If you want your child to love cross country skiing, you've got to get them good equipment that fits properly. They will experience success on the snow and - hopefully - get hooked on skiing.
Here at Eb's we make sure each child is properly sized when getting new equipment, but it helps if parents understand a bit about sizing gear. You may be looking at getting used skis or trying to determine if last year's stuff will still fit.
Most little ones start out with skis that strap on to their winter boots. Make sure the skis aren't much longer than the child's height, and that the bindings strap on securely. Unless you are already waxing other family member's skis, we recommend waxless skis for the first few years. Kids normally shuffle at this stage and waxless skis will give them grip even in poor conditions.
It is widely recommended not to introduce poles until the child has learned how to propel themselves through the kick. Poles are introduced in Level 1 of the Jackrabbit program.
Don't get hung up on the old "tip-to-wrist" method for measuring ski length. Some ski manufacturers make stiff skis (eg. Salomon), some soft (eg. Fischer). The correct ski length could be as short as the height of the child or it might be 20cm taller. The primary determining factor for ski length is the skier's weight.
The essential thing is that the child is able to compress the ski with one foot. If they cannot, it will be impossible for them to get grip on the snow. The best way to test this is on our camber tester at the store, but you can do the "paper test" at home. Clean the skis, have the child stand on them on the floor, and see how easily a piece of paper slides underneath the bases. Follow this link for more details.
If your child is in the Jackrabbits program, they will be introduced to skate skiing in Level 3. It's best to have a waxable ski at this stage: wax them for classic lessons and strip the wax off for skate lessons. Ski boots can be regular or combi style as both have a soft enough flex for classic skiing.
At some point you may decide your child is ready for skate specific equipment, perhaps if they really enjoy skate skiing or have started racing. When sizing skate skis it is important that the child cannot fully compress the ski when standing on one foot, as the ski acts like a spring. If the child can easily compress the ski it will be very difficult to control during the kick phase because all the weight will be on the middle of the ski during the push off. With more weight carried on the tip and tail of the ski it retains its tracking during the push. Usually a skate ski will be about same height as the child or a few cm's taller.
Skate boots for children have greater ankle support and a stiffer flex. Skate skis and skate boots should not be used for classic skiing, but classic equipment can be used for skating.
Most children move to a ski boot/binding system around age 4 or 5. This gives them a lot better control as long as the boots fit properly. Don't go too big, hoping the child will grow into them - the boots may flex at the wrong place for the child's foot and cause blisters and pain. Not to mention making it difficult to control the ski properly.
Start with a classic junior boot with lots of flex in the sole. If your child starts skate skiing more you may want a combi boot; these have a flexible sole for classic but give a lot more ankle support for skate skiing.
To check size, here's a trick: before the boot is laced up have the child kick her toe on the floor so the foot shifts all the way forward in the boot. You should be able to slip two fingers behind the child's heel.
It is important that pole height falls somewhere in the acceptable range because it greatly affects how a child skis. Poles that are too short or too long will not only be inefficient, they will affect the child's skiing rhythm making it difficult to have proper technique.
Measure pole height to where the strap comes out of the grip, and have the child wear their ski boots. For classic skiing the poles should come to a height between armpit and shoulder. Skate poles should come somewhere between chin and nose.
If your child is just starting to skate ski you may want a pair of telescoping poles that has about 20cm of height adjustability. This way you can get away with one pair of poles while still allowing your child to learn how to ski properly.
Note: every fall (usually October) Eb's hosts a youth ski swap. It's a great place to sell your child's outgrown equipment and/or pick up some gently used gear.
Eb's also takes trade-ins on kids' equipment when you buy new.