How to Teach Yourself to Ski Better
In the ski lessons that I teach, I like to give students a way to check their ski improvement throughout the season. Of course, one way to do this is to take more lessons, but for skiers who don’t have instructors close by or can’t find an instructor at the last minute, here are some tips to check your progress. I use many of these tips myself to monitor my own skiing, and many of the students I have shown these to believe they worked well for them.
Let’s start with using shadows to help you see what arm position you have or how flexed your ankles and knees are. At the early-season Supercamps at Silver Star/sovereign Lake, B.C., I did this with many of my classes. I told my students that cross-country skiing is a lifelong learning process, and the only way to really improve is to aim for perfect practice. The old saying that “Practice makes perfect” can be adjusted to “Perfect practice makes perfect.” We used videotape feedback frequently in the Supercamps, but I mentioned to my students that a quick way to receive immediate feedback while you ski is to look at your shadow when the sun is behind you. Shadows can’t tell you everything, but I find that they are particularly useful for checking arm (are my arms at 90° at the initiation of poling?) and torso position (do I crunch my upper body to start the poling cycle in double-poling or 1 skate?). In photo 1, I am checking my arm swing in freeskate.
Another way to see if your balance is improving throughout the season is to balance on one ski on slight downhills. I do this frequently because good balance on a single ski is the key to good skiing in either skating or Classic skiing. Try making your “one ski glides” longer and longer as the season progresses (see photo 2). I have produced a Youtube video that demonstrates an entire series of balance-improving exercises on hills that you can do over the ski season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imrxzn-eq78.
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Another way to determine how well you are freeskating (i.e., no poles) is to check your tracks if you happen upon a section of track that is freshly groomed. I show my students this tip in almost all of my skating classes if we come across this situation. In photo 3, I am landing on a flat right ski and pushing off strongly on an edged left ski.
If you look at the tracks I have left behind, you can see that the track starts off with a flat ski and then ends with an edged ski (see photo 4). The idea of skating with a minimal use of energy is to be able to glide for a long time on a flat ski, so you want to lengthen your ability to glide through the ski season as your balance improves. I often see skiers who land only on an edged ski and they would then only leave edged tracks in the snow. Their track is never flat. Often this type of skating is short and choppy, with minimal glide.
Another common skating error is to push off a poorly edged ski that ends up sliding sideways across the snow (see photo 5). This type of skating is common among beginning skaters, and is very tiring because most of the pushing energy is going into sliding the ski across the snow instead pushing off of a strongly edged ski.
Photo 6 shows the tracks that result from this type of skiing problem. Check out the following video on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=7-3xuarjrc.
Of course, the best way to improve is take a series of ski lessons throughout the winter so you are receiving guided feedback on your skiing and you can stop bad habits before they become ingrained. For help with any aspect 6 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.