Getting Started with Classic Skiing
When I teach at the Supercamps at Silver Star and Sovereign Lakes, B.C., I am always surprised that more people sign up for skating lessons than Classic lessons. And the same holds true with my learn-to-cross-country-ski videos on Youtube. I think I know the reason for this – skating on skis is known to be a demanding, very technical activity, whereas I think Classic skiing is viewed as more of a beginner style of skiing. It is basically “walking on skis” to many people.
But Classic skiing is deceptive – although it looks easy, it is actually very difficult to do well. For instance, within the Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI) instructor-certification program, the diagonal stride is the only technique to be examined at all four levels, from beginner cross-country-ski instructor (Level 1) to an advanced instructor (Level 4). So I always encourage skiers to try Classic skiing first and to learn good technique, then try skating once they learn how to balance and glide on Classic skis.
First of all you, need good equipment that is sized correctly (photo 1). Last season at Mount Washington Ski Resort, I taught one woman who had skis that were way too stiff, and she was constantly slipping and had little control of her skis. Once I had her try skis that were better fitted to her, she was all smiles, enjoying herself. It is ideal to try out equipment before you buy. Also if you are in an area where you can take a lesson, sign up for a couple to get you off on the right foot.
If you don’t have an instructor nearby, then try this progression. First of all, find some level tracks and start off with no poles – shuffling your feet back and forth to gain propulsion. Work on pushing your foot down and back (see photo 2). Be sure to swing your arms naturally, and you will note that as I push my right foot back, my left arm goes forward (photo 3). It is important to be flexible at the ankles, knees and hips, and once you are comfortable with the “shuffle,” try adding some “pop” by pushing down quickly by flexing your knee. This will give you more momentum forward, and you should start to begin to feel balance on just your glide leg (photo 4). It is important to always do some no-poles skiing early in the season, and throughout the winter, refine your ability to balance on a single ski. This is the single biggest problem area for most of the skiers I teach, and will serve you well if you decide to try skate-skiing down the road.
Once you can “kick and glide” with no poles, try adding your poles. Note that when I plant my pole I am aiming for a strong arm position, and start off my poling with elbows at roughly 90° (see photo 5). Most beginners want to reach out with their poles, but this produces a weaker poling action. At this point, I find that many skiers who were doing well when they had no poles now get the timing confused and end up lunging forward instead of striding back. So retain that snappy knee “pop” when you add poles, and this should create the proper timing of legs and arms (see photo 6). 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.