This here is my teaching method for SKATE SKIING. (I have a similar article for CLASSIC stride skiing.)
My big point about skating is that it's no more or less work than stride skiing. I often hear and read about skating that it's "a lot more work!" It's not. It has a longer power-phase so you can put more power into skating if you like, to get more speed. But you can also do it at whatever effort level you like. It's up to you. Like any skiing, if you don't know what you're doing you'll waste energy and work more than you need to.
I'm also writing this -- and will make some videos -- because the other info I see out there, including the official methodology, is all race oriented. It's showing people in lycra bodysuits and elite physiques. It often uses fancy medical terminology. "Extension through the obliques!" ...C'mon! Anybody can do this, for any reason. I'm guessing that 90% of the folks who could be having fun with ski skating won't be racers or elites. Actually, the sport has shrunk enough that mostly only "Type A's on Overdrive" are involved but I'd rather see us bringing in, um, everybody. Coz it's fun. Like rollerblading. No need to get fancy!
I also hear that "it's a lot faster than regular skiing!" For beginning skiers it really can be. For intermediates it's about 25% faster. For experts it's only about 10% faster. By waddling, as a beginner, maybe even with no instruction, you can move along on the flats with skating. Wheeee! It's harder to zip along with classic striding skis using just the uninformed waddle method. With instruction both modes become HUGELY easier. Classic increases more in efficiency with instruction. With skating the payoffs come more up front, but instruction helps hugely with it as well.
In short, skating is faster because it let's you put out more power. How? Its power-phase is longer and the power portion also includes glide! With striding the ski has to STOP each time! And when the skis aren't stopping -- as when doublepoling in Classic skiing -- they aren't powering. Yet skating loses some efficiency because the power is going SIDEWAYS quite a bit. The net effect, though, is a gain. ...However, when uphills get just steep enough that the skis start to point much more to the sides then Classic can suddenly compare quite a bit more favorably -- and an Expert strider can pass an Intermediate skater. ...Physics is cool!
Skating also needs a groomed trail, or crust snow, and it really wants special gear -- longer, light poles, skis with only glide-wax on them, stiff boots. At least you for sure need a ski with only glide wax. You can fudge shorter poles, etc., for a little while just to play around or get a feel for skating, or in a pinch when out striding. Another benefit of skating is that the waxing is often simpler since there's no kickwax. But all waxing is kinda fun because you're using it to get more and more speed and easiness without more work!
These notes follow a step by step progression. Work through them from the first to the last and you'll be on your way!
They start from the very beginning. You can be a never-ever skier and end up skating by the end of this.
I've taken the best of my experiences learning and teaching skiing, and watching all the videos and reading all the books and articles, and distilled it here. I'm giving you way less than half of the variety of tips and drills I've encountered -- because the majority of things I see seem bad or unneeded. I don't like static or asymmetric drills. I want everything folks do to feel good and to definitely move them closer to fun with as little duplication as possible.
My approach is simple teaching motions and the fewest of them.
Yes, I know everybody learns differently. And if I was teaching you a class I'd see what you're blazing thru and where you're bogging down, but all this stuff is gonna help. A lot.
Really, I should have a few pics or a video for every one of these line items. Maybe someday I will and that will be my book! : )
Clothes & Treats
Don't wear too much. Skiing isn't fancy and it keeps you warm. You'll wear quite a bit less than if you go out for a winter walk. If you're only going out for an hour then light gloves, light hat, pants, and two light layers on top are all you need. If it's over 30F there's every chance that as you become more confident and ski with gusto that you wouldn't even need a hat or gloves. They're nice but you don't really need them. Maybe a light jacket as you're first warming up while you learn. Light/med wool is best for everything, top/bottom, but anything is fine. Jeans are fine! Bring a small pack to put clothes in as you get hot and to carry your snacks and bevs. If/when you fall, just brush off the snow so it doesn't melt on you. (Have someone help brush you off.) If you're ever going out for hours or in strong winds, then adjust for that. It's no biggie.
Ideally, though, wear clothes that look good. Colorful!
