The Escape Pilot 7 boot
The Escape Pilot 7 boot

What cross-country ski-and-boot setup should I get?

I want to take up cross-country skiing again after a 20-year layoff. What's the latest in gear, not necessarily top of the line but not entry level, that will get me back there again? I'm a classic skier with a passing interest in skate skiing. Can both be done with two sets of skis and the se boots and poles? I remember waxing as something tedious to be avoided at all costs but the waxless skis back then were useless in some conditions—have they improved? Mike Wheaton, IL

The Escape Pilot 7 boot

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

Things have changed a lot in 20 years, Ray. And then again, they haven’t. Most of the stuff you might look at would be fairly recognizable.

The Escape Pilot 7 boot The Escape Pilot 7 boot

I suppose the biggest change is that you won’t really find any of the heavy leather boots that still were popular for backcountry skiing back when George H.W. Bush was prez. More common is a boot such as the SalomonEscape 7 Pilot ($140), a lightweight but competent boot that can handle tracks as well as reasonable off-trail stuff. Note also that these use the fairly new “Pilot” binding system, which have a lot more in common with bicycle clipless pedals or downhill skis than the three-pin bindings you remember. I kinda like the old style, but the Pilots are okay.

For skis, Atomic’s X-Cruise 53 skis ($165) may be the ticket. They’d match up well with the boots and bindings mentioned above, plus they are designed to work pretty well both off trail and on groomed tracks. Nice and light—they’re a pretty good upgrade from long-ago skis.

For something a bit more classic and rugged, it’s hard to beat Karhu’s XCD GT backcountry skis ($299). These are real touring skis—full metal edges, built for plowing through deep snow. Match them with a pair of Alpina BC 1575 backcountry ski boots ($160), which are meant for three-pin bindings. Real classic gear.

Yeah, waxless bases are pretty good today. I can’t say they are X or Y better, but most now have designs that work on both glide and climbing. Some add-ons such as Swix Easy Glide ($14) help make the ride smoother.

Check out our annual Winter Buyer Guide complete your winter kit.

promo logo