NOTE: As of fall 2022, REI no longer offers its virtual outfitting service.
Jeez, where did winter go? It’s already feeling a lot like spring some days, so I’ve got the urge to head north for some winter adventures.
On deck is a trip to Bethel, Maine, where we’ll be filming, among other things, some cross-country skiing at Carters XC Ski Center (now part of Oxbow Brewing) and sampling a section of the new xNHAT rail trail, which currently extends 83 miles from Bethel to Woodsville, New Hampshire. We can’t wait to check them out!
Helping me gear up for these trips is REI Co-op, Explore New England’s outfitting partner and sponsor, which offers free virtual outfitting sessions. These sessions are completely free and available to anyone, and there’s no obligation to buy anything.
The outfitting session can be reserved via the REI Virtual Outfitting Scheduler. The page lets you fill out which activity you are interested in being outfitted for, as well experience level, sizing, and what you expect from the session.
Within a day, I was on a Microsoft Teams call with Julie R., a retail sales specialists for the co-op’s brand-new Westbrook, Maine, store. Julie got right down to business, making sure she had my sizing details before asking me about the type of cross-country skiing I planned to do, including potential trail conditions and terrain I might encounter.
We started with the skis themselves, of which there are many styles, each meant for specific conditions and trail type. Once it was determined that I would be skiing on wide, mostly groomed trails (as opposed to backcountry or grooved single-track) and potentially through fresh powder, along with some uphill/downhill and off-trail portions, Julie recommended the versatile Asnes Falketind 62 Xplore skis. These skis are designed for the type of terrain and conditions I might expect in basic Nordic touring, but also fine for groomed trails. Among other things, they feature wider tips and steel edges to better support weight on soft snow and facilitate turns, as opposed to skinnier skis designed for packed single-track.
As for the boots, she selected the Alpina Alaska—a heavier-duty, well-insulated boot built for off-trail use—and matched them with Rotefella Magnum BC Bindings. The latter are durable, extra-wide backcountry bindings suitable for driving the Asnes Falketind skis we chose and securely holding the heavier boots. The bindings would be professionally mounted on the skis at the Westbrook REI technicians prior to my picking them up.
For poles, Julie recommended a pair of lightweight, carbon-fiber Madhus Active Pro Poles, featuring cork grips and Velcro-close straps that allow for a secure fit and quick release—convenient for when it’s time to remove the poles. She also made sure the shaft length matched my height and skiing style, as classic, skate-ski, and touring each require different lengths. Who knew there was so much to ski poles?
The skis we chose required waxing, which Julie explained was more desirable for the range of temperatures I might encounter in a wooded setting over the course of several hours, as shadowed trail sections can make for very different snow conditions than sunny areas. Julie ordered up a Swix Gunde grip wax kit to handle virtually any temperatures I might encounter. This “hard wax” kit comes with a cork to rub the wax into the “kick zone,” and she explained that the REI staff would show me the wax-application process when I came to pick up the gear.
Julie wasn’t through with me yet! After asking me numerous questions on what type of clothing I already owned (e.g., goggles, balaclava, hat, waterproof bibs, light down jacket, and a GoreTex insulated jacket) she added some Seaslskinz Waterproof Gloves and stretchy REI Activator 3 Softshell Pants, which she recommended for lightweight comfort when the bibs and shell weren’t needed. She stressed the need to dress in layers of moisture-wicking clothes in order to stay dry and comfortable throughout the day.
I can honestly say that I learned a lot about the technical considerations of cross-country skiing—stuff I might have never considered—thanks to REI’s virtual outfitting platform. The process was incredibly thorough, and I was impressed by Julie’s extensive knowledge of cross-country gear and her ability to ask the right questions—including many important ones I might have never considered until it was too late. Now all I have to do is stop by the Westbrook store on my way north to try on the items and get a quick demo.
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