Make sure you have a bota bag with apple juice (maybe white wine) -- and orange slices and maybe some chocolate -- if you'll be out an hour then a little smoked fish, stinky cheese and crackers won't hurt (in small backpack bring an extra vest/jacket and maybe little square of ensolite foam to sit on).
Remind yourself: what is the fun of skiing? It's nothing fancy and it's not copying those with different goals. It's glide, rhythm and payoff.
We get all these good things by weighting, unweighting and extra-weighting our skis. By bouncing, pouncing, flexing, kicking, pushing. All skiing or glidesport is one, so XC works like alpine skiing, ice skating, or skateboarding. Any kind of scooter. The speed doesn't matter. It's relative. What you look like doesn't matter. Just those 3 things matter that I listed up there.
Weighting means we're standing on our skis -- and gliding. Unweighting lets us easily move our skis around. Extra-weighting means pushing -- and lets us give the propulsion
Casual skiing looks different from racing. It's good to know the basics of racing since sometimes race moves come in handy -- but casual skiers take it easy and often do things that add more to the fun and easiness than to speed -- so don't judge the one by the other. They do different things sometimes. And that's OK.
Start at the Start
Practice the ready stance: stand a bit like a wrestler. Hands forward. Knees and ankles lightly bent. Shoulders slumped. Chin down a bit so neck is neutral, not tense. Weight evenly on your feet, but maybe a bit forward.
Take a SMALL STEP FORWARD (12") and stand on one foot with the knee and ankle both flexed a bit and with a slight forward tilt of torso. Let rear leg be unweighted -- let it float/lift slightly up off the ground and hang there. Standing leg is in tension but calm -- do this for both feet.
The previous tip is your biggest ski lesson! How simple! When you're skiing if you're not in this position you'll probably have your weight too far back and you'll be kicking off your heels and your poling hands will be too high and too far in front of you. Everything connects together! The weight-back posture is inefficient. It isn't necessarily bad, though! You might be relaxed and just tooling along looking at the scenery. Who cares about speed, right? It'll work fine where the skiing is easy. But you sure won't be able to easily get up a hill like that. To go up you need to stand up and tilt a bit forward and flex that ankle! This applies to both skating and classic. So kick back when you like -- but know how to do it right when you need the help.
Skating has 5 gears to help you go up the steepest hills the easiest (lowest gear) or to zoom down a gradual downhill the fastest (biggest gear) -- but 3 will do you just fine as you're learning. Indeed, many good citizen racers and funsy skiers mostly use just ONE kind of ski-skating. It's called the "V1" and you can do a lot with it and play with it and change it around. (It's called other names in other countries. "Offset" in Canada. Maybe "paddle dance" elsewhere in non-English.)
Learn a Lot Just Standing there!
Time for more dryland motions. No skis, poles or snow needed!
Swing your arms fore and aft, 45 degrees bent, let em fling, relaxed, lead with front of hand, make a motion like tossing cup of water down trail in front of you.
To practice skating leg action, stand with legs shoulder-width apart then shift hips to the side, over one foot so that the other foot lifts off the ground. Back'n'forth. Both feet lifting off. Now shift hip over and down, flexing knee and ankle a fair bit, letting other foot lift up, then stand up and shift to other side and do the same. Now try another leg/hip action. Lower your hip and shift to the other foot, stand up, lower, then shift to other foot. In a kind of U-shape motion. That's your weight transfer and your leg action. -- In a couple different ways.
Add some umph and hop from side to side. Not too far. Whatever feels ok. can be very light and small. Try to land in balance on the other foot and let your off-leg be an outrigger. You don't have to freeze anywhere. Good leg action in skating is a push to the SIDE only. With whole foot. Gliding happens more when you stand up on a ski. Powering when you flex deeper in knee/ankle and give a shove to the side.
Ski-skating is like ice skating or inline skating. But many people do those kinds of skating wrong. And it's not like figure-skating! And it's not like the running-action in hockey skating. In short: there's no "toe-off". You don't step or kick BACK. It's more like speed-skating. They push to the side only.
