Our Top Tips for New Skate Skiers

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It’s difficult at first, but you’ll never regret learning how to skate ski.

No doubt you’ll hear different advice from other coaches, but if you’re just getting started in skate skiing, here’s what we recommend:

1. Get Good Gear

Good fit is important. Buy gear from a reputable source, preferably from someone who actually skate skis. Spend as much as your budget allows.

A good rule of thumb is to buy gear for the skier you want to become, not necessarily the skier you are right now.

2. Don’t Join Club Offset

You’ll find skate skiers like this at every nordic centre: super fit adults, keenly involved in another endurance sport like running, cycling or triathlon, but looking to mix up their winter training with xc skiing. They’ll kit themselves out in top gear, but won’t invest in lessons.

You can spot a self-taught skate skier because they all ski the same way. They use a homemade technique that resembles V1-Offset and they use it on all terrain – uphills, downhills and everything in between.

My friend jokes, “Club Offset is training today.” It’s mean, but kinda funny.

Don’t join Club Offset! There are 5 skate ski techniques and you need to learn them all.

3. Focus on One Skate and Offset

In our opinion offset (V1) and one skate (V2) are the most important skate techniques. Together they’ll get you across the widest range of terrain with the greatest efficiency. Use offset to climb hills and one skate as much as possible everywhere else.

4. Two Skate is Not Your Friend

You’ll likely have trouble with One Skate. You’ll feel like you’re moving too fast and that you can’t possibly push with your poles with every leg push. You’ll think One Skate is the wrong technique for the terrain you’re skiing and you will want to switch to two skate (V2-alternate).

Your problem is not speed, it’s lack of balance. Be disciplined and don’t use Two Skate to cheat your way out of your balance problem. Slow down and lower your centre of mass by getting into the athletic position. Practice the one skate dance.

See also: One Skate: Too Fast, Too Hard or Just Right?

5. Double Pole

Seriously. Yes, it’s a classic technique, but it’s similar to how poling works in skate skiing. You can double pole with skate skis and poles.

Some of the advantages of Double Poling practice for skate skiers:

  • It simplifies things, so you can focus on your arm mechanics without having to worry about your kick.
  • The way you bend at the hips, knees and ankles in Double Poling is similar to One Skate and Two Skate.
  • Double Poling teaches you how to create full body tension; how to be both braced and activated throughout your core, but still make movements that are fluid and smooth.
  • It teaches you how to transfer power from your upper body into your poles and into your lower body and skis.

6. Ski Uphill Without Poles

You’ll hate this, but you’ll be glad you did it. A common mistake is using the upper body and poles to haul yourself uphill. You feel like your arms are dying but you can’t access the power of your legs. In efficient offset, approximately 60% of the propulsion comes from the legs and the remainder from the upper body.

Put down your poles and learn how to ski uphill, legs only. Use a wide, low stance and make a wide v-shape with your skis. Practice this often, more often than you want to.

The goal is simple: try to make it easier. How can you create glide with every step? Experiment with tempo, step size, stance width, and other factors.

What happens when you put your poles back on? Pay attention to the V shape your skis are making. If your V became a lot narrower than it was when you were working with poles only, and you started to feel like your are hauling yourself up the hill with your upper body, then put the poles away again.

7. Be Playful

If you’re not careful, you can become very good at bad technique. To avoid locking into poor motor patterns you want to give your neuromuscular system lots of different movement experiences and options.

The best way to do this is to play on your skis. Play is excellent because it stops you from over thinking and lets you respond naturally to all kinds of movement challenges.

Train yourself to be nimble and agile on your skate skis. Pick up your feet, practice step turns, quick starts and stops, stepping in and out of the track, skiing in circles, hockey stops etc. If you ski with group, have relay races and play games like capture the flag or one ski soccer.

8. Take a Lesson…Later

The first stage of learning to skate ski is just getting comfortable on the gear. No matter how good your sense of balance, you’ll have trouble staying upright as the skis glide across the snow. Taking a lesson at this point is a waste of money.

Find a flat area and just move around by yourself, gradually growing more stable and comfortable. Your body/brain needs to work through the experience of becoming familiar with the feel of the skis. It’s sensory learning experience that requires little instruction. Just use common sense techniques like keeping your centre of mass low and staying loosely flexed in all your joints.

