Technique & Training

Make it your own

By Steve Hindman

A reader recently wrote in with this question about skating: “We struggled with skating for four years, taking many lessons but remaining frustratingly plateau'd. Then we bought roller skis, a huge advantage because we could now go out and practice, with video analysis, any day of the year. However, we didn't improve a great deal.”

"Among the dozens of tips we implemented, one finally clicked. But I haven't seen it anywhere in print or on tape. By doing slo-mo analysis of film clips, I noticed that good skaters begin to turn their torso toward the opposite side just as their glide ski is touching down. Bingo! Any comments would be appreciated.”

These folks allowed themselves to play with numerous variations on skating until they got it. Their discovery may or may not help you, but their approach to learning — an adult version of play — certainly can.

Kids learn how to do what other kids are doing. They begin the process by watching and then trying it themselves. This works for adults, too, but not everyone has a gang of ski friends to go play with or the time to mess around until they figure it out. Here are some suggestions on how

you can learn to play and play to learn.

Watching

Watching movement actually leaves a pattern in our brains and bodies that trains us to move. This is why you should watch hours of ski videos if you want to learn to ski really well. Regardless of your own ability, choose performance-level videos (such as World Cup races) so you can observe a wide variety of successful ways to ski the same trails and terrain.

It can be helpful to see video footage of yourself to compare your sense of your movement to what you see yourself doing on-screen. But beware; your brain and body are creating and reinforcing the movement patterns you watch, so watch only as much as needed to make this comparison.

Watching is a skill that can be developed. Start by watching the overall image and don’t worry about what to look for – your body and brain know effective and efficient skiing when they see it. Over time you’ll be able to identify the silhouettes of individual skiers from a distance by the way they move.

Once you’ve established an overall image of good skiing, begin to focus on specifics. This is hard to do in real time, so use the slow motion and frame-by-frame features of your video player. As you watch, look for answers to basic questions. When does the skier set the new ski onto the snow in relation to the overall skate or stride cycle? When does the skier transfer all of her weight onto the new ski relative to when the ski contacts the snow? What is the torso doing in relation to the legs, the skis and movement from ski to ski? When are the poles planted? When is the skier extending his leg and when is he flexing it in preparation for the next push off? What does each skier do to accommodate changes in terrain, snow conditions or their own energy level? Where is the skier’s belly button in relation to their feet throughout a skate or stride cycle?

Visit the Training and Technique section of www.crosscountrskier.com for more on how to use video.

Feeeelings

Babies stick things in their mouths and toddlers stick their arms into animal cages to learn about the world. Adults may be a bit more sophisticated, but a fascination with touch and the ability to feel is essential to becoming a better skier.

Start from the ground up -- where your feet are attached to the skis. Are you on one foot or two? Is your weight on your heel, your mid-foot, your forefoot or your toes? How does moving where you weight your foot affect your grip, push off and glide? How does when you weight your foot affect your grip, push off and glide? Pay attention to where and when you weight your foot and you will begin to develop the mysterious “ski feel” essential for most skiing challenges.

Go Play

If you are brand new to skiing or to some version of it, like skating, take a lesson or three. You will learn the basics and get the first glimmer of how it feels. Once you can negotiate a trail or two on your own, find a playmate for at least

part of your ski time. If possible, ski with someone who is a bit better than you. Even if your fellow skier is at your level, however, you can each learn from each other.

When you ski with someone, experiment with skiing like him or her, versus skiing as you would on your own. Try something you’ve been working on and see if it makes it easier or harder to keep up. Ask them what they’ve been experimenting with or incorporating into their own skiing, and share what you’ve been playing with.

There are many ways to evaluate if one way to ski works better than another. When you ski with a partner, simply notice if you start to speed up or slow down compared to his or her pace. Does it take more effort or less? Does your wax grip better or worse? Does your ski glide more or less?

An organized tour, loppet or citizen race is another great way to learn. Skiing with others pursuing the same goal takes the evaluation process out of your ind and into your body. When the event is either long enough or intense enough, and you are committed to finishing, your body takes over at some point. It figures out faster and more efficient ways to ski, especially once you start to tire. Long-distance ski trips, or continuous skiing for two or three hours, can provide similar insights.

Make it Your Own

You can learn a lot from a good coach, instructor, book or video; but don’t believe anything until you try it out yourself. Get out onto the snow or your roller skis and play with the tip, trick or idea. Does it work better or not? Does it take more effort or not? Does it feel better or worse? Only you can be the judge.

Over time you’ll develop an internal guidance system about what works best for you. Then you can adapt to different trails and snow conditions and your own physical state from moment to moment. Have fun!

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