Also, ski-skating is popular because it can work pretty good even when done quite badly. Altho one does work quite a bit more when doing it wrong. It's a bit like downhill skiing: most people do it so badly that it's maybe only half like skiing and half like hockey skating: they skid down hills swinging from side to side. They do have a primitive rhythm, but one that doesn't come from weight and unweighting or using the skis to carve or turn: they more just pivot their waist, swing their arms, and force their heels out from side to side, while sticking their butts out and reaching hands forward. The fast gliding is fun, though, so people keep paying to do it.
The leg and arm actions and posture of classic ski-striding and ski-skating are the same -- just with skating the kick is to the side -- only difference! the thing with striding is that to get power the foot stops for an instant, grips, and you leap forward off of the stopped foot. With skating the foot never stops gliding. That's why it's faster. But as you become more skilled the speeds of the two modes get closer together. (elite skaters are only about 10% faster than striders.)
What makes skating easy and fun for people is there's no worry about kickwax or getting grip on uphills. And there's no stop-part to coordinate. Gliding happens all the time as you go along. Even if you're casual or sloppy there's still gliding! There's no worry about slipping.
The big problem in stride-skiing is there's much less room for messing-up. If your butt is back in skating, you just work harder, but you can still get around and especially up hills. If you don't stand up on your skis in striding then you can't get grip to ski up hills and you'll suffer and hate it or just bail out on skiing and herringbone. Thankfully, learning to get grip in classic-striding is easy.
However, in skating if you don't weight each foot evenly and push to the side you can "wash out" the tips of your skate-skis quite easily and waste effort. If a ski doesn't have your full weight on it, it can wash out. And by not being relaxed as you move from ski to ski in good timing you can also waste effort. So skating can seem "hard" -- even though it isn't! Though to take advantage of the greater speed you are working more. And it's paying off more! But you can dial-back on skating to whatever effort you like. One kind of skiing isn't harder than another. It's up to us!
Time for Arm-action in Dryland
You can add arm action for the various kinds of skate-moves if you can figure it out from videos. But sorry: it's too much text to fully explain right now! Feel free to use your arms as outriggers for balance or to help you change your weight from side to side. You can use them two at a time or one at a time. Play with flinging your arms to help.
You're going to want to SEE some people ski-skating in the various techniques so you can imitate their arm action. It's too much to explain here. Well, not THAT much but more than I feel like.
Almost Ready to Ski!
Put poles on right -- hand up thru, then grab down onto strap and pole
Click into skis -- press button with pole can help -- if snow is plugging, kick at binding just behind the slot -- if still won't go in, scrape under with pole-tip -- after one clicks in, kick other boot into back of clicked-in boot.
Since we're going to fall let's learn how -- try to fall a bit back and to the side -- on a butt cheek. Only one way to get up: get your poles pointed behind you and sort out your skis side by side going across any slope then get your hands on the ground toward the front of you and put a knee down pointing forward. Push off the ground with a hand. Your hands and knees should be toward the fronts of your skis. Your heel is free and you can pivot at your toe. It's OK if your rear foot is tilted a bit but don't stress it much. Put most weight on a level, flat front foot. If you try to do any pushing with your hands toward the rear half of the skis you won't be able to get up. Skate poles are longer and harder to use to help you get up but you can angle them and use them a bit. Don't break them!
With our skis on, let's do circles and side steps. Keeping your tails close to each other step in a circle in a fan shape, around and around. Both directions. his teaches turning. You'll also ski-skate with your tips pointed away from each other in a Vee.
Keeping your tips pointed to each other step in a circle by leading with your heels, each way. This gets you comfy with sticking out a heel. This will be how you brake while skiing. You'll do a snowplow skid by stepping out onto a ski that is shoved with it's heel out to the side, tilting it inward then weighting it so it skids.
Put your skis parallel and step to the sides a few times each way -- your usual skate-powering will be a pushing to the side (but with skis in more of a Vee)
Ski in circles -- skate stepping both ways -- try to scooter in a circle -- angle your outside ski outward and scooter off it and turn left (or right) around and around. Use your poles for balance if you like -- you can have some glide on both skis -- this is how you'll turn when skiing
To skate we step onto a FLAT ski to glide then we TILT or EDGE that ski to the inside to get even bite all along it and step/push/kick off of it to the other side. Kick off an edged ski. Glide on a flat ski. Our skis smoothly roll from being placed down flat to rolling up on their edge for our kick. What's cool, tho, is that they're gliding all the time! ...But they glide most when riding flat on the snow. And to glide nice and flat we need to have all our weight on a ski. To kick off an edged ski we will flex our knee and ankle more than they already are and push and put MORE than our bodyweight onto that ski to propel us down the trail.
