I spend a lot of time skiing in the Mid Atlantic. Snow varies from beautiful powder, to good ol' eastern hardpack.
For a wide variety of conditions I have several suggestions:
Go for 'em. They are primarily there to help you turn on hard snow (when flying downhill) and it's worth having for when you have to. They aren't absolutely necessary, but don't add much more to the cost of the ski. They are very helpful negotiating icy terrain as well. Good brakes!
Very subjective question. Look for skis that lean toward backcountry travel. In the X/C ski world, they are wider than skis designed for track use, but are not as big as say an alpine or telemark ski. Karhu has a nice line of back country skis that are excellent for deep woods touring & turning.
Another thing to consider is the difference between waxable and waxless skis. Waxable skis have a smooth base. They are considerably faster than waxless skis, but you will need to change the waxes depending on snow & weather conditions. Not a difficult task, short learning curve.
Waxless skis have a pattern cut into the middle part of the ski. A bit slower than waxless, but handles just about any weather/ snow condition (except ice, for that you still need wax or skins to climb) I ski waxless. Just like the convenience of not having to stop & cork on another layer of wax on a tour.
Atomic Ranier - a very lively great touring ski with a waxless base.
Karhu 10th mountain - hugely popular here in WV. waxless base, great climbers and they turn almost as well as my tele skis. Great compromise.
Skis are really something you need to try before you buy
Usually based on the combined weight of you and your pack. They will be longer than skis you would rent at a resort. As an example, I weight about 175 and use a 180 ski for both my tele boards and my xc skis.
For touring, a basic 3 pin binding works well. YOu can also get the 3pin binding with a heel cable that adds a lot of torque for turning. Voile has the nicest combinations (again my opinion only!) www.voileusa.com
Go with a mid weight plastic boot. Garmont Excursions are a very warm, very versitle boot for just about any conditions.
Good boots are expensive though. Do some research. Try some on if you can, then wait for sales in the summer. or check sites like Telemarkdown.com or SteepandCheap.com
I used leather boots for years (still do sometimes) but have found the plastics to keep my feet warmer & dryer in the long run. But they are hard to get into when frozen!!
Just some basics that I hope will help. I would seek out a good ski shop, one that has a good selection of XC gear & just ask questions.
If you want to get innundated go to
www.telemarktips.com and post there, but be aware that most of the posters in the forum are big mountain skiers - you'll be steered more toward heavier gear; not a bad thing at all, but still you need to weigh your needs.
Edit: As you make decisions I would encourage you to take lessons as well, from professional instructors. Shortens the learning curve, and you're heading into some potentially unique hazards on skis that you don't on foot.
Also, there is an increasing amount of women-specific gear out there. Manufactureres are FINALLY catching on!