As sports go, cross country skiing offers a wide variety of different styles and approaches that allow almost anyone to make skiing their own, from casual backyard skiing with family to epic backcountry treks for adventurous souls and, of course, high octane racing for the competitive crowd. High school skiing is generally geared towards introducing new skiers to the sport through racing, so this guide focuses primarily on entry level, race-oriented equipment.
Within nordic racing, there are two disciplines: classic and skating. Classic skiing is what most people think of when they envision cross country skiing; the skis run parallel to each other in a set of tracks and the skier pushes off of a pocket of sticky wax (called "kick wax" or "grip wax") in the middle of the ski in an elongated striding motion. Skate skiing, on the other hand, involves the skier pushing off the edges of their skis like a hockey player or a rollerblader. As a result, the skis are always pointed slightly towards the edges of the trail, and kick wax is not used.
Although high school ski racing involves both disciplines at the varsity level, many teams won't introduce first year skiers to classical skiing until late on in the season or even until their second year. This helps reduce the cost of entry into the sport by requiring less equipment for the first year and helps skiers concentrate on the fundamental aspects common to all skiing techniques. All programs are different, however, so if you are in doubt as to whether you will need classical equipment, ask your head coach what they will require for first year skiers.