Skiing! ...Well, HALF of it!
Find a flat place and take your poles off and set them aside. Let's ski without poles. Point your skis in a 40-deg Vee and rock back and forth from one foot to the other with your knees/ankles flexing, pushing to the side, straightening and gently lifting off the snow to the side. You should be moving! Quite easily. Add arm swings to the sides to help you with the rocking. Opposite arm and leg. Moving more! Now add more of a bounce to your leg flex. Moving even more! There's some glide now! Now swing your arms fore and aft in time with your legs. Opposite timing just as if you were walking or running.
As you can get more power and glide more, you might start "washing out" the front of your ski. This means you're pushing with your toe. It also means you're pushing too late: you're stepping over to the other ski partially THEN pushing, so there's less weight on the push-ski when you push and it washes out. To fix that, visualize pressing each push-knee down to the area of the ski in front of the binding. Push when your weight is centered over the ski then step over to the other ski.
Try to recoil off of one foot and get a good glide onto the other foot -- and stand up momentarily on that gliding foot and put your off-hand up to your brow and pretend to "scout" and look off to the horizon. This will inspire you to a longer glide and a more upright posture when you're gliding.
Skate from side to side and give a hop on each foot once you're over onto it. This also teaches you to stand up on the gliding ski.
Try to skate up a slight hill -- swing your arms and bounce from side-to-side and compare swinging arms fore and aft and side to side.
FINALLY! ...put poles on! do it right -- hand up thru, then grab down onto strap and pole
If your skate poles are sized about right they should be as tall as your chin or nose (or between) when you're not on your skis. ...but really you can skate with any poles on any skis! (if you're using waxable striding skis try to scrape off the kickwax first so you don't have needless grip in the midsection. Nowax skis will work a LITTLE bit for skating, but not really.) real skate boots also are good because they resist bending at the toe, helping you push with your whole foot and supporting your foot while you do so.
Skate around using your poles. Use a pole action just like how you walk or run. One pole on one side at a time, opposite from your foot-push. This pole action is the same as for stride skiing. This is your lowest skate-gear. You can go up a steep hill doing this. It's called the "diagonal skate."
To pole, plant the basket near your feet, maybe a bit behind them. Your hands should be in front of you, close to you, with your arms bent about 90degrees when they plant. When you push you'll drop your weight onto the poles in a 'crunch' action and you'll push your hands at your baskets until your hands are just past your hips.
It's ok if your hands are more in front of you or out to your sides but in those cases they are being used more like outriggers, for balance more than propulsion. Whenever you push down on a handle and the basket is right below that handle your force is only support, no propulsion. Your poles only help you move if the baskets are planted BEHIND the grips/hands -- if they are angled to the rear and if your hands are somewhat close to your body. If your arms have a good bend in them then your upper body, back and torso-weight can help you pole. If you just use your arms you will be much weaker and get tired much more quickly.
You can practice poling on a flat or slight downhill using only your upper body and not your arms by getting into a track and holding your arms fully bent and tight against your body. Now just make little rocking crunches of your torso. Drop your knees a bit for power then stand up to recover. You can pole along pretty well like this, not using any arm action at all.
It's good to tilt forward a bit as you plant your poles and to "fall onto" your pole-straps. That gives good power and helps with good posture. To do this, try to deepen your ankle bend and slightly increase your knee flex. Do not bend more at your waist.
STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
Now for Real Skiing!
Now we will learn the most versatile skate move: the V1. (it's called other things in other countries. Canadians say "offset.").
It's about the only ski-skate move you need. You can go fast with it. You can 'gear down' with it and go up a steep hill. And anything in between.
This move has a power-side and a glide-side. But there is glide and power on both sides. One just often gets a little more than the other. You can play with it and vary it to what you like.
