Training & Technique: Better Mileage

By Steve Hindman

As gas approaches $4 per gallon, I’m going farther with less by paying attention to how and when I push on the gas. Once I get to the trailhead, I’ve discovered I can also go farther (or faster) with less effort on skis if I push less and glide more.

This is simple but not easy. All you have to do is to stay over your foot. Moving early and gently from ski to ski, and not staying too long once you get there, is the easiest way to ski this simply. If you do stay too long and arrive too late, you’ll waste time and effort climbing back over your foot before you can move onto the other.

Your gyrations while climbing back onto your foot will also disrupt your glide by mashing the wrong parts of the ski into the snow at the wrong time. To avoid all of this waste, try moving onto your new ski sooner than you may be used to, arriving over your new ski as your last push-off continues to propel you up and forward.

Push-off is a loaded term, since it seems to make folks kick like a mule instead of float like a butterfly. However, you do have to push off something to move forward.

Floating up and over the next ski

As you move forward by extending your rear leg while your heel remains on the ski, think of pushing your hips and torso up, forward and over your next foot in an arc resembling the first half of the arc traced by a basketball during a free throw. You know you’ve nailed it when you feel like you are floating forward at the beginning of each skate or classic stride.

If you have to pull yourself onto your ski and over your foot with your leg or poles at the beginning of the skate or stride, you’ve stayed too long. Josh Thompson, in the January/February 2006 issue of this magazine, describes this float as “riding the front of the wave.”

Another way to think about this is to “hit the gas” (push down on the ski) early and then move onto the next ski. Pushing down with a quick and solid impulse sooner propels you to the next ski before your glide begins to fade. This avoids those gyrations that can slow you by pressing the ski into the snow at the wrong place and time. It also keeps you over your foot, which is the secret of those annoying skiers who glide past you while looking like they’re doing nothing. To mimic them, find a way to arrive on the next ski softly and quietly.

Left: Hitting the gas way too late. Right: Moving over quietly and early.

When you stay over your gliding foot, you can apply power whenever you sense it is the right time to move to the next ski. This allows you to waste less glide or effort. Lindsey Putnam summed this up long ago in Gillette and Dostal’s book, Cross Country Skiing , with the simple tip, “Don’t let your behind get behind.”

To find this sweet spot in classic or skate skiing, I pay attention to the pauses or movements that keep me from feeling like I am falling forward. When I eliminate them, skiing becomes effortless and my glide increases. Trying to stride too far or glide too long are the usual suspects that prevent me from continuously moving forward.

Develop a feel for what prevents you from floating forward throughout each glide. When you remove these barriers, you’ll find yourself in position to start each push as you begin to fall forward toward the next ski. From there you can apply the exact amount of power at precisely the right time, intensity and duration to get the most out of the “gas” you use.

When you push down on your ski from in “front of the wave,” you are also in position to compress the camber of your ski as you drive the edge or wax pocket into the snow. As you continue forward and extend your leg, the spring in your ski will rebound and help move you up, forward and over your next foot.

When you stay over your foot and push from ahead of your camber, you are using gravity instead of fighting against it. Leonardo de Vinci put it this way:

Motion is created by the destruction of balance, that is, of equality of weight, for nothing can move by itself, which does not leave its state of balance, and that thing moves most rapidly, which is furthest from its balance.

Moving like this from ski to ski will result in that elusive goal of “high hips.” Timing is the key to finding this sweet spot where you can stay over your foot and be a “thing that moves most rapidly” with the least effort. To discover the timing, discover where you can move the ski forward without moving your body back and learn when to move onto the next ski while you are falling forward and before you fall onto your face.

Honing your ability to find the sweet spot in other sports will help you when you get back on your skis. Spinning on a bike is one place to play with this. Like skis, the secret is to avoid pushing too long on the down stroke. To work on this same concept while walking or running, check out the Pose Method of running at http://posetech.com/library/pp-BM-0001.html.

Remember that it’s simple: don’t let your behind get behind and stay in front of the wave!