Guide to Skate Skiing – Cross Country Ski Technique

Skate Skiing

Introduction

The topic of this guide is skate cross-country skiing techniques. It includes basic descriptions of each technique, explanations of when they are used and short video demos.

Beginner skate skiers learn some basic tips to help them get started. More experienced skiers are reminded of skills they may have missed in their development so far.

Refer to the Guide to Getting Started in Skate and Classic Skiing for more information about skate skiing, gear, wax, ski techniques and buying advice.

The Guide to Nordic Downhill Skiing describes the techniques used by cross-country skiers on groomed Nordic ski trails. This website is about ski techniques used by competitive cross-country skiers, not telemark skiers.

Overview of Skate Skiing

Skate skiing was popularized by the American cross-country skier Bill Koch in the 1980’s. The introduction of skate skiing to the sport was a major disruption to competitive cross country skiing. This article is a fascinating account of those early days, as told by the Swedish Olympic Champion, Jan Ottosson.

Skate skiing equipment differs from traditional classic gear in several ways:

  • Like classic skis, skate skis have a bow-like shape. If you stand them up with the bases facing each other, there should be a gap in the middle between the skis. But unlike classic skis, there is no grip zone.
  • The flex in a skate ski is stiffer. The flex, which is called the camber, improves glide by reducing friction. It also acts like a spring and helps make the skate push more powerful. It's important that skate skis are professionally fitted so the flex matches the skier's weight, ability and the local snow conditions.
  • Skate skis are shorter than classic skis and the tips have a less pronounced shovel shape.
  • Skate poles are longer than classic poles.
  • Skate boots are stiffer and have a high cuff.

In both classic and skate skiing, any time the skier pushes down and back against a ski, it’s called a “kick”. I prefer “leg push”, because “kick” confuses many skiers - even skiers who have posted popular YouTube videos, so beware.

A standout difference in the mechanics of skate versus classic skiing is that a skate ski glides continuously, even during the leg push. In contrast, a classic ski comes to a momentary stop every time the skier pushes down and back against it.

Another striking difference is there are no tracks in skate skiing. The skis are worked in a V-angle, like you are walking with duck feet. The angle of the V varies with different terrain. It’s wide on steep terrain or when you are accelerating from a standstill. It narrows once you have better speed.

As with classic skiing, the poles are important for creating forward movement. On uphill terrain they contribute about 40% of the propulsive forces (in a skilled skier). At higher speeds, the percentage is even greater. 

Without instruction, most skate skiers develop a homemade technique which resembles Offset technique (V1 Skate, in the USA). There are actually 5 skate techniques, plus auxiliary techniques for cornering, downhills, sprinting etc. One of the best things a new skate skier can do is avoid the trap of using the same technique on all terrain.

The lowest gear is Diagonal Skate. The right and left skis and poles alternate, like in walking or in the classic ski technique, Diagonal Stride. Diagonal Skate is ideal for beginner skiers to help them climb hills.

As skiers gain skill, Offset (V1) becomes the dominant hill climbing technique.

One Skate (V2) is the most wide-ranging technique, suited to uphills, flats and downhills. It's like double poling, with a leg push timed with each pole push.

The trend in classic skiing is for Double Pole to be used more and more on uphill terrain. The related trend in Skate Skiing is that One Skate is being used by competitive skiers on steeper and steeper climbs.

Two Skate (V2 Alternate) is the least called for technique in race settings. It's used on flats and slight downhills, when the glide is very fast. You can also use this technique at an easy pace for recreational skiing.

The final technique is Free Skate, or skate skiing without poles. It's for the highest speeds. After you are moving too quickly to even get a leg push, you have to transition to a downhill technique, like tuck.

Free Skate is a nice technique for beginner skier's because there's no need to coordinate the work on the skis and poles.

Skate skiing demands excellent balance and full body coordination. Skills take time to develop, which is why skate skiing is so exhausting for beginners. Even with good balance, skate skiing is more anaerobic than classic skiing and demands greater power.

Despite these challenges, many skiers take up skate skiing without classic skiing first. There’s no reason you can’t too, if that’s what you want to do.

Skate techniques at-a-glance

The 5 primary skate ski techniques, arranged on the power-speed continuum, like gears on a bike or car. (American names in brackets):

  1. Diagonal Skate (V Skating)
  2. Offset (V1 Skate)
  3. One Skate (V2 Skate)
  4. Two Skate (V2 Alternate)
  5. Free Skate (No Poles)

On this website, I often blend the Canadian and American names for the two most dominant techniques like this:

  • V1-Offset
  • V2-One Skate

Related: Guide to International Names for Skate Skiing Techniques

1. Diagonal Skate
  • All power, low speed
  • check
    For climbing steep hills
  • Good beginner hill climbing technique
2. Offset
  • Excellent power
  • check
    Most commonly used hill climbing technique
  • Acceleration from a standstill
3. One Skate
  • Excellent mix of power and speed
  • check
    Hills, flats and slight downhills
  • Extremely versitile
4. Two Skate
  • Higher speeds
  • check
    Flats and slight downhills
5. Free Skate
  • Very high speeds
  • check
    Downhills

7 Second Demo Videos

Top Tips

  • Beginners:
    • Prioritize One Skate (V2) over Offset (V1) to avoid the trap of skiing all terrain with "Homemade Offset" technique.
    • There is a relationship between your ability to balance, the elevation of your centre of gravity and the size of your base of support. In skate skiing, you need to balance on a small base of support (one ski). This is easier if you keep your centre of gravity low. Flex at the ankle, knee and hip joints and keep your weight slightly forward on your feet.
  • Experienced Skiers:
    • Even if you only skate ski, practice the classic technique, double poling. It's closely related to V2-One Skate and will help you learn to connect your poling action to the movement of your hips.
    • Challenge yourself with uphill V2-One Skate.
    • V1-Offset on both sides as equally as possible.
    • Vary your tempo in different situations.
    • Skate skiing demands a great deal of mobility and strength through the hip joint. Do exercises off-snow to keep your hip joints as mobile and strong as possible.
    • Rather than "crunching" through your spine to power your poling, ski with a neutral spine and flex your torso forward through the hip joint. 

Suggested Articles

Online Video Tutorials

Our sister website, XC Ski Nation, has a wide selection of online video tutorials for skate and classic skiers. It's best suited to skiers and coaches who enjoy ski technique and working to improve their skiing efficiency.

  • Slow motion video analysis
  • Skate and classic skiing techniques explained in simple language by one of Canada's top coaches and former Olympian, Chris Jeffries.
  • Wide selection of skill & drill videos.
  • Tips for optimizing techniques for a wide range of conditions and terrain.
  • Dryland, roller ski and on-snow drills.
  • Exercises to mobilise and strengthen the hip and lower back.
  • Discussions of technique trends, past and future.
  • All Nordic ski techniques demonstrated by World Cup and Olympic athletes. 

XC Ski Nation is subscriber-supported. The subscription fee is nominal and the quality of the videos and clarity of the lessons are unmatched.

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