Bamboo was what they made poles out of back in the day. Very retro these days.
Cross country is great and relatively inexpensive. The big question for you will be to go waxless or not. IMO nothing can beat a proper wax. However wax requires a bit of prep each time you go out, and depending on the length of your outing and the weather, possible rewaxing during your ski.
Waxless will be preferable for some but check with your local shop. In some areas, due to usual snow conditions, waxless may not really be an option for you.
I like xc skiing, just not enough snow here lately. Last year I didn't even get the skis or snowshoes out once.
If you have snow, trails, and they are groomed you'll find skate skiing about as hard as anything you can do. The only thing harder to me is snowshoe racing. I entered one race, some people actually run up the hills with them things. Major ouch.
"I felt bad because I couldn't wheelie; until I met a man with no bicycle"
Are you going to ski-skate or do classic? Different technique and equipment.
Most grown ups taking up the sport seem to prefer skating, whereas Norwegians who learn to ski as they learn to walk take up classic first as it is more akin to walking.
Feel free to google Therese Johaug now.
They do anything just to win a salami in ridiculous races. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me. It was the illest of times, it was the dopest of times. And we looked damn good. Actually the autobus broke down somewhere on the Mortirolo.
Do you want to skate-ski or classic style? The answer to that question will depend on whether you have groomed xc ski trails nearby. If you just want to poke around in the woods you're looking at classic style skis and maybe even the so-called xcd (cross country downhill) style skis with a bit more width and a more stout binding/boot combo.
Snowshoes (aka slowshoes) don't make a lot of sense to me. When the snow is deep enough to really need them for the floatation, the extra weight of the snow that accumulates on them can kill your hips/knees when you lift them up. And a what a drag to walk all the way up some long gentle grade only to have to walk back when you could be sliding all the way. I often see snowshoers on trails that are so hard-packed that any ol' type of normal footwear is perfectly adequate.
Again, a lot of things will depend on where you are located (terrain, groomed ski trails, availability of used gear, etc).
If you have access to groomed trails and the motivation Nordic skiing is a fantastic workout. If I was just starting out and had access to groomed trails, and was in it for the workout, I'd probably get a set of mid range skate ski gear.
Definitely spend the time and money to take some lessons or work with a friend on technique. You'll go faster, have more fun and get a better workout if you learn good form. It's way easier to learn it right than try to relearn it right.
I've tried CC a few times, classic style on ungroomed trails (poking around the woods I rode my minibikes in during the summer). I absolutely loved it. If I lived somewhere a little more conducive to it, I'd definitely have a set in my garage. As it is, where I live now, we just don't get enough snow to make it worth investing the $$$ for something I'd use once or twice a year.