Once you’ve developed a degree of comfort on the skis, take a lesson. If you’re in the Calgary area, you can contact us for lessons. You can also join XC Ski Nation, our membership site, and get ongoing support from us as well as access to our best video resources. It’s terrific value, if I do say so myself ;)

That’s our best advice. What about you? Have any tips to share or anything that particularly helped you?

Related: Don’t Waste Your Time on Stupid Skate Drills

42 thoughts on “Our Top Tips for New Skate Skiers”

  1. Coming from someone who was a complete beginner last season: one skate will seem awkward or even impossible at first. If you keep working on it, it will come. I even prefer it now—it feels like the symmetry of one skate helps me keep better form and balance. It also lets me lower my cadence, because every stride gives more push.

    To get an idea what you’re aiming for, check out the One Skate Dance post Kim mentioned. Also, take a look at some race footage, especially where the pros are cruising along in One Skate and you can see them from the front.

    Try to see how long you can glide on each ski, to give your arms time to come around. Practicing on a slight downhill can help with this too, especially if conditions are slow.

  2. My biggest recommendation: keep a ski log or journal. It doesn’t have to be very detailed; I just record what trails I skied, the distance, how long it took, what the trails were like (fast, slow, icy, soft…) and a few notes. It helps a lot with motivation when you see that your times are getting faster, or that you’re tackling challenges that seemed insurmountable only last month. It’s also very helpful when it comes to waxing.

    Other than that: just be willing to experiment and refine your technique; try something new every outing. What gets you up hills faster: taking bigger steps, or smaller steps with a faster tempo? Trying to stay light on your feet and poles, or really digging deep with every push? Can you one skate up that small hill instead of changing over to offset? How about jumping into the classic tracks and double-poling up? The same goes for downhills, within the limits of comfort and safety. If you have a hill with a turn at the bottom…can you snowplow later, but harder? What happens when you snowplow turn with *all* your weight on your outside ski? Can you go from there to a christie or parallel turn? And so on. =)

  3. Hi Kim, I’m not a beginner anymore ( starting my 5th year of skate skiing ), but one thing that you mentioned that is really paying dividends for me is slowing down when I one skate. I went 15k yesterday, the majority of it one skating, and the biggest difference that I could feel was to stay on my glide ski long enough to recover the other ski close to my center. It seemed like everything started falling into place when I did this. I wasn’t racing from one ski to the other, and it felt easy, like I wasn’t working as hard, wasn’t getting gassed, but I was covering the same amount of trail with less effort.. I have a day off tomorrow, plan on doing 25k, we’ve got 4-6 inches of fresh snow, hope to see the same results !

  4. four thoughts off the top of my head.
    #1 .. especially if u did not grow up skating … get rollerskis. best thing I ever did.
    #2 – start where you are at… meaning take all, all well meaning tips based on your own
    base. If u did not grow up playing hockey or figure skating or skating at all that
    will be very different than someone who did. you have to explore and learn based
    on what your body is ready for developmentally… especially adult learners.
    #3 try shifting weight fully but not overstriding and make sure you get ski under you.
    this helped me tremendously as I wanted to skate like look like the better skaters
    and was trying to match there tracks…. when I was not developmentally ready.
    #4 know what your goals are … are you seeking to race? seeking to become
    gracefull and efficient? skating just for fun? ok you can do all of these at once or
    at different times… but not everyone has to race… I don’t ….

    • Larry: “#1 .. especially if u did not grow up skating … get rollerskis. best thing I ever did.”

      Yes, skate roller skis are excellent training devices for skate skiing, but they should not be too short so you risk attaining a technique that will not work well on the much longer skate skis.

  5. and agreed, double poling does wonders for skating…. the better skiers have known this
    and certainly the elite skiers train doing this but recreational skiers seem to think it only
    applies to classical training but I skate almost exclusively and the benefits to all aspects of my
    skating when I work on my double poling are significant. It’s not just that it works poling strength but
    it get me to emphasize compression and push off to glide, weight shift in ways nothing else does.

  6. I don’t agree that the fourth gear (two-skate) is not a friend of beginners. If a beginner is better at the fifth gear (free skate) than coordinating arm and leg work I believe it can be easier to use the fourth gear before the third gear (one-skate). But if the coordination (and the muscular strength) is better than the balance of the fifth gear it is easier to learn the third gear before the forth gear because of the doubled arm work and thereby extended balance support from the poles. The fourth gear is also more similar to the second gear which I think is the best one to start with after doing some rudimentary fifth gear skate skiing.

