For those of you in Blighty who live in the Highlands and Grampian area, xc skiing is a very accessible winter sport, and does not cost the earth to get started in or even compete at top Uk or international amateur level.
In contrast to say the comparable sport of mountain biking these days, a top pair of carbon fibre competition skis and poles will set you back only 500 to 700 quid. Skis start at about 100 including bindings for a get out an.d try it set, with perfectly capable trail or racing skis coming in about 180 up over. If you can get to the big three scandinavian countries or a major resort town like Zermatt or Chamonix, then both specialist stores and sports chains will have ski-binding-boot package deals which are often a bargain ,particularly on the mid priced end. Watch out for cheapy boots in some deals. Even the larger Coop stores in Norway have a ski dept the size of any Intersport store, so a cheap flight could save itself over. Deals for good gear start at about 200 quid, and often will save you 100 or more on gear bought seperately.
You can hire gear though to try the sport at the Huntly centre and at least one ski hire shop in Aviemore. I havent seen if Braemar and glen shee area have hire, but google nordic and cross-country for those places.
Skinny skis less than 5cm wide are best for prepared trails of coursex, but on hard packed conditions you can enjoy plateau or back-country wild touring.
Carbon poles may seem a bit fancy, but they are so much stronger than standard aluminium that the price difference to the best metal is negigble, and the carbon will not bend out of form as a typical alloy one will in the hands of a new beginner, but they wjill break if abused.
Ski length for a new beginner should be correctly advised by a good sales assistant, but you would be well advised not to start with the sports length fitting for poles. I recommend using a shorter pole for your first season, more tour length, which comes just up to your jacket armpit. You should in fact do a lot of practice without poles anyway. The sports length is now about 25-35 short of your total height, above arm pit in the mid shouilder, which is a bit cumbersome for new beginners, but as a better skier you get the benefit of full leverage and swing distance from this relative length increase.
Fischer and perhaps Atomic offer a shorter cut ski relative to height and weight, and this is maybe about 5cm shorter than standard. Heavier folk should get a range of skis tested for them to see which of the correct length actually will hold tgheir weight. A good shop will have a tensile machine , or at least an experienced member of staff who can do the paper under arch test to check a ski of your length and budget is good enough for you to get nice glide on.
Socks for the sportier should be thin wool socks ijf the boots have the usual insulation of a layer thinsulate tm and a lining or soft inner boot. Thicker socks will make you sweat in warmer than -8C, and you will end up getting wet, cold feet, and worse if your socks are big enough to constrain a bit of circulation.
For around -2′ c upover you only need winter jogging shell clothes, which allow for good movement. In such milder weather i still use a pair of Lidl lycra running tights and they are really comfy. Sports under wear in synthetic or marino wool are needed, and for anything colder you should have long thermals of thin marino wool which stays warm when you sweat. For colder weather you can wear a mid fleece layer and perhaps go over to a light xcr goretex outer set. Generally pertex style is more comfortable as it breathes so much betterx, and falling snow brushes of it as you move by in large. A little, narrow sports rucksack with a chest strap is ideal to carry say over shell trousers, a mid fleece layer or a bigger jacket along with a drink in an insulated bottle.
Gloves are a bit of a bug bear for me as i sweat on my hands as soon as they are a bit too warm. I found a very reasonable pair of Rex breathable tri layers for a tenner from an internet retailer in Kristiansand. They also have lobster claw gloves whivh ared allegdely the best comprimise for cold versus some use of fingers. My pal uses swix mittens which are also good for downhill skjiing. Around freezing up over i use light sailing gloves with full fingers which break the wind off , stop abrasion on the straps, grip the pole when needede for extra ppower and protect my hands if i fall. Andy Musgrave likes no gloves when it is milder!!
Gear does depend if you are a sweaty sock like me, or an endothermic waif who freezes on a mild day in the town. I also scale down from long johns and go off marino wool to synthetic underwear in milder than about -5 ‘C. You then also get into what to wear on your head, and i suggest a light multi-band with a warmer hat in your bag or pocket.
Pertex cycling jackets with a long back with pockets there are ideal for getting started if you have one already or that is what the local sports shop has for under a hundred quid.
As you progress you may feel the need for proper band type stuff. At normal retail price, it is all over priced, being more expensive than the best winter cycling gear and way more than running stuff. However it is all a little bit more thought through in terms of insulation, wind cheating and transpiration of body vapour. I can nip out and buy stuff in sales or just pop in end of season to see any clearance offers here in Norway. But for a brit not living in the highlands, it is difficult to justify lashing out with say 300 quid for a set of outers.
Water proof stuff is not breathable enough, and if you find it is raining and sleeting you have to ask yourself why you are going out on xc skis?
Sports sunglasses are important for brighter daysx, and thopse wtih change out lenses with an orange or yellow set are good for low contrast days when it may be snowing.
Back to skis breifly to finish off. I have blogged before about kick wax free versus waxed skis, and generally recommend the “fish scale” patterned sole to most beginners. However if you are very keen and want to have one set of skis to last you several years of progression in speed, then ordinary skis will offer a much better glide and you will be able to fine tune the adhesion by varying kick waxing.
I would have thought another alternative a bit crazy before, but the option to buy skate skis which can have one or two glided waxes a year done max, and have no adhesion kick zone by nature, is actually pretty clever! On the one side you may have access to snowy paths and forrest roads which get hard packed snow from traffic and boots, with no tramlines being driven in whcih case skating is a good style to learn. Also roller skis or using roller blades, is easier in the skate style so you can train yourself up on tarmac.