by Keith Nicol
This past December (2015), I taught at a couple of the early-season Supercamps at the Silver Star-sovereign Lake Nordic Ski area near Vernon, B.C. For those of you who don't know about these camps, they are a great tuneup for the season because they are known for having very qualified CANSI instructors and coaches on staff.
One of the aspects of skiing that we worked on in my groups of skiers was trying to become more agile on skis. Since cross-country skiing is a dynamic sport, it is important to be able to respond quickly to changes in snow conditions and terrain. It also turns out that some of the agility exercises we practised were a lot of fun, so readers may find them enjoyable too.
The first one we attempted was to improve glide in Classic skiing (although it could also be used in skating as well). I noticed that several skiers in our group would benefit by balancing longer on their glide ski, so we had each skier toss a tennis ball in the air just as they started to glide. The act of tossing and catching the tennis ball forced each skier to glide a bit longer. Inadvertently, the skiers also stood taller on their glide leg, which set them up nicely for a strong kick. This exercise clicked with several skiers, and I noticed an immediate improvement in their ability to glide (see photo 1). So don't throw out your old tennis balls – try juggling with them as you diagonal stride without poles.
Developing quick feet through step turns was another agility exercise that we worked on. Being able to change direction quickly comes in handy when skiing on hills and helps develop confidence so you are able to stay balanced while your feet are shifting underneath you. We set up some small objects to ski around separated by three to four metres and then, over time, shortened the distance to one to two metres. Notice in photo 2 that I am getting ready to make a small step turn around the black cones. I am slightly flexed at ankles, knees and hips and I have my arms out for balance. All too often, skiers try to do this exercise with straight legs and this puts their weight back, resulting in trouble controlling their skis. Remember the key to agility is to stay loose. In photo 3, I am edging my left ski and getting ready to step onto a flat right ski. My upper body is oriented down the hill and my skis are doing all the work, quickly stepping around the obstacles.
We also worked on doing small jumps on skis. This requires that you are balanced when you take off, since jumping with your weight on your heels or your toes will almost certainly result in a fall. In this case, we had people jump over a rope (see photo 4). Be sure to land with soft feet, and by that, I mean ensuring you land with flexed joints. This helps absorb the small shock of landing.
The final agility exercise we tried was coming to a stop as quickly as we could. Although you can stop by doing a snowplow, this is often too slow, especially if you are traveling fast. So a quicker way to stop is a “hockey” stop. In this case, you need to quickly pivot your skis under your body (see photo 5). Again, my stance is very similar to the step turns we looked at earlier. My upper body is facing down the hill and my feet are doing all the work. Be sure to continue to steer your skis across the hill. Again, keep your joints flexed and arms out to aid with balance (see photo 6). It helps to practise this on a small hill on a wellgroomed trail before attempting a hockey stop on a steeper slope. To help readers develop this skill, here's a link to a video on how to stop on cross-country skis: www. youtube.com/watch?v=cz-ewyi1une.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.