Help me ski!
February 24, 2008 5:53 PM   Subscribe

Do you know any tricks for skiing down small hills while cross-country skiing? I mean without falling down, which is my current style.

Skiing does not come naturally to me. At. All. I'm a relative novice who learned to XC ski as an adult, but despite many tries, I have not gotten the knack for skiing down small hills while cross-country skiing. (I mean while traditional XC skiing, not skate skiing, though I've tried both.) I fall numerous times every time I go down hills, and I get really frustrated. After two falls on the same hill I usually end up taking my skis off and just walking down to the bottom, which is embarrassing and dumb. The problem is that now just the thought of going down hills on skis freaks me out totally. If I snowplow, I can't steer. If my skis are straight, I can't control my speed. Is there any hope for me?

I've also tried downhill skiing once, including an hour lesson, and I couldn't control my speed on the bunny hill even. Just thinking about it now makes me feel panicky.

I guess I'm looking for two things: tips on what to do/sources for instruction, and ways to get over being so freaked out about it. Help me get the most out of what is otherwise a pretty fun winter activity for me. Thanks!
posted by chippie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
A couple tips: you cannot really "steer" when you are on cross-country skis. Thus, you need to just concentrate on not falling down and keeping your wits about you. Very important is that you must lean forward. Keep your weight forward and do the snowplow. You need to do a very deep and steady snowplow if you want to keep your speed down. As you get toward the bottom of a hill, try to steer towards some deeper snow. You won't turn, really, you'll just kind of head that way -- it's not like on regular skis where you can really steer and turn. If you get going too fast, go into a deeper snowplow.

At the top of a hill, survey the situation. If you must turn somewhere on the descent, you will push hard with that foot into that turn while in the snowplow. So, if you need to turn right you push with your left foot very hard in the snowplow, harder than on your right. Turn your shoulders into the direction of the turn. Keep snowplowing and keep your weight forward over the center of your skis or the balls of your feet.

Concentrate on merely holding the snowplow and keeping your balance. Sometimes when I'm nervous while skiing, I stop concentrating on my balance. Once you do that, you're sunk. So just focus on the moment, keeping the snowplow, keeping your balance and you will make it.

At the bottom of the hill, wait for gravity to naturally take its course by slowing you to a stop or gently steer towards deeper snow, that will slow you.

Going downhill on x-country skis is fun! Really! We're always looking for hills and even did some crazy fast, downhill switch-backing trails once upon a time. Which is not recommended for a beginner because you just don't have the control of good old downhill skis with their good edges and stiff boots.

Also, we have a Parks & Rec department around here which offers inexpensive cross-country ski classes -- lots of fun and you get to watch everyone fall down. I recommend taking one if you have something like that. It would be so worth it to get over this hump.
posted by amanda at 6:05 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


In re-reading your question, I do want to stress -- you must snowplow. Forget about keeping your skis straight. Man, I had a crazy wipeout when I forgot once that I didn't have edges on my good old x-country skis and tried to shift my weight around like I had downhill skis. That was a bugger of a hill and I wiped out but good.

With cross-country you will do the snowplow but you'll just be heading straight down the hill. It is not at all like downhill skiing where you make wide, lazy curves as you go down the hill. Just take a deep breath and have this mantra in your head, "stay up, stay forward, snowplow, stay up, stay forward, snowplow." I dunno... that's what I do!
posted by amanda at 6:13 PM on February 24, 2008


I'm not a very good skiier, but I can relate what people keep telling me in XC classes.

1. Get out of the track. I know it has a pretty line down to where you want to go, but it was made by a machine, not a novice skiier. When you're a bit better, you can descend in the track, but we'll skip that for now.

2. Snow plow if you're feeling like you are going too fast. Don't snowplow in the track, that ruins the track for everyone else. You'll also go slower outside of the track and this is a good thing for now.

3. You want to turn with tiny step turns. I tend to shift my weight so I'm almost entirely on one ski and then to the other one while I descend. Think to yourself, "light and quick." Stay on one side no more than a second. You can lean a little, but you're really turning by quick little shifts in direction of the skis. When you get good at this, you can try to step turn in the track. Note, don't step turn while snow plowing. You want to do this with your tips either parallel or slightly open.

4. Like everything else in life, it gets easier with practice. I spent an entire afternoon going up and down the same tiny hill and it really paid off.

