By Steve Hindman
Skating is sexy, skating is fast and skating is easy! Endless articles on what to do and how to do it make it seem complicated, but it needn’t be. Skating is easy and fun when you follow these three steps: prepare, move over and extend. Let me explain.
Skating feels more like cycling or downhill skiing because your skis never stop sliding forward, unlike the grip-and-glide cycle of the diagonal stride. The secret to keeping them moving is to be prepared to move onto the next ski whenever necessary and before your hard-earned momentum starts to fade. The V position of skating points your next ski in a different direction than the ski you are riding on. To be prepared, start to move toward your next ski each time you skate onto a new ski.
Photo 4 illustrates the key components of the preparation phase in fast conditions. Both legs are flexed and my body is coiled. All of my weight remains on the right ski but I am obviously on my way to the left. The movement away from my right ski has rolled the edge of that ski into the snow, providing something to push against.
With my weight still supported on my right ski, I can continue to apply power to my ski with my double pole and right leg extension. Yet I am in position to move immediately onto my left ski if necessary. Preparing to move to the next ski is also committing to the next ski — I have to move onto the left ski from this position.
In fast conditions, you move slowly toward your next ski, taking time to relax and enjoy the ride. In slow conditions, you may start moving toward the next ski even before you have transferred all of your weight onto the new ski.
In either case, preparing and moving toward your next ski should not result in a lot of twisting back and forth between your skis. When you are moving fast, both your skis and your body point mostly forward. When you are moving slower, your skis stay in a wider V, but you move from ski to ski much quicker, leaving you continually moving forward and in line with the trail.
Moving over to the next ski requires a forward and a lateral, or sideways, motion that is very similar to walking the deck on a rocking boat. Skate skis have no scales or grip wax to grab the snow. From the preparation phase, you have the entire edge angled into the snow, from which you can find purchase and push off. Keep your heel on the ski as you move over. This will keep your push-off directed down through the ski and against the edge. Lifting your heel directs your push backwards along the length of the ski and will make your ski slip out to the rear.
In Photo 5, my right leg is fully extended, my heel has lifted off the ski and my hips have been pushed over my left foot to complete my weight transfer onto the left ski. My left ankle, knee and hips remain flexed for enhanced balance. From this coiled position, I can extend to keep moving forward.
When to move from ski to ski varies greatly with terrain and snow conditions. At slower speeds, you need to move sooner. As a general rule, it is better to transfer your weight early to avoid stalling out and losing your hard-earned momentum.
Play with this early transfer by moving quickly and crisply from ski to ski in fast conditions. You will feel the extra speed generated by the rapid weight transfers when you succeed in truly moving from ski to ski, as opposed to waddling in the middle.
Once you have that mastered, have a buddy stand with his skis parallel and hands at his side, gripping his pole baskets with the poles extended behind him. From behind, take his pole handles in your hands at your waist and push forward while skating. The added resistance will quickly point out the advantages of moving quickly from ski to ski to generate and maintain momentum.
After you’ve moved onto a ski, stand up and extend up the track to keep the ski moving forward. Continue the spiral motion of the sideways and forward step you started from the edge of the last ski, as you continue your drunken ramble up the deck of that rocking boat. Keep your core engaged (suck in your gut as if I were swinging a bat toward your belly button) so that the forward momentum of your extension transfers to your ski when the spiral ends. From there, you’re ready to take a brief free ride as you float even farther forward if you’ve got the glide, or to plant your poles and keep your ski moving forward with your poling motion.
This is also the end of the cycle, making it the beginning of the next preparation phase. In Photo 6, my left ankle and hip angles have opened and I have begun moving up the trail and towards the opposite ski tip. By the time my poles are planted, my hips will have completely opened and I will be leaning forward from my ankles, committed to the next pole plant.
Prepare — start to move toward your next ski as soon as you skate onto a new ski.
Move over — move sideways onto the next ski before your momentum fades.:
Extend — stand up and reach forward with your entire body to keep your ski moving forward and to prepare for your pole plant.
That’s it — start with the bullet points and then add details when ready. As easy as 1-2-3!
Steve Hindman lives and skis in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of Cross Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness published by The Mountaineers Books.