Hi, I’m a XC skier who’s spent a few seasons in McM. Here’s my take on it all: Skate Skiing is much better than Classic. The sea ice conditions are great, and it seems like it was specially groomed for skating. As for classic skiing, there are no grooves to put your skiis in, and it seems like they just sort of slide all over. I know people who are classic skiers, and they take up skating when they get to McM, as the conditions lend toward skating much better. I do both styles when I’m back home. My first year on the Ice I made the mistake and brought classic style skiis. I ended up using the skate skis that the rec dept had, and was happy with them. I’ve since brought down my own skate skis, though. There is a hodge podge of rental eqip through the rec dept. The skate skiis are actually fairly nice, though. Solomon binding system, and if you have your own Solomon skate boots, I reccommend bringing those, as the ones they have tend to give blisters. If you have your own equipment, go ahead and bring them down or have them sent down. The rec dept rents out the skis, and get grumpy when you return them late (which I always do).
As for where to go… refer to the Maps on the above postings. My personal favorite is the road to the sea ice runway, early in the summer. You can leave right from town, and you don’t need to have a partner. Armatage (when it’s open), is great, as it’s also on the sea ice. Or else the road out to Willy, but you have to get over the hill to Scott Base for that (I see some people ride a bike over the hill, carying their skis. Or else you can take a shuttle). The Castle Rock loop is nice, but probably better for touring skis than skate skis. I usually walk up. Coming down the loop on the back side, toward Scott Base is nice for down hilling. I have telemarked down it a few times, but since the telemark gear they have there isn’t that great, I didn’t have a great time. For me it wasn’t worth it to send down my good Tele gear… others find it worth it, though, and I know people who go snowboarding there on the weekends. The trail is fairly narrow, and you must stick to it (just wide enough to make turns). Sometimes there is fresh snow and it can be sort of powdery… otherwise it’s just blownover, crusty old snow. I personally love the skating conditions on the sea ice, and spend most of my ski time out there.
Oh, as for waxing. It’s a very dry snow. For classic skiing I couldn’t get it right. It’s nice and smooth for skating. I prefer to go out when the temps are around 10F – 30F, and had my skate skiis waxed for those temps, and they worked wonderfully. I had them waxed before I came down, but there is a place where you can wax your skis once you’re down there, but I recommend you bring all your own waxes.
Good luck & let me know if you have more questions. Oh, speaking of questions, Mike (or anyone down on the Ice right now), is Armitage open these days? What are the sea ice conditions? I haven’t heard any rumor of open water near town – where is it at?