Good luck! Cross country skiiers seem to be the nicest of people, so find a beginners group and get skiing!
posted by advicepig at 6:31 PM on February 24, 2008


Practice your forward stride shifting your weight from ski to ski. Turning involves moving the un weighted ski in the direction you wish to go, when you wedge turn/snowplow you will turn in the direction of the weighted ski. some lessons Downhill skiing on skinny skis can be such a gas! it really is worth learning to do.
posted by hortense at 7:25 PM on February 24, 2008


Most of my skiing is done while carrying a pack in the backcountry, and hence I have backcountry skis. They're metal edged, slightly wider than racing and other traditional skis, and have a deeper sidecut, so they're a little more like shaped downhill skis than other xc skis are. For me, they are much easier to handle on the downhills than other, narrower skis.

You can get backcountry/touring skis like this that are still narrow enough to fit in a groomed track, but still offer the benefits of harder edges and a little more maneuverability, so I definitely recommend trying that.

The other advice on this page is very good. The bottom line is stay relaxed and keep at it. I crashed sometimes ten times a day for a while when I was first learning, and then, on magical day, everything clicked and now I love going downhill. Find a friendly place to practice where you won't hurt yourself if you fall and just keep going down the hills. Relax, don't think to hard about trying to turn, and you'll get it.
posted by dseaton at 8:33 PM on February 24, 2008


This is completely anecdotal, and as a result possibly useless, but I've seen people downhill skiing on cross-country skis. This was at big Rocky Mountain areas, as well. As I recall, the maneuvering was a hybrid of downhill/cc technique, in that the guys were going downhill in big S-curves, but doing a deep lunge in the knees during the glide parts in between the turns, and one leg--the "uphill", I believe--had the foot coming up off the cc ski, so that the knee was near the ground.
I have to leave for work, but I can try to track down some images/videos of this later.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:40 PM on February 24, 2008


Telemark Lessons videos
posted by hortense at 10:46 PM on February 24, 2008


What the luke parker fiasco alludes to, and hortense links to, is called Telemark skiing. It is a form of alpine (i.e. downhill) skiing that uses alpine skis (generally wider and heavier than your average XC ski) with modified "free-heel" bindings that allow the skier to raise their heel.

I would NOT recommend trying telemark techniques on XC skis, as they are not designed for that kind of skiing. Telemark involves putting most of your weight on each ski as you shift between your turns, and the wide base of tele-skis are designed to handle this, whereas your XC ski is thinner and you will likely lose balance.

Stick to your snowplow. Build up the muscles that it takes to keep yourself in that position, and you won't find many hills that you can't handle with a slow, controlled snowplow. Keep your weight forward, over the skis, and relax.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:33 AM on February 25, 2008


Like dseaton, I do a fair amount of backcountry skiing, on essentially downhill skis mounted to alpine touring bindings, which ski downhill like a regular binding and have a releasable heel for flats and uphill. The nature of my bindings would make telemark turns out of the question with the heel released. Often while skinning, short downhill pitches must be negotiated, and it would be time consuming to take your climbing skins off your skis and lock the heel.

Going downhill in a skintrack in this circumstance is pretty analogous to trad XC. The skins grip the snow, often arbitrarily, jerking your suddenly forward or back. This can be tricky, and I ended up on my face more than a few times. What I found worked best was to keep one knee forward for a few seconds, then lunging forward with the other, alternating back and forth like that, and just letting gravity do it's work. If I'm concerned that I will lose control without checking my speed, I usually find a snowplow works best on all but the steepest pitches.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:08 AM on February 25, 2008


Telemark skis and XC skis are VERY different. You can not use telemark technique on XC skis, because the boots, bindings and skis for telemark are FAR more rigid, and XC skis have a very different profile and performance. I would suggest you ignore most of the advice provided by the telemarkers so far.
posted by randomstriker at 5:55 AM on February 25, 2008


allkindsoftime -- Thank you, that's EXACTLY what I was thinking about (and was all proud of myself for finding, before discovering that others had beat me to the punch in the interim). Good to know that it's not a) recommended on cross-country skis, and b) not a figment of my imagination.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 5:58 AM on February 25, 2008


Yes, you can use telemark technique on XC skis. The telemark is an extension of the diagonal stride, the turn was developed on cross country skis.,
posted by hortense at 10:34 AM on February 25, 2008


Here is an instructor going smooth and slow. I do this on wooden touring skis, soft leather boots, and bamboo poles. I started before telemarking became a separate sport category.
posted by hortense at 5:31 PM on February 25, 2008


Thanks, all. Can anyone elaborate on what amanda means above when she says:

If you get going too fast, go into a deeper snowplow.