In V1 we doublepole AND kick at the same time off of one side onto the other side. On the other side we can rest a bit, or not, as needed or liked, but all we do is just skate off of this "weak side" or "off side" and fall back onto the "strong side" for another simultaneous pole and kick. Now... The strongside pole and kick don't happen exactly at the same time nor do they each last as long but they START all at once. We fall onto BOTH poles and the ski at the same time.
To change the "gearing" of this move all we do is change the angle of the vee of the skis and the timing of the kicking. The faster we go the more we glide on the power-ski and the more we delay kicking on the power-ski. We can also change how long we glide on the offside.
Going up a steep hill, we vee out our skis a lot and use our poles and kick immediately to combine all our forces to give us a nice "low" gear for easy hill-climbing.
For going fast on a flat, we delay our kicking until after our poling to stretch out the power and give us a "bigger" gear for more speed and less leverage.
SO! ...to learn how to do the V1 we should take our poles and skis off again. We will step from side to side flinging our arms in a doublepole motion on one side and not on the other. We will move in a pattern like "3" and "1". ...2 poles falling down and 1 foot (3) pushing off of one side then just stepping to the other side and raising the arms again getting ready to fall/step back over to the other side. 3 1 3 1 3 1. ...it usually takes SEEING this on a video or in person to "get it." hard to describe in text. But give it a try!
As you learn V1 you might sense that you can use a TWISTING motion as you pole from the strongside to the weakside. We do like our body and weight to go from ski to ski but we want to keep ourselves pointing DOWN THE TRAIL rather than pointing from one side to the other with our shoulders or hips. To tell if your bodyweight is in the right place your knee and even your nose might be right over the top of your each ski. But face down the trail.
Up We Go!
Also, shorten-up to go up hill
Try light flicky moves -- on the flats, then also on the uphills
Here's a tip to get a better feel for skating up a hill, and to find a posture that saves your energy: splay your skis in a vee at the bottom of the hill, pointing up the hill, drop your butt then tilt forward at your ankles, then rock from ski to ski, now add your V1 poling motion to assist then add more leg action.
The steeper the uphill the more vee-splay you'll have but still keep your motions light and short and keep your chest pointed up the hill and pole with both hands shoving back down the hill. Press your shin toward the top of each ski
The steeper the uphill or the slower you're going the more your V1 hands will be offset, with one hand high and the other lower.
Breathe "deep deep easy easy" -- let hanging from the poles help you let your belly sag and let your poling help you to 'woof' exhale
STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
The faster you're going and the flatter is the terrain the later you'll kick after poling. And the more your skis will point down the trail rather than to the sides. You'll be able to enjoy what's called "ride'n'glide." You'll fall onto a flat ski in the "3" mode, pole, then delay some with your weak leg just kinda dangling under you and your power leg kinda straight under you, too, relaxed, then it will flex and kick over to the weakside where you'll land on a flat ski and just hang there as well on kind of a straight leg with your power leg kind of hanging as you rocket along. This is called "bone on bone" skiing, where you have a naturally balanced phase on each ski that doesn't use much muscle or tension in either leg and where the offleg just hangs for a moment.
STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
The Full Enchilada
So here are the 5 gears of ski-skating: diagonal skate > V1 > V2 > V2A > no poles
V2 and V2A are hard to describe, so we'll skip them for today. : ) They are just different poling patterns. They're fun and not too hard. But you don't need them right now! they are somewhat faster moves than the V1 -- meaning, you use them when you're already going faster than with V1. No technique "gives" you anything for free. Lots of skiers just use the V1 and play with that move to go faster or slower without needing any V2 or V2A at all. So you won't really be missing out, especially early on, if you don't worry about them -- tho, of course, like all skiing they are fun!
If you feel like it, look around for other skiers doing different things than what I've already told you and they'll probably be doing V2 or V2A -- you can copy them and see what happens! it's easy and fun but a bit hard to explain to a newb.
I will say that for V2 you really want ultralight carbon poles! They really make it a lot easier and more fun. 2 is also easiest to learn by starting with a dryland imitation of the poling and footwork. It's simple but if you can get relaxed doing it that way first you'll have it made.