    Yesterday I found the following nice video (with wonderful Austrian German language (subtitles in English)) of a beginner being introduced to skate skiing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0ar7aGBnLQ “Übung macht den Meister!”

  7. Hi Kim,

    Thanks for another useful article.

    To add to your post, I would repeat what Shawn T says in its Insanity workout video : Don’t sacrifice form for speed. Take the time to think, feel and do the correct move. Speed will come by itself.

    • Hi André

      Slowing down…skiing mindfully…trying to improve body awareness… I agree that approach can really improve your technique. But sometimes I worry that I did too much of that and now I’m just a pretty, but slow skier. How do you know when you’re overdoing it? And how good does your technique have to be before you start practicing quicker movements? I suspect I overemphasize technical efficiency and under emphasize fitness. Skiing slowly: it teaches you good technique, but it also teaches you to ski slowly :(

      • the issue is what do you want… fast is fun… if that floats your boat… graceful is too… wanting to be able to skate at a modest pace for two hours if your not an elite athlete but love the feel of skating has been my goal and I am reaching that… so it’s all what you’re goal is… what gives you satisfaction… and I strongly suspect you are pretty fast Kim by most standards!!! if u r not satisfied I am sure you know all the things on and off the snow to do
        if u really want to achieve mach 4!!!! so can you send some of that west coast snow out here to western mass, the northeast usa … we are have a very disappointing frustrating winter!!! boohoo….

      • the issue is what do you want… fast is fun… if that floats your boat… graceful is too… wanting to be able to skate at a modest pace for two hours if your not an elite athlete but love the feel of skating has been my goal and I am reaching that… so it’s all what you’re goal is… what gives you satisfaction… and I strongly suspect you are pretty fast Kim by most standards!!! if u r not satisfied I am sure you know all the things on and off the snow to do
        if u really want to achieve mach 4!!!! so can you send some of that west coast snow out here to western mass, the northeast use … we are have a very disappointing frustrating winter!!! boohoo….

  8. “1. Get Good Gear”

    Yes, indeed. I think it is best to start with the boots. Buy the best fitting and most comfortable boots you can afford. I they have the NNN binding system it will then probably lead you to a pair of skis with the NIS system, and if they have the SNS binding system it will be natural to choose a pair of skis without NIS.

    When selecting poles, make sure you get a pair with the best fitting hand harnesses since these differ somewhat between the brands.

  9. Thank you Kim for your posts. I find them most helpful. This is my third season learning skate skiing and with your encouragement I have persisted and finally figured out the One skate and am building up some stamina and can actually go a few kms which makes it so enjoyable. I’m hooked!

  10. Great video/visual. I think I’ve been focusing on moving my hips up and forward, but by the look of it, one’s hips move forward subtly when standing up. My daughter’s coach said it’s “more up than forward” and I thought he was talking about the push, but I think he’s talking about hips. Hope I understand correctly. I’m going to try this in front of the mirror, then on snow. Thanks.

  11. Hi Kim & Kai,

    Before I start whining about my struggle with skate skiing let me first say that your website and youtube videos together is easily the best and most helpful content that I could find on the internet. I really like the depth you go into while explaining xc ski techniques.

    Great article once again and all very valuable tips however I would like more depth on how to learn to balance on one ski when skating.

    I started learning classic techniques two years ago and I can do double polling with good technique. Diagonal stride is what I always struggle with at the beginning of the season and get better by the end of the season. This year I wanted to learn skate skiing as that was the ultimate objective from the beginning. I started with classic because I learned that it has short learning curve and so it was nice to be out in snow after just one season and a couple of lessons.

    In anticipation of my first skate lesson this week; I having been doing drills for a couple of months that were demonstrated by Kai in one of your youtube videos to hop on each foot without skis and try to balance. This week I had my very first skate lesson here in Bruksvallarna, Sweden. It was a complete waste of time and money; admittedly I did miss this article before going to the lesson. The instructor did give me some useful tips but all of them seem useless until I learn to balance on one ski first. It was a group lesson and other three participants were very good at skating without poles right away. Anyway in short it has been a demoralizing experience so far.

