by Keith Nicol
As we get ready for another cross-country-ski season, there are a variety of activities we can do to be sure we make the most of it. Cross-country skiing involves aerobic conditioning, strength, coordination and the ability to balance. Many skiers will cross-train with running, biking or sea-kayaking in the summer and then hit the gym in the fall to build up specific ski muscles, but practising balance is often an afterthought. Balance is key to both Classic and skate-skiing, and as we age, this skill begins to decline. That means to maintain our ski skills we need to practise specific balance exercises even more as we move into our forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. If you are very fit and strong, but have little balance, your ability to ski well will be severely compromised.
So throughout the summer, I look for many ways to work on my balance. It might be as simple as rigging up a teeter-totter on a beach, as shown in photo 1. We saw one on Hornby Island, B.C., where we were sea-kayaking for several days in early September, and I made a point of using it several times while we were there. Sometimes, as shown in photo 1, I used it to practise two-footed balance, and I also did one-footed exercises on it by centring my foot in the middle. You can also get in a similar practice in the gym or at home with a wobbleboard, as shown in photo 2. This is a round disc of wood with a half-sphere supporting it. In photo 2, I am demonstrating one-footed balance, which I do the most, but you can also do two-footed balance with this as well. I regularly use this wobbleboard indoors while watching TV, and it strengthens ankle and other muscles that help you stay centred.
Of course, the best form of early-season balance practice is to go rollerskiing, and through the fall, I try to practise on one ski frequently. I try to simulate snow-skiing, so I move my hips forward and feel my weight toward the ball of my foot, as shown in photo 3. If you feel the most weight on your heel, try moving it gradually, moving your hips forward as you glide. Often when we ski, we are not aware of where our weight is or what our arm position looks like, so I recommend that you have someone videotape your rollerskiing so that you can see how you look so that you can then make corrections based on what you see.
If you don't have someone to videotape your skiing, you can still make corrections by using some of these tips. When I skate-ski, I periodically look down just as I am about to glide on a new ski to make sure that I bring the ski underneath me and that I put it down as flat as possible (see photo 4). All too often, skiers adopt a wide stance and never get their skis underneath them, which means that they are gliding on an edged ski. Since edged skis are virtually impossible to glide very far on, this means that their skating is awkward and choppy. In photo 4, I am pushing off my right ski and gliding on a flat left ski.
Another way to get this sensation of bringing your feet underneath you before you glide is to find a paved trail with a line down the middle. As I skate, I try to place my foot down on the line, as shown in photo 5. Photo 6 shows me setting down my glide ski with my opposite foot. With each skate, I try to have my rollerski hit the line, and this forces me to start my skating action with my feet underneath me, which helps me to balance on a flat glide ski. This can also be done in snow, although it is harder since we often don't have lines painted down the ski trail. But you can make one yourself by double-poling down the skate lane and then setting your skis down on top of the line as you freeskate. For help with any aspect of your Nordic skiing, seek out the assistance of a certified CANSI or PSIA instructor.
Contributor Keith Nicol has been on four Canadian INTERSKI demonstration teams for Nordic skiing. He holds CANSI'S highest instructor ranking in both track and telemark skiing. He has a popular Nordic skiing website at http://www2.swgc.mun.ca/~knicol/ nordic%20main.htm and many popular Youtube videos for improving your Nordic skiing (search k2nicol). He can be reached at k2nicol@ gmail.com.