Bal­ance is the Key to Smooth Ski­ing

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Keith Ni­col

When new skiers ask me about learn­ing to cross-coun­try ski, I al­most al­ways sug­gest they start with Clas­sic ski­ing be­fore at­tempt­ing skat­ing on skis. The di­ag­o­nal stride is gen­er­ally eas­ier to learn and it al­lows you to dis­cover how to bal­ance on one ski at a time. It is more for­giv­ing than skate ski­ing, which de­mands higher lev­els of fit­ness and the key abil­ity to bal­ance on your skis while mov­ing at speed. Also, when you get tired on Clas­sic skis, you can still shuf­fle along and make some head­way, but on skate skis, you need to keep your skis glid­ing, which can be dif­fi­cult for many skiers. So let's look at some drills to im­prove your di­ag­o­nal stride, and that, for skaters, will im­prove their skate ski­ing.

Many skiers learn­ing to di­ag­o­nal stride main­tain an up­right stance and use their poles for sta­bil­ity rather than propul­sion, as I am show­ing in photo 1. Com­pare this with an im­proved ver­sion, shown in photo 2. To ad­vance your di­ag­o­nal stride, it is im­por­tant to not let your foot get ahead of knee. Some skiers think that to lengthen their glide they need to stride the front foot for­ward, but this is very hard to bal­ance on. This also puts your hips back and forces you to stand up­right, as shown in photo 1. This re­sults in a shuf­fling style of ski­ing where both skis are al­ways on the snow. In­stead, think about lean­ing your torso for­ward and bal­anc­ing on your glide ski. In photo 2, I have pushed back hard enough that my rear ski lifts off the snow. I of­ten tell be­gin­ner skiers to think about the dif­fer­ence be­tween walk­ing with an up­right stance and run­ning, where you are lean­ing for­ward and driv­ing with your arms.

I rec­om­mend prac­tis­ing the di­ag­o­nal stride with­out your poles, as that will im­prove your abil­ity to bal­ance. To de­velop a strong push-off, I ask skiers to think about keep­ing their foot on the snow as long as pos­si­ble. In photo 3, you can see me push­ing back strongly with my right foot. My left knee is bent slightly, keep­ing my left foot un­der my body so that I can bal­ance on it. My torso is flexed and I am swing­ing my arms to help main­tain my for­ward mo­men­tum. Prac­tis­ing this with­out poles will do won­ders for your strid­ing and re­ally helps to im­prove your over­all ski tech­nique.

To lengthen glide, I use a va­ri­ety of drills to help skiers de­velop their bal­anc­ing skills. These drills can also be used by peo­ple learn­ing to skate on skis, and a favourite is the “look­ing for your friend” drill (see photo 4). In this case, I ask skiers to imag­ine that they are look­ing for a friend in a crowd. To be able to see over top of the crowd, you need to stand tall – note how my glide leg is al­most straight in photo 4. This tall po­si­tion helps you glide longer, and bring­ing your hand up over your eyes helps you to get your weight over the glide ski.

An­other drill I like is prac­tis­ing glid­ing down­hill, as shown in photo 5. In this case, you need to find a trail that slopes slightly down­hill. Then sim­ply stride down­hill, feel­ing a longer glide in the process.

The fi­nal ex­er­cise is more dif­fi­cult, but one that I like to use with more advanced skiers – the “skip­ping stride” drill. In this case, imag­ine that you are skip­ping on skis, as shown in photo 6. You can only skip when your weight is cen­tred over your feet, and it helps get you for­ward to the balls of your feet. Over­all, it is a great bal­ance drill.

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.

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