    After the lesson I spend the whole day try to skate (or glide on one ski) but I can’t do it. Here are the problems I have noticed that I struggled with:

    1. The front end of my kick ski sometimes gets stuck in snow (more frequently on slight uphills), Maybe because I do not fully move on the gliding ski OR maybe I lift heel first (which for some reason seems natural to me) instead of the whole foot or toes first but I am not sure.
    2. This one is the most annoying problem. My gliding ski sometimes drifts side ways leaving me completely out of balance. I have no clue how to correct this. I wonder if I am not planting my gliding ski wide enough but again how one determines in which direction the gliding ski should be planted and how wide of an angle from kick ski ?
    3. Surprisingly I find one skate the easiest because of the double polling. However I find myself gliding on a very narrow angle or almost parallel to the kick ski. This is because I am using poles for the push and not the kick ski due to the problems / fear of imbalance already pointed out.

    I will be 35 this year and I realized that its not going to be easy but after my first day I am wondering if its is possible for me at all on my age to develop skate technique. Someone in the comments suggested using roller skis but I think it can be even worse on roller skis given the fact that if you fall you may get injured severely compared to falling on snow.

    Thanks in advance for any help or direction.

    • Hi Fraz – I can feel your pain all the way across the Atlantic Ocean!

      First of all, no(!!!) you are not too old to learn to ski at an expert level. I know many adult skiers with beautiful technique who didn’t start skiing until they were in their twenties, thirties, or ever older. In fact, you are about the age I was when I first started skiing seriously. I’m not particularly gifted as an athlete but I did lots of sports growing up and that really helps. I just practiced and practiced. It took years and I’m still always trying to improve.

      It’s hard to offer feedback without seeing you ski, but a few things jump to mind. The problem you have with your ski tip driving into the snow is pretty common. Think about how you walk. You step onto your heel, then roll over your foot and toes as you essentially vault your body over your leg. How many steps have you taken in your life? Think about how hard wired that motor pattern is.

      You NEVER want to roll off your toes in skate skiing because it will drive the tip of the ski into the ground. Push to the side, off the inside edge of the foot.

      It’s fine if your V isn’t very big when you are practicing double pole/one skate. If your speed is good, it doesn’t need to be wide at all. Don’t sweat it. You job right now is to simply increase your comfort on your skis. Feeling demoralized is a waste of your time. Just be persistent.

      You’re unlikely to learn to skate ski like an expert in one season. It’s normal for it to take awhile. Even kids who “grow up” on skis take a long time to become proficient. I honestly believe that attitude makes a huge difference, so buck up and enjoy the journey! It’s hard for everyone!

      • “The push is more out to the side or even slightly forward. You push off the inside edge of the foot.”

        This could be the whole problem as I was trying to push back instead of forward. I think pushing slightly forward while keeping the core tight might be the right way as it should leave me in a better position to move on the gliding ski.

        I will effeminately try your suggestions whenever I get back on the snow again. We have been having awful winters for last few years in most of Sweden. I usually have to travel north to get to snow which is both expensive and time-consuming and that adds to my frustration when it comes to learning skate skiing. Anyway thanks for the encouragement and your insights. I am not giving up so easily that is for sure.

      • Hi Magnus,

        Yes my instructor in Bruksvallarna also suggested the same technique to get me started. It worked OK other than my kick ski getting stuck in snow as I have pointed out When I tried to do the same out of the tracks then I had more problems with gliding skis drifting sideways.

        I think I do need to be more patient with it and give myself more time as Kim has also suggested. Now I am back from my vacation in Brusvalllarna to slush or ‘slaskigt’ as we call it here in Sweden. We do have some artificial snow tracks close to Stockholm but its usually a bit slushy if temperature is above 1 or 2 degrees. Maybe skate skiing will not be too bad in these conditions.

      • It is puzzling that you have your kick ski both getting stuck and drifting sideways. It would be interesting to see you in action.

        Yes, we are unfortunately back to “slask” (slush) here in Uppland, Sweden. This winter has been very unstable. I understand you are not very enthusiastic about roller skiing but I believe you have to give them a chance in order to get the technique training you need to become a good cross-country skier.

      • Its the gliding ski that drifts sideways not kick ski, kick ski is the one getting stuck in Snow. Anyway I am actually looking for roller skis at the moment as I have no other choice in this weather.

  12. Fraz: “Its the gliding ski that drifts sideways not kick ski, Kick ski is the one getting stuck in snow.”

    OK, I see. Then I believe you start to push already in the gliding phase when the ski is horizontal and edge too much in the kick phase. It should be a smooth transistion from a horizontal ski not pushed sideways to an appropriately edged ski pushed sideways.

