Advice on buying

So you want to get into cross-country skiing but you live on the wrong side of the snow line? Here’s some recommendations on:

Where to buy
How to buy

Clothing and softgoods

This part’s pretty easy, because some clothing for running, bicycling, hiking, or just outdoors casualwear- are multifunctional and usable for XC. Examples: windshells, fleece sweaters, long tights, eyeshields, warmup pants.

For the things you want that are more specific (eg. buffs, technical wear, XC gloves and mitts), the larger chains like REI and LL Bean will have most of it, and there’s always online ordering from specialty shops.

But let’s get the inevitable first-timer question out of the way:

Where can I buy cross-country skis?

Good news/bad news. The bad news is that there aren’t a huge number of shops that sell cross-country skis in our area. Paragon hasn’t had them for a while, and Campmor stopped stocking them in 2018-19. Alpine or downhill ski shops don’t service cross-country very much, if at all. Snowboard shops- fuhgeddaboudit. If you want to see skis in person, you may have to do some traveling.

The good news: The Internet has helped large stores become efficient in managing stock, and certain specialty shops to expand virtually beyond their locale. Below are a set of general recommendations for buying equipment, particularly the hardgoods:

  • If you can visit a locale that you like to ski at, go to a shop in the area and check out the skis. They’ll have selected their stock to suit the tastes, conditions and terrain of the area. This applies to the big stores and small shops alike. If the region is popular for the kind of skiing you like, the local population and competition among shops filter out the least suitable stuff.
  • If direct visits aren’t possible, several specialty shops serve the market of skiers outside their geography. The knowledge and expertise that accumulates in these shops is useful when you’re at the point of decision.
  • Finally, if you’ve made a decision and know it’s available at a big store like REI, the local one can order it and have it transferred and ready for pickup within a couple of days. Some smaller shops will do a special order from their supplier or vendor as well.

Below are some shops I’ve used or know of. Disclaimer: I’m sure I’ve overlooked some, including the small shop areas in ski touring center lodges.

Specialty shops in lower Hudson valley

If you like skiing at Fahnestock or Minnewaska state parks, check out these two:

These are a few well-known specialty shops for touring and performance skis. They do online orders of course:

General outdoors stores with XC skis

The selection is best online at these two. Have it sent to a local store and avoid shipping costs:

Alpine ski shops that have some cross-country skis

I’m including these in case you live really close to one of them, but generally speaking they’re not worth a long drive for their XC ski selection:

The ‘where’ is only one part of the question. Another part may be:

What skis should I buy?

The answer is: it depends. Cross-country skiing runs the gamut from the multi-day treks in the mountain wilderness to short races in city parks. Shops don’t always carry the type of skis or boots you’re looking for. Ordering online is tough if you don’t know what defines your need or purpose. You may need help deciding, or prioritizing costs and benefits.

Recommendation #1: as a beginner, set ‘go skiing’ as your first priority, not ‘buy skis’.

You and a person in a shop need to have an understanding, and you will have valuable experiential information for a salesperson after one or two ski outings.

My first time on cross-country skis, I used rental equipment that was pretty… awful. Cheap leather shoes that had all the support of bowling shoes, and skis with a waxless pattern of half-moon depressions, each about the size of a silver dollar coin. Despite the equipment, the experience told me I wanted to do more.

Recommendation #2: rent different skis at multiple times and places.

Take lessons for the style of skiing you want to do. If you’re like me, you’ll gain more valuable information by doing than reading or talking. Try before you buy at least twice. And take a lesson along the way.

If you can articulate to someone the kinds of places you like/want to ski at, the level of performance you can feasibly aspire to, and the capability you have now, any reasonably good ski shop could tell you if they have something usable in their lineup.

I’ll have what they’re having

If you wind up being fortunate enough to fall in with a group of more experienced skiers doing the kind of skiing you like, you’ll probably buy skis your friends recommend, and that’s fine.

The same thing works with places you ski at. If you like skiing in a specific place because of the trail, terrain, and what you see other skiers doing, you can take equipment and clothing cues from them, or what you find in a ski shop serving that population.

In the absence of a commitment to something very specific like racing or adventuring, starting with general-purpose waxless touring skis matched to your weight, and boots that fit well is your best bet. If you want to go beyond the limits of that setup, buy more specialized equipment later.

Moving up

If your skill exceeds the performance of your first set of skis, or you become interested in another type of skiing, you may start asking yourself the question: ‘do I need new equipment?’

What are some signs you’re approaching the point of decision? When there’s a specific issue you know is related to your equipment and not you.

Examples: If you see everyone stride up a gentle hill while you have to herringbone, that’s a sign. If your boots are a bit uncomfortable or squeak all the time, that’s a sign. If some people are doing a form of skiing that looks more fun but their skis are different, that’s a sign.

Accumulate signs over time, and you’re at a decision point where a wise and judicious purchase can make a positive difference.

Recommendation #3: Focus on the boots.

It can be harder to find a great-fitting pair of ski boots than to get the right skis, so when you decide what kind of skiing is really for you, fit the boots first. Once you have the boots, pick the skis and bindings to go with them.

What do you do with old skis and boots? Keep them as loaners or ‘rock skis’- they’ll be useful and usable for some time. Or put them up at a yard sale or ski swap, for someone else to start cross-country skiing on their own.

The gear-monster rears its head

The more specific and dedicated your purpose in skiing cross-country, or the wider-ranging it becomes, the more money and decision-making will be expended.

If you want to do classic style skiing as well as skate, that will require two different sets of skis, poles, and boots. If you also do some kind of backcountry or adventure skiing, that’s a third and completely different set of equipment.

It’s perfectly conceivable that a cross-country skier who likes to do all forms of the sport in all conditions could wind up with a half-dozen different ski and boot setups. But most people focus on one or two styles of skiing, and need only one or two sets of skis, boots and poles.