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.
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?