Trick is in the training, technology, technique

Kick up your winter aptitude with the ‘Seven Magic Movements’ of cross-country skiing

An experienced cross-country skier breezes by, seemingly alight in a jet stream of erudite, efficient, elegant motion. It can seem magical, especially to a beginner who is doing more stumbling than schussing, more grumbling than gliding, more falling than flying.

The only magic involved is the seven magic movements of cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing, in the classic or skate style, is all about efficiency, capitalizing on the propulsion produced between gear, motion, glide and snow. Technique is what brings it all together.

Advancing in this activity requires mastering the three “T’s” of skiing:

  • Technology — waxing, proper fit of skis, boots and poles, ski tuning, track conditions, trail design and the like. All the external factors that can enhance or inhibit a day on the snow. This all may seem dauntingly unfamiliar to a beginner, but information abounds. Research on the Internet, ask other skiers or inquire at a ski shop. A little research goes a long way.
  • Training — building strength, stretching for flexibility, doing distance skis to build endurance and interval workouts for speed. Once you learn the motions, go through them, often.
  • Technique — classic and skating. Cross-country skiing has two styles. Classic is the oldest, where feet shuffle forward and back, parallel to each other, hip-width apart, similar to walking only with kick and glide. Skate skiing is a newer development, with a motion akin to ice skating. The better these movements are learned and refined, the better a skier will become.

That’s where this series comes in — explaining the techniques of classic and skate skiing. For both, there are some universal rhythms to cross-country skiing:

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 1: Athletic posture. Mary Hauptman, of Skyview High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett ski meet in Anchorage.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 1: Athletic posture. Mary Hauptman, of Skyview High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett ski meet in Anchorage.

  • Rhythm of the landscape. All good ski courses have a rhythm built into the terrain. Get familiar with the twists, turns, ups, downs and straightaways or your ski area. The more you can read the terrain, the more you can modify your technique to make the most of it.
  • Rhythm of the skier’s movement. When things are going right, the skier’s rhythm matches the rhythm of the landscape.
  • Speed = glide length x tempo. Skiing is a continual adjustment of glide length and stride tempo matched to the terrain and the technique used.

Classic skiing

There are three primary classic techniques:

  • Diagonal stride, used on flats and uphills.
  • Double poling with kick, used on flats.
  • Double poling, used on flats and downhills.

And now for the magic:

Figure 2. Forward lean. Joe Bressler, of Kenai Central High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

Figure 2. Forward lean. Joe Bressler, of Kenai Central High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

Seven Magic Movements of Cross-Country Skiing

  • No. 1:Athletic posture — Knees bent, bend slightly at the waist, the back is slightly rounded forward but not arched, eyes are forward with the neck, jaw and shoulders relaxed. Even posture takes some practice to perfect. A common problem is a too-straight stance. Try strength training of the lower back and legs to improve your stance. It’s also possible your poles are too tall, so adjust the  pole length.
  • No. 2: Forward lean with the hips forward. Flex at the ankles, not the waist. The ski motion comes in two phases. In phase one, the forward lean initiates the kick with a momentary “free fall,” with gravity pulling the body weight forward. In phase two, the body weight shifts and you glide with the sliding foot slightly ahead of hips. When skiing uphill, the steeper the incline, the more you need to lean forward to adjust to the hill angle. Again, if your stance is too upright, check that your poles aren’t too long. To fix incorrect positioning, practice keeping your feet together, leaning forward, bending at the ankles, and stepping forward to
    Figure 3: This skier is driving her leg forward, which then becomes her gliding ski. Mika Morton, of Skyview, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

    Figure 3: This skier is driving her leg forward, which then becomes her gliding ski. Mika Morton, of Skyview, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

    catch yourself in the “free fall.”

  • No. 3: The kick. Hips slightly rotate as you plant the ski off of which you will push. Push off with a downward thrust, and the opposite ski is driven forward down the track. If you find your kick is late, or your kicking foot lands behind your gliding foot, ski without poles to focus practice on just the kick motion
  • No. 4: The glide. Weight is completely transferred to the gliding ski. The gliding ski lands like an airplane on a runway, touching the snow when feet are opposite one another. If your glide ski “slaps” the ground, try leaning  forward, and practice no-pole skiing.
  • No. 5: Compression of the midsection, also known as double poling. Bend at the waist, planting both poles at once to drive the poles backward and skier forward. In the diagonal classic ski pattern, where each arm swings forward, one at a time, with the opposite leg, there is little to no midsection compression in the diagonal pole thrust. But when double poling, there is full compression through the torso, going from nearly upright at the start of
    Figure 4: Weight shift. Fox Michaud, of KCHS, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett, completely switching his weight from one ski to the other.

    Figure 4: Weight shift. Fox Michaud, of KCHS, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett, completely switching his weight from one ski to the other.

    the double poling motion, to nearly tucked in the middle of it, to nearly upright again. If you find yourself lacking compression, practice double poling. If your head and eye placement is too high in double poling, practice looking at the ski label when in full compression.

Next week we’ll finish up classic technique and take a look at the elements of uphill and downhill skiing.

Alan Boraas is a longtime skier, one of the designers of Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School, and a former ski coach at Skyview.

Figure 5: Full compression. Luke Michael, of Soldotna High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

Figure 5: Full compression. Luke Michael, of Soldotna High School, at the 2011 Lynx Loppett.

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