengths and remind you how fun skiing can be. You will meet new people along the way - potential ski partners.
Who Are Nordic Skiers?
The skate ski community is generally composed of healthy, successful people with good jobs and a desire to improve their community. The nordic ski crowd is not made up of obnoxious ski dudes that litter lift-served areas. Youth and college ski teams are often made up of "smart kids". Nordic ski towns are without question some of the best places in the U.S. to live.
Purchasing Ski Packages Purchasing a complete skate ski package is a good idea if you find what you want. Packages often include skis, boots, poles, bindings. Expect to pay $699-$999 online for top of the line equipment. Your local shop might have package deals, too. Craigslist is hit and miss. Check out these sites:
I've been to a fair number of ski swaps over the years and pretty much avoid them now. The crowds are annoying and deals are rare. If you are age 14, then go just to annoy the girls working the booths (and everyone else).
Demo Days are a Good Idea
If you live in a place where ski companies demo their products at trails, be sure to stop by. Likewise, if you have friends that will let you try out their skis, do so.
What I Ski
I am 5' 9", 157 lbs and ski Madshus Nanosonic Skate Soft 190cm (44-43-44). I purchased them new, but they were an older model. They cost $200 shipped from an online outlet. Alpina CSK boots purchased off Craigslist from a kid on the high school team who used them for a couple weeks before outgrowing them ($80). Cheap poles and good clothing.