|Training & Technique|
By STEVE HINDMAN
of Going Up Hill
Not even the best skiers can climb every hill with the diagonal stride. The alternatives, the herringbone and the side step, appear to be simple
techniques, but, in fact, many skiers struggle to use them effectively.
The herringbone uses the edges of the ski to grip the snow when the wax or waxless pattern is inadequate to the job. To use the edges, place your skis in a V position with the back ends at the point of the V and the front tips spread. Turn your toes out from the hips to spread the tips of your skis. By rotating your entire leg, you keep your knees aligned over your feet as you flex your knees and ankles. This position is both more comfortable and more effective.
With your toes turned out, the distance between your heels should be about twice the width of your shoulders. Flex your knees and ankles, pointing your knees towards your ski tips so that you look like a cowboy who just got off a horse. Push the edges of your skis into the snow by pressing your core forward. (Your core is that region from your thighs to the bottom of
Do not roll your knees inward, toward each other. Keeping your body upright and angled forward between your skis pushes the edges of your skis into the snow and keeps you from sliding backward.
To move forward, stay in that "saddle sore" position and waddle up the hill. Your feet should move forward as though you were kicking a ball up the hill with the instep of your foot. Move your hip forward to kick the ball, rather than just swinging you leg (photo 1). Lift one ski over the tail of the other as you step forward.
Your opposite pole should be planted just outside the V of your skis and even with your front foot. (Left pole even with right foot when that is the front foot.)
Avoid the common problem of squatting between your skis and attempting to bring your next ski up the hill with your foot and knee (photo 2 and photo 3).
When the hill gets too steep, the snow too deep, or the herringbone too tiring, it is time to side step. Keep your body upright and
over the skis to dig them into the snow and avoid slipping down the hill (photo 4).
When you step up the hill, move your hips (your core) first, then bring your ski beneath you. Skiers struggle when they try to place the ski uphill first
(photo 5). If you don't keep weight on the ski, it slips. The other
key to side stepping is to keep your skis 90 degrees to the slope. (If
you're climbing directly north, say, your skis should be directly
east-west.) If your skis aren't 90-degrees to the slope, they will slip out
from under you toward whichever end is pointed downhill.
Skis angle up or down hill when side stepping because the tips or tails
catch in the snow. To free your tip from the snow, pull your toes toward the
top of your boot as you bring your knee to your chest. To get your tail out
of the snow, bring your heel to your butt.
Balance, proper body position, and continuous forward movement of your core
provide maximum glide, the major feature of moving on skis. The instruction
column of the December 2002 issue of Cross Country Skier offered ideas and
activities to help you glide over the flats, and even up small hills. At
some point, however, you will need to develop a bomber grip and a powerful
kick to give your diagonal stride the horsepower to fly over the flats and
to motor up the hills.
The Monster Kick
A great wax job and properly fitted skis are a tremendous help when you want
good grip. However, a skilled skier can get adequate grip from a wide
variety of skis and waxes. Although various techniques help, an experienced
skier gains a feel for his or her skis that makes the real difference.
Drills and exercises are intended to help you discover some useful movements
and gain some of that "ski feel." They are not lists of ingredients that can
be carefully assembled, as in a recipe, to create "good technique." Think
of any drill or exercise as an experiment that may or may to prove useful to
you. The monster kick detailed here allows you to isolate and experiment
with small parts of a series of continuous movements that, combined, are
called the kick.
To start, simply stand on your skis. Reach forward with the foot you want to
grip the snow (photo 6). Flex your front ankle to drive your hips
over your foot, bringing all of your weight, concentrated in your core, onto
and over your front foot (photo 7). (Remember, your core is the area
from your thighs to the bottom of your ribcage.) Your knee should bend with
your ankle, creating a parallel alignment of your front shin and your spine.
As you flex your ankle, knee, and hip, your core will fall forward. This
forward fall contributes to your forward momentum and compresses the
"springs" of your ankle, knee, and hip joints. The energy stored in these
springs can be used to push your body forward when you uncoil onto your next
As you move your core forward, your ski will stop and grip the snow at about
the same time that your feet pass. Learn to feel when the ski stops and has
enough grip that you can extend off of it.
Once you sense that you may move forward, extend at the hip to begin the
step forward. Then open your knee and continue to drive your core forward.
Keep your heel on the ski as long as possible, so that you can apply force
through the entire foot (photo 8).
Continue with the monster kick drill by bringing your feet back together.
