Skate Technique: new vs old?

Q: Having learned the original skate techniques back in the day, then re-learned the “new” skate (hips and shoulders square to the direction of travel), I still struggle with proper skate form. From my own experience, it seems like the new skate only works at high tempos or going uphill (when the glide phase is short). Otherwise, the old skate (toe-knee-nose) provides the flattest ski with the longest glide. I can’t see how you can ride a flat ski for very long if your torso isn’t aligned with the direction of ski travel. Can you shed any light on this?

A: If it makes you feel better, I think there has been confusion in how skating is taught over the years. It’s tempting to try paint with broad strokes when we discuss technique, but as your questions and experience show, we usually miss some important distinctions when we do that.

One principle of skating is that the faster a skier’s velocity, the more acute the V of the skis can be. Meanwhile, the slower the velocity, the larger the angle will be. We can see that for ourselves: when we V2 fast, the angle of the skis may be around 30˚; and when we’re casually skiing uphill, the V expands to 90˚ or more. There are some laws of physics at play here, but in general, we figure this concept out ourselves – it’s really hard to skate up a steep hill with a tight V.

Another concept is not exclusive to skiing: The quicker you try to do something repeatedly, the less time you have between efforts. That is, if you’re skiing 40 strokes per minute, you have 1.5 seconds to move from ski to ski, and if you’re skiing at 90 strokes per minute, you only have 0.66 seconds to shift your weight.

As you mention, “it seems like the new skate only works at high tempos or going uphill,” and I basically agree with that. When the tempo is high, you may not have enough time to shift completely over to each ski (into the “old” toe-knee-nose) – especially if you’re going uphill using V1/offset, with a wider V. It’s also a safe bet (hope?) that your high tempo is also making your ski speed faster, so the V in V2/one-skate is more narrow; you may actually be getting completely over each ski, but it’s a less obvious weight shift.

I’m not sure why there are “new” and “old” skates being taught, as both are valid. There’s a continuum of how much weight shift and torso alignment you can effectively achieve in different conditions, and you need to figure out what works best for you. Ski speed and the terrain contribute to making this decision, but so does your strength and balance. If you look at this video, we can see that Sundby (leading, red bib) is able to stay squared up to his skis more effectively than Sveen (bib 17), who is using more of a toe-knee-nose approach – but they’re skiing at the same velocity:

To summarize: You’re fine, you’re right, just keep doing what you’re doing.

Jason Cork
US XC Ski Team Coach

(originally posted in SkiPost)

Featherweight Downhiller

Q: I am tired of being passed on the downhills during races after crushing many people on the uphills! As a lightweight person, I cannot maintain my speed and all the skiers I passed on the uphills end up passing me on the downhills. Since I do not have body weight to my advantage, how can I get faster on the downhills to be competitive? I try skating, use the classic track, and double pole with all of my force but everyone passes me! Do you have any advice? Thanks!

 

A: I have not seen you ski so I do not know exactly what you are doing. Remember all objects in a vacuum fall at the same rate. So we need to get you downhilling like you are in a vacuum.

First of all, use your small size as an advantage, so get small and aero.

Secondly, I see many people on gradual downhills skate like crazy, but very ineffectively. Try pushing harder and longer on your skate motions but less frequently. Do not just skate for the sake of skating.

Thirdly, Make sure you are riding flat skis and you have your weight on youR heels and not your toes when you are tucking.

Practice makes perfect. Practice downhills behind a faster downhill skier. Tuck in behind them and see if staying in their draft will allow you to keep up.

Make sure you are on skis fit to your weight. A ski matched to your weight will allow you to skim across the snow when larger people are plowing through.

There are snow conditions where a downhill glide resistance will be effected by skier’s mass. If the tracks are nicely groomed corduroy, skier’s size should not affect glide much if at all.

In some rougher track conditions with hard under-layer a larger skier can plow through the snow and maintain speed better than a lighter skier. In other deep snow conditions the lighter skier could float through the snow better than the larger skiers.

 Stay relaxed and think about glide.

– Andy at SkiPost.com

 

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I read with interest your reply to the skier who felt that her light weight was holding her back with respect to down hill glide. You made a lot of good points — flat skis glide faster; get into a tuck, don’t skate ineffectively. But there is one key that I think you overlooked: one’s speed downhill is directly related to how fast you are going when you start gliding. I have passed many skiers on the downhills of the Birkie. Frequently, I watch them as they pull away from me on the uphill portion. Then when they reach the top, they stop skiing, let their shoulders slump, and glide downhill standing up straight.  I try to conserve my energy while climbing, then when I reach the top, V2 aggressively in an attempt to sprint to top speed before getting into a tuck for a fast descent. I’ve found that a tuck is usually faster than the relaxed skating that a lot of skiers seem to favor. 

– Skier

 

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Enjoy Winter,
Andrew Gerlach
Director/Editor- SkiPost

How do you go around a corner?

I watched my Olympic biathlon brethren go around turns. Some cranked the inside ski around before accelerating into the straightaway. Others put weight on the outside ski and pushed off into the turn, almost like alpine skiing. What is the best form?

 

Sorry to say but this all depends on every turn, the snow surface and your capabilities. As with all skiing you want to maintain momentum and minimize effort. You want to avoid hockey stop turns that scrub speed. Generally, the fewer steps you make the better. On real sharp turns you can pull your inside ski back and then push it into the turn and then follow that by skating off the outside ski.

Best way to learn is to follow a great skier and copy what they do, or follow a not so good skier and try different techniques and see if you are gaining or losing distance on them. sorry that I could not be more exact via email.