V2 requires more balance: but it's not static balance. It's learning to, at first, reduce the range of some motions to optimize your dynamic balance. That is, don't fling your arms or legs much. It'll be easier to keep your balance.
Really, with all these moves you're never "trying to balance." If you are, it's wrong. It sounds like unpleasant work, to me! All skiing is fun. Don't forget it! Even the learning parts! So when a move needs more balance do the things that give more balance. Don't "try to balance." The balancing comes naturally just from doing it right, at the right time, with the right gear. It's easy.
When people V2 goes wrong for people, they often find themselves tipping over to the outside, or bogging down, or speeding up in tempo uncontrollably as they rush each move a little quicker each time to stay balanced. But none of these problems mean that V2 is "harder." Or that it "takes more work." You just need some help.
If you tip to the outside, don't step as far from side to side. Or think about weighting your big toe so that your weight doesn't get out toward your little toe on your foot. If you find yourself falling back to the inside then visualize weighting your little toe more. Little things can help a lot.
If you bog down and feel like you're exerting hard with each poling, just don't follow-thru on the poling as much -- use a light 'tap' to keep the tempo up but without working too much.
Remember: grandma's can do all these moves, relaxed, at slow speeds. So... figure 'em out for going slow then use 'em for going fast.
V2A is quite easy and fun because it uses the most arm-flinging and "biggest" motions yet is very stable on both sides of the stroke. You may well naturally fall into it on faster, somewhat downhill sections.
We've already done no-poles to learn to skate. But if you like you can now try it down a hill to go as fast as you can! Your poles are still on, but you fling your hands from side to side, holding the pole baskets out to the sides. It's our 5th gear, our fastest way to skate.
Down, Down, Down!
To just glide down hills get in the ready stance. To get comfy on downhills, practice shuffling from foot to foot while gliding down. Move from side to side across the trail as you glide down. Now practice stepping and shuffling your feet around a downhill corner
Our method for control on downhills is the same as with alpine skiing: hands "on steering wheel" in front of you, in boxer or wrestler position, or lower. Shins pressed forward -- to get control with alpine skis we press shins into the front of our boots -- that weights the tips and lets them bite and work to keep us safe. In the end, make sure your feet are evenly weighted from heel to toe. Stay out of the "back seat" -- if your weight goes back onto your heels even a little bit your hands will start to rise up and reach out -- you become unstable, get stressed, and risk crashing.
Once you feel stable, get in a track and try to rest on a downhill. It's easy to glide in a set track. It's a safe place where your skis won't go in any strange new direction. They're like a railroad track. Tuck your poles under your arms. Drop down. Try a few postures to see how they feel and how they might be good for you: hinge from the waist with straight legs resting. Or, drop torso to thighs to get into an aero egg shape. Keep your hands together in front.
Hit the Deck!
If you're going to crash or just want to bail out, sit back on your tails and slide down on your butt on top of your ski tails. You will still slide but more slowly. You can also just flop back to the side on a butt cheek then put your skis below you and across the trail then stand up and side step or snowplow down the hill.
Braking and Stopping!
To brake you'll snowplow with each ski -- weight, unweight, set an edge and skid. Try one foot then the other as you go down a hill. Put all your weight on one foot, lift up the other, push the heel out, tilt the ski, then weight it and skid. Play with the amount of edging and weighting. Then try both feet at once. Go between light and tiny snowplows and extreme skid-braking. Notice how a snowplow can help you turn. You can use the snowplow to stay in control on fast downhill turns.
You can also easily do a hockey stop. Unweight a ski and set it out in a snowplow, weight it and start skidding, then lift your other, rear ski and set it parallel alongside the first ski and weight it also, edging it away from where you're going. Hockey stop. You can also unweight both skis at the same time by dropping down then extending your legs then pivoting both skis together and setting them both on edge. Hockey stop.
With ski-skating you'll want to learn to take care of your ski bases and to wax their whole length with a glidewax that matches the temperature of snow, then to scrape and brush and structure your base. Of course you can have a shop do that, or the rentals place already does it. So we'll worry about that later. But creating your own rocket-fast skis is a fun part of skiing!
This is enough to do ya for now!
You've probably been at it a good hour by now. Either the reading or the skiing!
Time for another swig and snack!