Ease uphill battle of downhill ski skills

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 7: Use a longer arm extension on flat ground. Here, Logan Hemphill, of Skyview High School, skis in the 2011-12 Region III meet held Feb. 17 and 18, 2012, at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Figure 7: Use a longer arm extension on flat ground. Here, Logan Hemphill, of Skyview High School, skis in the 2011-12 Region III meet held Feb. 17 and 18, 2012, at Tsalteshi Trails in Soldotna.

Editor’s note: This is part two of a series of columns explaining the techniques of cross-country skiing.  

Last week, we began with the Seven Magic Movements of Cross-Country Skiing — No. 1, athletic posture; No. 2, forward lean; No. 3, the kick; No. 4, the glide and No. 5, compression. This week, we pick up where we left off in classic skiing:

  • No. 6: Pole plant. Arms should be bent at a 60-degree angle or less. If viewed from the side, poles should be planted with a forward angle. If viewed from the front, poles should be vertical or angled slightly to your centerline. The shoulders should be parallel, not hunched on the pole arm. Common problems: If you find your arms are too straight, try bending an arm as you bring it forward to plant the pole. If the pole shoulder is hunched, try keeping shoulders relaxed, and don’t overswing your arms too high when diagonal poling.

  • No. 7: Arm swing. The arm swing establishes the skiing tempo. On flats, use a slower tempo with a longer glide and a
    Figure 7a: Use a shorter arm extension for a faster tempo uphill. Skyview’s Mary Hauptman makes her way across the top of a hill in the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    Figure 7a: Use a shorter arm extension for a faster tempo uphill. Skyview’s Mary Hauptman makes her way across the top of a hill in the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    more vertical posture. To get up hills, use a faster tempo, shorter glide and lower, more forward-leaning posture. Arms should extend according to the desired tempo. A longer arm extension equals a slower tempo while a shorter arm extension is used for a faster tempo to get up hills. Common problems: No follow through, with arms “collapsing” behind you. Work on strength training and practice pole-only skiing. If poles “flop” or “fly” behind you, try adjusting pole straps to make sure they aren’t too loose.

Uphill technique

Figure 8: Uphill technique. Nate Mole, of Kenai Central High School, leads a pack up a hill in the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

Figure 8: Uphill technique. Nate Mole, of Kenai Central High School, leads a pack up a hill in the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

Powering up a hill while classic skiing requires an adjustment in technique.

  • The steeper the hill, the quicker the ski tempo.
  • Shorten your ski glide and arm swing to get achieve a quicker tempo.
  • Drive your lead foot uphill.
  • Bend at the knees for more leg power.
  • Bend at the ankles to create forward lean into the hill.

Downhill technique

What goes up must come down. Descending a hill

Figure 9: Jonas Eikelsdorfer, of Soldotna High School, lowers into a high tuck on a hill at the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

Figure 9: Jonas Eikelsdorfer, of Soldotna High School, lowers into a high tuck on a hill at the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

might not take as much lung capacity as shuffling up it, but maintaining speed and control on the downhill takes its own version of technique.

  • The tuck. Bend your knees, compress your midsection and squat down into a tuck position. The tuck position — higher tuck for slower speed and lower tuck for faster speed — increases aerodynamics, lowers the center of gravity and gets legs bent in preparation for step turns.
  • Step turns allow more speed and maneuverability than the beginner-favored snowplow method of turning, where you angle ski tips toward each other to reduce speed. Snowplow turns are slow, unstable, become automatic, cause the trail to deteriorate and should be used only when necessary. Telemark turns, used in backcountry and downhill descents, tend to tear up groomed ski trails, can make track-setting difficult for groomers once snow hardens and should be avoided on groomed
    Figure 10: Tucked low out in front of this group of skiers are, left to right, Sergei Wegner, of Valdez, Nate Mole, of Kenai Central, and Cole Covey, of SoHi, at the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    Figure 10: Tucked low out in front of this group of skiers are, left to right, Sergei Wegner, of Valdez, Nate Mole, of Kenai Central, and Cole Covey, of SoHi, at the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    cross-country tracks. Practice step turns whenever possible, especially on gentle hills to start with. If necessary, start with a snowplow to control speed, then step around a turn. To execute a step turn, keep your center of gravity low and legs bent. With weight on the outside ski, swivel the inside ski and drive it in the direction you want to go, pushing with the outside leg. Then, quickly bring the outside ski parallel to the inside ski. Practice makes proficient, and fresh, fluffy new snow, like the dusting covering the central Kenai Peninsula

    Figure 11: Kade Cooper, of Skyview, stays low and shifts his weight as he steps into a turn during the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    Figure 11: Kade Cooper, of Skyview, stays low and shifts his weight as he steps into a turn during the 2011-12 Region III meet at Tsalteshi.

    over the weekend, makes for softer, slower trail conditions in which to practice new skills. Most importantly, don’t worry so much about technique that you forget to have fun.

Next week we’ll begin a look at the elements of skate 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.

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