– Andy @ SkiPost

SkiErg Ski Technique Form

Q: I’m a big fan of the SkiErg. When I workout I do a full crunch, bend at the waist and keep my legs straight, is this wrong? I notice from the videos that the demonstrators bend their knees and only half-crunch, so more arm involvement.

 

 

A: When using the SkiErg, following the description you outlined from the demonstration videos is the correct way to go. You want to have a slight bent in the knees – never locked legs. The legs and ankles should be soft and supple and the feet placed at hip-distance width. You want to initiate the crunch from the upper abdominals, so eliminate the bend at the waist.

It is important to use the core and arms in unison. Most of the power is going to come from the initial “pole” down when your hands are high, then follow through using the core (including the back muscles), lats and triceps. This is a more efficient way to double pole and will save you from back injury that can occur when you bend at the waist/hips. As you transition to this new technique, you may feel more involvlement from the arm, but over time you will become stronger and more efficient in the upper body.

Slapping Skis

Q: My skis slapping the track when I stride. How do I fix it? I do it the most during easy classic skiing, not so much in races.

Short answer: this is due to “late kick”; try thinking about driving the ski forward rather than kick backward.


A: Slapping-skis can often be an indication that a skier’s hips are too far back. The slapping sound you hear may be caused by the tail of the ski hitting the track too early because the “recovery” foot is landing behind the standing foot. Ideally, the recovery foot would be landing parallel/beside the stance foot, or even a few inches in front of the stance foot. If the hips are too far back, a skier is more likely to plant the foot too far back to gain balance, and in effect the tail will hit the track and make the clapping sound you are referring to.

As you ski, pay attention that your weight is in the front-portion of your foot. Before you start moving, gently transfer your weight from underfoot, to the front of your foot by leaning your body forward, making sure your hips come forward too. This is good basic positioning for classic striding. Also, watch that you are not “sitting-back” with your hips. A side-view of yourself taken on video will help give a visual indication of weather or not you are victim of “sitting back” with your pelvis and hips.

Karmen M. Whitham
CXC Development Coach
karmen.whitham@cxcskiing.org


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How to go fast downhill? Pointers for proper body position, pressure on the foot, etc.

Q: Here in the east we have had very limited snow and have been racing at Alpine areas. The descents have been quite difficult. How to go fast downhill? Talking about situations in which skiers are essentially on alpine grades at very high rates of speed.

A:  As a whole, Midwest skiers suffer from these same problems due to a lack of terrain. There is a very simple answer- go ski some downhills.

The best downhill skiers (on cross country skis) aren’t masters technicians, they are simply more comfortable on their skis. This part of skiing can certainly be learned, but it can’t really be taught.

Our suggestion would be to go to an alpine area with your cross country skis and simply ski for a day. Take the lift up the mountain, ski down (but stick to the easier trails).  You will certainly get some odd looks (and maybe a few black and blues) but by the end of the day you will have gained a very important trait, confidence.

General downhill technique reminders include bent and supple knees, staying forward on your feet (towards the balls), and using your arms to generate balance and flow.

Without getting too into physics, drag is affected by many things — the fluid you’re going through (air), how the fluid is approaching the object, friction between the object and the ground, length of the object, frontal surface area of the object, shape of the object, velocity and probably some other things.

You can’t really change the fluid, but you can change other things. Getting out of an aerodynamic tuck changes your body shape, and generally increases the frontal surface area and body length — which should slow you down. A snowplow will increase friction and decrease velocity as well. So, those are things to consider — getting more upright will slow things down.

On a more practical (and maybe less “yeah, no kidding” note), keeping your body and mind relaxed helps greatly on sketchy terrain. Definitely keeping the legs supple and relaxed is very important. Though it sounds stupid, while mountain biking, someone once told me that if you whistled to yourself when you’re tense, you’d relax — you can’t do it when your jaws are clenched, and if you’re grinding your teeth, you’re probably tight in your legs. Whatever the reason why it works, I’ve used it to good effect on descents. If you keep your knees and ankles relaxed, and your weight slightly on the ball of your feet (basic athletic position), you usually are able to react when things get out of control.

Practice breeds success. Good luck!

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A secret to lengthening glide on each ski.

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CXC Team, West Yellowstone; photo credit i3 Productions, i3.smugmug.com

First, let’s talk about the arms. When skiing in an elongated V2 alternate (say on a gradual down), let the hands lead the hips. Meaning, after completing a poling motion (where the hands are back), concentrate on whipping the hands back up to the top (exaggerating the height). When the hands are high, that should help to lead the hips forward which is the secret to lengthening glide on each ski. Instead of focusing on pushing back hard or fast, focus on returning the hands quickly. Meaning, as soon as the stride is over…BAM! The hands are back up in front and high, this is where the gliding is done.

Ever try and take a picture of a high school racer and notice it is tough to get a picture in a good position? That’s because 99 percent of the skiers have their hips back and aren’t gliding appropriately. Take a picture of a world cup race and it’s almost impossible to catch them in a bad position. That’s because the pushing/poling phase is short and the gliding phase is crazy long. The trick is getting the hips forward. How do we accomplish this? Unfortunately, there is no magic technique drill to do this. No pole skating is the best drill for a young skier to work on. As much as half a high school skier’s time on skate skis can and should be spent no pole skating. This helps to develop the correct body positioning and leg strength for lengthening ski glide. It also helps with balance which can be an easier way to add a couple inches to every glide. My advice, no pole….lots. On ALL terrain. When you have poles, remember to keep the hands high and bring the hips forward and the rest takes care of itself. Practice makes perfect!!

CXC Coach

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