Jason, you are getting into a seriously dangerous gear head area here. I am by no means a competetive skier and yet have spent over the years almost as much on ski equipment as backpacking gear You want no-wax skis which means the skis should have that fish scale like pattern on the bottom in the middle part of the ski. Although you may be able to pick up three pin bindings cheap (the kind where the toe of your boot extends into the binding and is clamped down on three pins), I'd look for Salomon or NNN bindings as they are much better, particularly in wet snow. The old rule was that the tips your skis should come up to your wrist with your arm extended above your head. A better way to judge if the ski is correct for you is to stand on both skis with your feet flat. A helper should now be able to move a thin piece of paper gently back and forth between the ski and the floor directly under your foot and a little bit ahead of your toe. When you put all your weight on the toes of one foot, that same paper should be wedged tight under the kei and not be able to move. Going someplace like REI or a good ski store for x-country skis and being fitted will give you a better idea of what you are looking for. Renting skis at a state park or other facility that supports cross-country skiing is also a good idea. Then, after you find your cheap skis, take them into a store and have them hot waxed. Basically, they scrap off the old wax on the smooth part of the ski and iron in new glide wax to help the ski slide better in the snow. Should cost around $15 and makes a huge difference. Enjoy and may you be bitten firmly by the ski bug
If I wouldn't eat it at home, why would I want to eat it on the trail?
Loc: Marina del Rey,CA
Jason,TheCook is right.
Choosing XC skis is a total gear kerfuffle. I am no expert, but here goes.
First of all, decide what kind of skiing you want to do-track skiing or backcountry. Track skis are the all plastic skinny skis you see at REI with the "system bindings" that look like a long plate with a toe piece on them. The bindings take a particular kind of boot, usually lightweight. These skis are almost impossible to turn since they do not have metal edges.
BC Skis look more like a downhill ski-but usually skinnier. Here is a good site with explanations that may help. It is oriented towards backcountry gear. Dave's Nordic Pages
If you were snowshoeing, my guess is you were off track, so maybe you want a BC ski. If so, there are a lot of choices. My skis are Atomic Rainier skis with Voile 3 pin cable bindings on a release kit. This means I have a fairly skinny metal edge backcountry ski with a fishscale, no wax pattern on the bottom. My bindings are traditional 3 pin bindings that will take anything from a lightweight leather boot to a plastic double ski boot. Since most bc bindings do not release like a downhill binding, I mounted mine on a release kit that Voile makes. The purpose of the cable is for downhilling. You do not need it for touring. You don't really need a releaseable binding either for touring. I am paranoid about knee injuries, so I have them. From what I read, they are of dubious value any way.
My boot is the Garmont Excursion, a low two buckle plastic boot suitable for backcountry skiing and moderate telemarking on downhills. For much BC skiing, you don't need a plastic boot.
I have aspirations of learning to telemark, so that's why I have what I have. Real telemarkers use fatter skis and bigger boots. For touring, stay away from those. No need. I tow my sled for winter camping with these skis and have climbing skins for them that give them extra grip, an essential for towing the sled on an icy road.
Edited by TomD (12/28/0811:02 PM)
Don't get me started, you know how I get.
I'd second or third something like what thecook suggests as the most versatile: a skinny no-wax ski without metal edges. Find a comfortable classic or combi race boot or touring boot that fits race bindings and buy the matching Salomon Profil Equipe or NNN race bindings. There are closeouts going on at REI now and many ski shops, if you live near one.
Getting a good fitting ski for your weight is unfortunately a hit and miss proposition, even at good ski shops, but with a good classic ski, you'll both excellent grip and glide. My no-wax skis are long (200 cm for my 150-160 lbs) straight sided 50 mm wide Peltonens that a friend gave a me a good deal on ($25 new old stock) that I mounted some race bindings on, and they are pretty darn good. I use them with my classic race boots (no support above the ankle), and classic race poles with normal wide-webbing loop straps. They're not as fast as my race skis, but I'm usually cruising 2x or 3x faster than people with telemark gear. Yes, you can go downhill in them and it is usually fun, especially in a few inches of powder on top of a good base. This type of ski is great for rolling terrain and easy to moderate up and downhills. They won't be up to steep downhills (but an occassional steep hill can be managed with kick turns), but most routes that are trails in the summer are perfect.
I also have about 10 pair of race skis, both classic and skate, and use them in the backcountry depending on location and snow conditions.
I have one pair of metal edged skis: Madshus Pellestovas, with SNS-BC (Salomon Nordic System - Backcountry, currently called Salomon XA-Adventure) bindings matched with Salomon Greenland boots. It's good backcountry gear that the ski author Steve Barnett favored as a light telemark setup, but I haven't used it in years because my original boots were a bit small, and then I broke the replacements by accident(long story...).
Learning some basic classic and skating technique on groomed trails will make you much more proficient in moving around in the backcountry.
The waxless/waxable debate is one of those odd things where apparently competent people absolutely disagree. I recall some previous discussion on this site about wax vs. waxless. I'll say this much -- if you are skiing on any kind of snow/terrain here in the Midwest that waxable skis will outperform waxless by orders of magnitude. Here waxless not only have poor glide but poor traction compared to wax. Learning to use wax is really quite easy and using it simple, too. Maybe there is some new waxless material that performs differently, but my experience and observation has been that waxless is evil.
Human Resources Memo: Floggings will continue until morale improves.
I'd agree with Keith that midwest snow conditions favor wax skis rather than no-wax skis. My understanding is that no-wax skis perform better in areas where snow conditions change frequently as you ski. For example a friend of mine in Seattle swears by no-wax skis for his area as the snow changes consistency one mile to the next. In the midwest on any given day the snow is basically the same on any length of trail.
Waxing takes but a few minutes of time and is easy to learn to do. Keep it simple and stick to a handful of waxes. You can make this as easy or as hard as you wish.
I think you want at least 2" wide, but other than that regular all around touring skis are best for what I do. Comfortable boots are important. Boots and skis haven't improved all that much really, but bindings and pole handles and straps have gotten better. I like waxing my skis. Its fun. For touring its not that bad if you are too heavy for your skis. They still work, and in some ways they work better. Don't be afraid to try some cheap used skis. That will get you started. Just make sure the boots fit, and the bindings work, and maybe get yourself a good set of poles.
Jason My guess is that if you were out snowshoeing when you ran into the skiers, that they were backcountry skiers off trail. If you wish to get out of prepared tracks, you will not be happy with cheap light thin edgeless skis. In fact they would be a complete waste of money.
Follow local wisdom. In changing conditions the wrong wax is worse than fish scales. In the west it can go from ice to soft wet snow, and back to ice, in the same day, or the same mile. In scandinavia you can ski all day long in the same conditions.
There is a realm of skiing out of the track, up the slope, but not quite into telemark. You do not need telemark gear for back country skiing, but it will work much better than track skis will in the back country. When I teach people I tell them to ask for light telemark boots and fully edged skis. It seems the best beginner combination and people know what you mean. Its gonna be a season or two before you're cutting turns down isolated avolanche slopes... Jim
These are my own opinions based on wisdom earned through many wrong decisions. Your mileage may vary.