    Fraz: “Anyway I am actually looking for roller skis at the moment as I have no other choice in this weather.”

    At http://skid.se/Forum/Trad.aspx?subid=43081 I am working on a list of roller ski manufacturers. There is a lot to choose from when buying roller skis.

    • Thanks for the link. You seem to have done a lot research about this. I have to made up my mind about whether I need pneumatic wheels (if it is allowed to take roller skis to trails ‘motionspår’ o gravel) or normal heels for asphalt. Another problem is that I need brakes on my roller skis and there are not many skis that come with brakes. Do you know if there is any brake gear that can be used with any skate ski ?

  13. Fraz, I’m in my 5th season of skate skiing. I classic ski’d for many years, but pretty much just skate ski now.
    I am 57 years old, very active and fit, and have found skate skiing to be the hardest sport I’ve ever done in my life, but I love it !

    I have improved a lot from my 1st season, but it is definitely a challenge. Some of the things I have learned from reading and watching Kim and Kai’s articles and videos that really clicked for me are:

    1) work both sides of the body. this helped me pick up the one skate technique, which obviously uses both sides. When you are going uphill with the offset gear, switch it up. My strong side is my right side, but I force myself to use my left side in the power mode. Getting comfortable using both sides will really help when you’re skiing on twist, curvy trails where you have to kind of dance thru the corners by kicking with only 1 ski.

    2) when you find a nice gentle downhill glide, practice gliding for as long as you can on 1 ski, with the other ski off of the snow. This will help your balance, and make you more comfortable with the one skate technique.

    3) force yourself to one skate as much as possible. If you get fatigued, stop and take a break. After I learned how to one skate ( and I’m not great at it by any means ), everything else seemed easier ! Kim has a article/video called “How to use your legs in Skate Skiing”. That one helped me to not just wildly kick out to the side, but to lower your body weight into your kicking leg . This felt much more controlled to me, and more efficient, and less fatiguing.

    I just got back home from skiing 25K on a beautiful late winter morning. I emphasized using the one skate gear, and was probably in it for 60 minutes of the 110 minutes it took to finish the loop. Even last season, I never would have imagined I could one skate for that much of the time ! You will see improvement if you stick with it, remember to have fun, you don’t always have to try for your best time, and don’t get discouraged !

    • Glad to read about your experience. I personally like the one skate more than any other gear but it will take me some time before I can start to enjoy it. Offset technique is sadly overused as pointed out by this article as well otherwise it is also very interesting movement.

  14. Thanks for these helpful pointers and site. Last year, after admiring skate skiers move past me on groomed nordic trails, thought I’d give it a try. So I’ve found some used mid-level used gear that appears to fit, and now perusing the videos while waiting for snow…

    I was surprised that I recognized, on a crude level, all the given skating techniques from a lifetime of alpine skiing, especially from ski patrolling and hauling sleds across the flats. I suspect the main difference is the tradeoff from extremely heavy but ‘stable’ alpine gear with no ankle flex, to extremely lightweight skating gear where balance is key.

    I’m guessing I’ll have a particular subset of beginner issues given my history of skating on alpine gear. I bet you suspect in advance what bad habits I will likely have — lack of balance/skill on such skinny little skis, lack of upper body engagement (and lack of strength/endurance in general for my apparent ability). Any ideas on what exercises or thoughts might help me become an actual skate skier?

    PS If I don’t wear cycling clothes, will I avoid becoming an honorary member of Club Offset?

    • Thanks for this comment – I’ve been meaning to come back to this post. I meant it as lighthearted fun, and clearly you took it that way, but I still think my wording was a little unkind, so I revised it. We love to see anyone out enjoying cross-country skiing, however they like!

      You’re correct – the difference between downhill and xc ski gear will be quite a surprise for you. Please be careful! I once took a guy xc skiing and he had a really strong DH background and was full of confidence and bravado. I tried to warn him that it would be much different, but he didn’t really take my words to heart. It was a smallish hill, but he still tore his shoulder :(

      Do report back and tell us how you like it!

  15. Thanks for the pointers Kim. I have to confess I’m a committed member of club offset. It works so well for me. I read this article hoping to hear that was ok! I’ll continue to work on my one poling! Taking a clinic this weekend :)

  16. I have a ? I used to downhill ski and I skated across terrain on my downhill skis and wonder if the technique is similar because it was very much about balance and off loading weight. I loved to do it without using poles and also teaching my students to ski uphill

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