I don't know what that means. Change the angle of the ways the skis are pointing at each other? Or change the way my ankles are bending toward the ground? Uh, bend my knees more? I'm telling you, the physics of skiing make no sense to me at all.

I don't think telemark skiing is applicable to where I'm skiing. The ski paths are relatively narrow (maybe 7 or 8 feet wide?) and heavily wooded on both sides. If it is possible, it way beyond my skill range.

Thank you!
posted by chippie at 5:47 PM on February 25, 2008


I've taught cross-country skiing to kids and the main determinant between those that fell on every downhill and those that stayed upright was whether or not the kids bent their knees. Bend your knees and lean forward a little (shifting your weight onto the balls of your feet) and you'll be able to absorb all the little bumps on the way down without being thrown off balance. If you aren't in the tracks, keep your feet shoulder-width apart. You'll see this same stance used by athletes in many sports, and once you get used to it you'll be able to use it all the time without thinking.

Work on your balance as much as you can, as it will help you with your diagonal stride technique, as well as your downhill technique. My favourite exercise for balance is called scootering. Find a flat spot with a good track, remove one ski, and then push off with your boot and glide as long as possible while balancing on the other ski. It will be had at first, but after a few short sessions you should be able to stay on one ski as long as your glide lasts. Hint: make sure you shift all of your weight so it is centered over the gliding ski as soon as you push off.

Downhill techniques:

In the tracks, just keep your knees bent, your weight forward, and your body relatively loose. Don't put your poles in front of you to try to stop yourself (if they don't break when they jam in the snow, there is a good chance that you'll jab yourself with the pole grip and suffer a nasty bruise or a broken rib); tuck them loosely by your sides to keep them out of the way.

If the hill is too steep to stay in the tracks, step out at the top and snowplow. Make sure you keep your knees bent and don't be afraid to dig your edges in a little bit to control your speed. If you need to steer, just weight the ski on the side you want to steer towards. If you can find a smooth, wide hill, practice turning back and forth. You can also do a half snowplow by leaving one ski in the tracks and controlling your speed with the other.

If you need to turn while out of the tracks, but not snowplowing you can use a step turn which is done by taking a series of tiny steps in the direction you want to turn while keeping your skis mostly parallel. You can practice this on the flats before hand by turning around in a circle on the spot (this is called a star turn) and practice some more on a wide hill going back and forth. Again, keep your knees bent and your weight slightly forward.

If you get to the point where you want to take off your skis, you can do the sidestep by turning your skis across the hill and stepping down sideways.

If you get to a very tight, sharp corner and don't want to snowplow, you can use a parallel turn like a downhill skier or you can do a christie, which is a snowplow that turns into a parallel turn halfway around the corner. Don't worry about these (or the telemark turn) until you've mastered the other downhill techniques.

If you do end up falling, be considerate and do your best to fill in the hole you made in the trail (which is called a sitzmark).

While you can telemark on cross-country skis, it is hard to do and isn't going to help you at all as a beginner going down hills. Even though I'm a dedicated telemarker and cross-country skier, I'd argue that there isn't any benefit to telemark turns on cross-country skis unless you happen to enjoy telemark: The parallel turn is easier for tight, fast turns, the snowplow turn is better for turns were you are going too fast, and the step turn is faster when the corner isn't too sharp.
posted by ssg at 6:05 PM on February 25, 2008


If you get going too fast, go into a deeper snowplow.

I don't know what that means. Change the angle of the ways the skis are pointing at each other? Or change the way my ankles are bending toward the ground?


Both. You can slow down by increasing the angle between your skis (we tell the kids to make a bigger slice of pizza) and by rotating your ankles so that the edges of your skis dig into the snow more.
posted by ssg at 6:08 PM on February 25, 2008


I was going to say what SSG said, except less eloquently. Bend your knees and lean forward. The same technique used in downhill skiing. You may want to consider a trip downhill skiing, as the sheer terror of the experience will make cross-country skiing into a cakewalk, speedwise at least. (I learned to downhill ski, then 2 years later my next exposure was xc, and I didn't fall once.)
posted by herbaliser at 12:00 PM on February 26, 2008


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