Not from good to great, more like from sucky to...slightly less bad?
January 3, 2011 12:09 AM   Subscribe

How can I best transform myself into a more efficient and possibly faster skate skier? If you started as an adult and now feel competent at this task, what resources did you use and what did you do to improve and refine your technique?

I started cross-country skiing (mostly skate, I'm not too interested in classical) more or less as an adult, and am still at the low-intermediate stage after a couple years- I can stay upright and transport myself from one place to another, but not particularly gracefully. Most people on the trail who I'd guess are my age and at my general level of fitness seem to be kicking my butt, and I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing wrong. I would like to get better at skate skiing- not necessarily to be faster per se, but to work the kinks out of my technique so I can genuinely enjoy going out and skiing instead of feeling gasp-y and destroyed while I'm doing it.

Masters skiing/coaching around these parts appears to be for the genuinely fast. The skate ski classes that Parks and Rec offers are for people who can't really stay upright just yet. I am going to get a few good friends to take me out and look at my technique, and I may find someone to officially coach me at some point.

But until that happens- what are the best ways to discover what I'm doing wrong and fix it? What are good general-reference skate skiing videos/books/games/resources/?. What are some common mistakes that the average slightly flailing skate skier makes, and what are the best/easiest ways to fix them? What would the best cross-training in a gym be on days when conditions are too cold or icy? If you are not one of the lucky few who started as a kid or found it easy to start, what were your a-ha! moments? How long did it take until you felt confident and could easily go for an hour or two?

I am 31, female, healthy and active and have easy access to miles and miles of groomed wide trails of varying degrees of hilliness along with some very flat stadium areas for games and drills. I've been skate skiing 2-3 times a week since early November and usually fit in about 5 total cardio workouts a week along with some very basic weight training at least twice a week.
posted by charmedimsure to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As you know, there is really no replacement for real-world coaching. Assuming there is a competent instructor, the classes on offer would probably still be helpful (the basic exercises are the same and applicable to skiers at all levels). I'd also have a chat with the masters people. They are usually pretty friendly and might not mind if you can't keep up from the get-go. Don't be intimidated by the lycra and fancy gear. You are in x-c ski country; I'm sure you can find some sort of technique instruction.

That said, there are a few things that are common technique items to work on. The big one is balance/weightshift. To ski efficiently, you need to be able to get your weight over your ski, balance on that ski and then smoothly transfer your weight to your other ski. One exercise is to take off one ski, push yourself off with your boot and balance on the ski for as long as possible (this is mush easier to do in the track). Do that one often, until you can balance going down a slight incline on one ski for 100m or so. Skiing without poles is also important. This is easiest to see demonstrated, but if you take off your poles, lock your arms at 90deg at your sides and hold your pole shafts in your hands, parallel to the snow, you are ready to work on your balance. Practice balancing on each ski as long as possible and use your locked arms as guides to make sure you are balanced evenly over each ski (which should be directly between your arms). Think about lining up your knees, nose, and toes in the same direction.

You also need to think about the position of your hips. You want to push your hips forward in such a way that you would be falling down if you weren't moving. Think about leaning your whole body forward at the ankles. Watching video of yourself and comparing to skiers with good technique can be very eye-opening on this issue.

Other common issues are skating like a hockey player (you need to push sideways, not backwards), not using your abs and shoulders effectively (bend at the waist and save your arm movements for later in the stride, double poling practice is good for this), and using offset skate all the time (this is not efficient and promotes poor weightshift, use one skate or two skate on the flats and save offset for the steep hills). Don't be afraid to double pole on flats and slight downhills, it is fairly quick, especially in cold conditions were the tracks are likely faster than the groomed area, and efficient. Make sure your poles are the right length (roughly, reaching up to your mouth).

That said, balance exercises are by far the most productive way to improve your technique (and they are a lot easier to do in a group, rather than by yourself). I really can't recommend some sort of instruction enough. I can say with 99% certainty that you need to work on your balance, weightshift, and hip position, but these things can be tough to tackle on your own because you can't see yourself while skiing and you wouldn't really know what to look for even if you could.

Finally, everyone feels gaspy sometimes and this only improves slowly with fitness. Cross-country skiing can be very physically demanding because you use so many of your muscles. Most recreational skiers who are trying to get more serious tend to ski too hard and tire themselves out. Take it easy, keep your tempo low, especially on the hills, and double pole when you can and you'll find that you can go for longer and feel better. In general, you should be able to carry on a conversation with someone beside you or sing to yourself or something (you shouldn't be out of breath all the time).

If you take up classic, even just as a backup, you'll find you are a lot happier to go out on those cold or icy days (classic is much more pleasant when the snow is very cold and slow and more pleasant when it is icy, and would be great cross-training, of course). Personally, I don't bother skating below about -15C, but I'll happily go out to classic at -25C.

I recommend focusing on your core muscles as far as strength training is concerned. You need them to balance effectively and they provide a lot of your power. Sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, and their many variations are your friends. Don't neglect the core muscles in your back. Shoulders are also important and of course quads are too, but don't think you need big muscles to ski fast. Do whatever cardio exercise you enjoy for cross-training (you'll do more that way).

I don't think there is any specific timeline to technique and ability development. I see many people out on the trails who have been huffing, puffing, and semi-flailing for a decade or more and others who start skiing seriously, work hard on their technique, and do much better after a few months. I think having some technique feedback and better skiers to train with makes most of the difference.

And that is certainly more than I have ever written on Ask.
posted by ssg at 2:09 AM on January 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

I am just an average skier at best.

The most common thing I see with people just starting out is that they do the same motion as if they were on downhill skis shuffling along the flats. You have to bring your heels together on each stride by lifting one ski over the other.

Personally I don't like the super long poles that are recommended, I use 10cm shorter than they say for a lot more stability.

Ski along with a person who has decent technique & try to copy their one-skate (on the flat) & offset (hill climbing) motions.
posted by canoehead at 8:23 AM on January 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your very thorough and helpful answer, ssg!

If anyone has other resources, please do leave them. :)
posted by charmedimsure at 5:51 PM on January 3, 2011

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