By Lise Meloche and David McMahon
For many years, cross country skiing headed counter to popular culture. While using the sport’s impractical flimsy equipment as fast as its skiers could shuffle, it veered away from all other skiing disciplines. Being adventurous meant changing your granola mix and committing a spree of fashion crimes in solitude.
No wonder Nordic skiers have a “rep” for being reclusive, conservative and a bit odd. Remember the arguments “wood is better than plastic” and “skating is evil?” Do you recall the esoteric technical arguments that fueled holy wars, on and off snow? New ideas were often vigorously suppressed. By the mid-eighties, the sport was overdue for a serious makeover.
The revolution started with skating technique, equipment upgrades, synthetic waxes and later, sprint racing. Changes in the 1980s produced a fallout which is only now reaching the mass of recreational Nordic skiers. The lifeblood of the sport is not necessarily the grass roots club programs, but the adult cross training movement breeding the majority of new skiers and the re-emergence of a cross country skiing as wholesome family outing.
Nordic skiing is now turning a corner and has an opportunity to become trendy again. Keep your eyes open this year for new things.
New And Revived Events
Winter cross training and a return to nature aerobics are resonating through the exercise community. As winter adventure races gain in popularity, groups scramble to learn how to cross country ski outside of amateur development programs. The “total skier” model appeals to many, which has sparked renewed interest in reconstituting all the skiing disciplines.
The Nordic Skier Cross movement (NORDIX) is a natural evolution of current X-games pop culture and the need for more technical content in races. Nordix fuses the power and endurance in cross country skiing, superb all-mountain skills and head-to-head sprinting action on a BMX derby-like course, sporting jumps, pipes, climbs and high speed descents with hair-pin turns. Watch out for a Nordix World circuit including North American events, with big prize money, live bands and TV coverage.
“Putting the X Back into Cross Country”
Meanwhile, a number of Nordic snow parks are popping up across the country for fun and skill development. Atomic’s Nordic Cross ski, for example, is specifically made for Nordix. It is fast enough for sprints, but strong enough to take the landings.
For some, “real skiing” is found outside the bounds of groomed trails and restrictive rule books. Not a new idea, but “Randonnee Rallies” or “Ski Mountaineering Races” have regained popularity as a clear test of cardiovascular fitness and all-mountain skills. The events include long steep climbs on skins, a bit of climbing or scrambling, and alpine or Telemark descents.
News flash! Wooden skis are not dead. When fixed with modern boots and bindings and complemented with dressed-down attire, many skiers find vintage boards unpretentious and forgiving in all terrain. Skating isn’t half bad on long fat wooden skis. Besides, if you are tired after a hard workout, no one is going to race you when you are disguised in retro gear.
Fashion Snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking, kayaking and climbing all influence main-stream fashions. Why not Nordic skiing? Although spandex body suits will continue to adorn racers, we will start to see loose-fit practical ski clothing for training—stuff wearable off trail. Cross country skiers were early adopters of polypropylene underwear, and Nordic skiing warm-up jackets have the best potential for going mainstream.
Art, Music and Film
Other sports have a culture that is actively promoted through film, music and art. Skateboarding was popularized by the Z-Boyz as documented by Stacey Peralta’s Sundance winning film “Dogtown and Z-Boyz.” The Bill Snider movie “Tread” and the “Kranked” series by Christian Begin put mountain biking on the map. John Stockwell created a swell with the surfing hit “Blue Crush.” And of course, Warren Miller did more for alpine skiing and snowboarding than anyone else alive today.
Meanwhile, Nordic skiing stays fixated on reviewing World Cup races on TV with a dreary, mind-numbing, mechanical instructive voiceover. The material is dry and unappealing to anyone other than the most ardent practitioner. Early cross country ski films, such as “If You Can Walk, You Can Ski” by Harvey Edwards, reached more masses and actually motivated people to get into the sport. They provided technical content packaged in an entertaining format. In popular films, the few biathlon scenes in the James Bond films, complete with novice skiers and rear projection screens, are just embarrassing. But today, a number of budding Nordic skiing filmmakers are seeing their works reach adventure film festivals.
If we want more Nordic skiing content broadcast and on store shelves, then we have to start supporting made-for-TV productions featuring Nordic skiing and TV-friendly event formats. Our tastes are going to have to become more sophisticated than handheld camcorder technique videos made in the backyard. Where someone can pirate cross country race footage off cable, lay down a commentary and have it to market on-line in an afternoon, it takes a season and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a Nordic ski film comparable to alpine films by Warren Miller, TGR, Matchstick or Unparalleled Productions.
Because the first generation of athletes with World Cup level skate skiing experience are only now emerging as coaches and instructors, watch for newer and “progressive skating” styles to challenge “Old School” methods of skate skiing. Professing a quieter body with less twisting and controlled edging, progressive skate skiing (similar to the Norwegian skating systems modeled on Bjorn Daehlie and Thomas Alsgaard) emphasizes more direct, simple and efficient motions, based upon key skiing fundamentals of body unity, symmetric form and coordinated timing as well as blended pull, push and glide phases. Propulsion comes from a decisive weight transfer onto a flat glide ski, assisted by the first phase of the double poling motion and an unweighting push of the free leg, edged only so much as is necessary to transfer power without slipping. The weight is on heel to mid-foot. A skier’s orientation is predominately in the intended direction of travel at faster speeds while conceding some natural athletic twisting to assist weight transfer in the initial stages of the cycle. Weight shift from ski to ski is accomplished more through movements of the lower body, core and hip. In the first phase of the arm movement, the weight is applied onto both poles at the same time. The arm pull is driven by force of weight, abdominal and back muscles before finishing with push by arms.
By contrast, older skating methods, as we first saw in the eighties, had movements that are somewhat exaggerated: full body twisting, asymmetric movement, an independent timing of arms, continuous edging and pushing back without glide phases. The body was completely orientated perpendicular over the pushing ski at all times as the nose, head, hip and knee aligned completely over the tip of the ski. The skier avoided facing the intended direction of travel down the trail, opting to twist quickly from facing towards one side to the direction of the ski on the other side. The ski was ridden on an edge, with the skier’s weight on the toes. Weight transfer was accomplished by substantially rocking the upper body side to side with an aggressive push backward. A clear distinction existed between a prominent hang arm and cross-body push-glide-arm. Force was applied to the poles sequentially (one pole plant at a time) using only triceps.
As techniques improve, so does the skiing. And so do trends surrounding the sport. Perhaps as the granola image fades, Nordic skiing will step into popular culture.
For more information visit www.nordix.tv.
Between them, Dave and Lise have 50 years of skiing experience, 17 years of which is racing at a World Cup level. Currently an exercise physiologist, Lise Meloche has nine National Championship titles, third place ranking on the World Cup circuit in 1986 leading to the 1992 and 1994 Olympics and a World Cup gold medal. A practicing biomechanical engineer, David McMahon was Canadian National Biathlon Champion in 1993, twice overall Canada Cup winner, winner of five National Championship medals and finished third at the World Summer Biathlon Championships. Several of the athletes since have won World Loppet, World Cup, World Championship and Olympic medals. Lise is an exercise physiologist and David a practicing biomechanical engineer. Together they own and operate www.xczone.tv and have published: “Learn to Nordic Ski,” “Unlimited Nordic Skiing,” “High Velocity Biathlon and Skiing,” “On Snow,” “The Fundamentals of Cross Country Skiing Technique” and “Tao of Skiing” available on DVD, video, CD-ROM and in print.
© Cross Country Skier: December 2004, Vol. 24 Issue 2