Start the cycle over again by reaching forward with one foot. Learn how and
when you can get your ski to stop and grip the snow. Then go skiing. When
you want your ski to grip the snow, move over your foot until the ski grants
you the permission of grip to move forward.
As you stride up steeper hills, the basics of the diagonal stride stay the
same. Your glide will shorten, forcing you to quicken your tempo and shorten
some of your movements. As the angle of the hill increases, your ski will
hit the snow farther behind you when you swing your leg forward. Look at the
horizon at the top of the hill to adjust your body position so that you can
land on your heel with your foot beneath your hips.
When the hill is steep enough that you can no longer glide at all, flex your
ankle and push your knee over your toe as soon as your ski lands. This will
put weight on the ski and give you the immediate grip to maintain your
position and to stride farther up the hill.
The November issue covered some basics of balancing and gliding while
skating. Although it seems like skating uphill requires more edging, more
pushing back and lots of grunting, focus on forward motion of your core and
maximizing glide. Match the angle of your front shin to the angle of your
spine to stay in a balanced and powerful position while skating.
The basic uphill technique is the V-1. It is easy to confuse the V-1 rhythm
with the V-2 alternate rhythm. In the V-2 alternate, you plant your poles
after you step onto your next ski. In the V-1, you plant your poles at the
same time that you step onto your next ski. Getting the poles in earlier in
the V-1 allows you to use them immediately on hills and where your skis
don't glide as easily.
Canadians call the V-1 the offset skate. Unlike other skate techniques, your
feet are offset when you plant your poles. Your poles also need to be
offset when they plant (photo 9) or they’ll end up between your skis.
Many skiers plant their poles with little or no offset, inhibiting both
their ability to step up the hill and their lateral movement onto the next
ski (photo 10).
To maximize the uphill power of the V-1, focus on three things: step up the
hill with each foot, plant your poles with your offside hand in front of
your power hand, and don’t come up before moving over onto your offside ski.
Your poling side is your power side, the offside is the non-poling side. To
offset your poles, plant your offside hand lower and in front of your power
hand (photo 11). Both pole baskets should be planted near the toes of
your feet. It helps to curl your palm towards you and plant your power pole
with a crook in your arm. This position, similar to how you would pull down
on a vertical rope, allows you to recruit more muscles for your pole push.
Step up the hill with each skate, picking up your ski with your thigh. Be
sure to keep your toes turned out from your hip. Don't let your heel move
inward so that it is even with the center of your body, and be sure to step
onto a flexed ankle (photo 11). The amount of forward motion of your core,
rather than how far you can stride uphill, determines the size of your step.
Many skiers twist toward the next ski as they pole in the V-1. Although your
poles are offset, your poling motion should resemble double poling as much
as possible. Stay over the power ski until your poling motion is almost
complete. As your hands pass your hips, push back, not up. Stay low as you
move onto your next ski (photo 12) and drive forward.
People often fail to drive forward onto the offside ski, and that failure
resuls in an unbalanced V-1. Standing up before moving to your offside makes
it very hard to drive onto that ski. Stay low, make sure the step up the
hill on your offside equals the step on your power side, and drive forward
as you step onto your offside ski.
V-2 used to be relegated to the flats. These days, you see more and more
skiers using it to climb steeper and steeper hills. The secret is good
poling and a quick tempo. In fact, you can even double pole up surprisingly
steep hills by focusing on the same things.
For effective double, or skate, poling, be sure to bring your core forward.
After completing a push with your poles, completely relax your arms. Gravity
will start them forward, but you can bring them farther forward with a "hip
flip." Your upper body should then be over your poles. Pole in a motion
similar to doing an abdominal crunch. Practice your double poling, and
challenge yourself on some hills. As the grade gets steeper, shorten your
pole stroke, stopping just after your hands pass your hips. Be sure to open
your hands and continue to push back wherever you end your stroke. Skiers
often take more time bringing their poles forward than pushing them back.
When you are double poling or using the V-2 on a hill, this hesitation will
make you stall out and struggle. Recover your poles quickly by relaxing your
arms and aggressively bringing your core forward. After your arms begin to
swing forward, bring your hands quickly into position for the next pole
Practice eight or ten quick double poles followed by eight or ten quick V-2
skates. Skate between each double pole in the V-2. Focus on a quick and
aggressive drive of your core forward after each double pole and not on
pushing yourself uphill with your legs. To help, remove your poles and use
your hands to push your core forward. Keep the same leg
and torso position when you go back to using your poles.