Cross-country skiing has seen increased specialization over the last 15 years, especially as shorter skis have become more popular. Cross-country skiing offers an excellent winter workout, as well as the ability to travel on trails in national parks and forests. It also offers a more sedate pace.
Types of Skis
Choosing the best ski is about finding the best balance between performance in a variety of conditions. For instance, if you primarily intend to ski at cross-country resorts in groomed trails, a racing-type ski would suit you well. If you want to tramp around off trail and even do a little downhill, a ski with metal edges might be more in line with your needs. Most reputable shops have a rental program that will allow you to try skis before you buy them, so test out several models for your intended use before purchasing.
Waxable vs. Waxless
Cross-country skis are designed to go both uphill and downhill; to accomplish the former, the ski needs to have some method of traction. Waxless skis have a fishtail pattern in the pocket (the area under the foot) that helps grip the snow when going uphill. With waxable skis, the skier applies a wax that is designed for the snow temperature to achieve the grip. Waxless skis are excellent for most recreational skiers and have the added benefit of not requiring as much maintenance, but skiers looking for the best performance should choose waxable skis.
If you aren't sure how much track skiing and how much off-trail travel you are going to do and are looking for one model, consider a ski with partial metal edges, which will help with downhill travel and traverses, but still be lighter for kicking and gliding. Skis in this category include the Alpina Discovery and Karhu Solstice XT. Salomon's XADV59 is narrow enough for tracks but has a full metal edge, while the Snowscape series is wide enough for off-trail but narrow enough for tracks. The Rossignol Evo Glade is slightly wider for better flotation but has no edges.