XC Ski Technique Introduction
Although individual situations vary, the "classic" (aka "diagonal", "striding", or "traditional") xc ski technique is the best starting point for majority of beginner skiers.
The classic technique motion is generally the easiest to pick up in a short time span and requires the least amount of physical conditioning to enjoy--at least at a beginner level. one central motion (the diagonal stride) is all it takes to go from point a to point b in easy terrain although you will want to develop additional skills for uphills and downhill sections.
XC ski skating for beginners is very much a trial and error situation. If your fitness background includes activities such as in-line skating, ice skating/hockey, alpine skiing or telemark skiing...you will have a far greater likelihood of early success. The key is having a fundamental "feel" for what it means to set an edge and then balance while driving onto the opposite leg.
Regardless of which technique you decide to start out with, the American Cross Country Skiers strongly recommends taking a professional lesson for your first 1-2 times out on skis (particularly with skating!) and absolutely, with-out-question, go to a groomed XC ski area your first couple times on snow to guarantee enjoyable first experiences. Note that the information provided here on xcskiworld.com cannot substitute for having a pro out on the snow with you for even as little as 45 minutes.
To really learn efficient cross country ski technique, it cannot be overemphasized how much machine-groomed trails will help. Packed trails allow for a tremendous increase in glide and range of motion while eliminating much of the variability in conditions that you'll find at non-groomed locations. This, in turn, translates into a learning environment in which you can concentrate on a full ski movement rather than simply plodding through the snow or battling ice, rocks, logs, rivers, etc..
Even just a couple days on groomed trails (particularly if you've taken lessons with qualified professional instructors and rented quality, modern equipment!) can provide you with the basic skills and necessary information to start a lifetime enjoying the greatest sport on Earth.