How to XC Ski -- Cross Country Skiing for Regular People!
November 02, 2017
Here's how to ski for regular people. Really, it's just skiing, but you can call it nordic, XC or cross country if you like. All skiing is one: just do what fits your local terrain.
I've been studying XC skiing in all its forms for decades -- studying, enjoying, reveling-in, playing-with.
These here are my teaching notes for CLASSIC SKIING -- striding -- regular cross country XC. I've also posted something similar here for ski-skating. Indeed, I'm only replacing the skate-specific stuff. A lot of this info applies to both styles. And even to other kinds of skiing like telemark and alpine.
So, in light of the the first rule that "all skiing is one," XC is simply the kind of skiing that fits best where there aren't mountains or big hills. All skiing delivers the same 3 basic virtues of snowsport: *glide, *rhythm, *pay-off. It doesn't matter what kind you're doing as long as you're having fun. And if you're getting those 3 things, you will be!
Now, XC also fits in the hills, too, but there's no need to drive far away to the hills or to a lift-served area to enjoy ski-glide.
Most any ski set-up that somewhat fits you will good enough for plenty of casual fun. This is a cheap, low-overhead sport!
My goal is for learners to have fun every step of the way -- no wasted motion, no awkward static drills. I cover a wide range, from never-evers to advanced. I glean what has worked best for me from all the sources available, yet the results emphasize fun and play like I haven't seen elsewhere -- even though these aspects are absolutely needed for XC to become popular! I think it's because typical how-to info emphasizes racing and a Type-A personality.
So as you might've noticed Classic skiing is the typical, traditional, all-round type of skiing that you can do anywhere. It might be called Striding or Touring. For ski-skating you need a wide machine-groomed course. So wide that it's not really a trail anymore. Yet you can also do skating anywhere the snow is firm -- so whenever the snow melts and freezes a few times you can get a strong enough crust on top that would let you skate-ski anywhere. Then you know what to do!
These notes follow a step by step progression with only a few stall-outs for background info. I suggest that you work through them from the first to the last and you'll have it all. The tips are somewhat rough. If you only count the time for doing each item it'll take about an hour. But adding in the reading, well...
These tips start from the very beginning. You can be a never-ever skier and end up striding by the end of this. And even if you're a pro these basics are so quick and possibly interesting that you'll be fine, too.
I've taken the best of my experiences learning and teaching over a few decades, and watching basically all the videos and reading pretty much all the books and a ton of articles, and distilled it here. I skip most of the tips and drills I've encountered because they seem bad or unneeded more than they seem redundant. I really don't like static or asymmetric gimmicks. I want everything folks do to feel good in themselves and to definitely move them closer to fun with as little overlap as possible. I avoid both the word "drill" and its function.
My goal is simple motions and the fewest of them.
As with many things, I see a lot of info out there that overcomplicates these skills, especially for learners. And there is a lot of money you can spend on the technology side. I'd say just do whatever delivers the most fun for you! I'm not going to suggest anything that makes it harder or more expensive than it needs to be. But once you get into it, there is more that can be done -- though with my approach the doing is basically just more skiing rather than more analysis or more spending.
Yes, I know everybody learns differently. Some like things broken down into components, others like special keywords. I'll just use what I've noticed that a wide variety of people seem to "get" quickly. And, yeah, if I was teaching you a class I'd see what you're blazing thru and where you're bogging down then dial in on what you need, but all this stuff is gonna help. A lot.
Really, I should have a few pics or a video for every one of my paragraphs. Maybe someday I will and that will be my book! : )
My goal would be a book that would be fun and actually deliver the goods promptly. I'd also want to make it so that young people, diverse people, and just plain regular people would react like "Yeah, let's do this!" As I glance over this I don't know if that will be the effect. I notice that I just plow ahead and that might not be so interesting. Maybe I should toss in examples and funny stories if I ever develop this further. ...Because I probably do have a few. If I added photos and vids that would probably do the trick because my peeps and I probably look pretty fun and maybe a little funny, too. I assure you that they way we look would NOT look like any book or how-to video you've ever seen! With that in mind...
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 a 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 (like racers). It's glide, rhythm and payoff.
And skis are cool in part because they're so simple. There are really no moving parts. They're just 4 sticks -- 2 poles and 2 skis -- attached to us at one small pivot point each. Also they're so lightweight. So they don't torque us or overweight us.
We get the good things by weighting, unweighting and extra-weighting (bouncing, pouncing, flexing, kicking, pushing) -- it works like alpine skiing, ice skating, and skateboarding. Any kind of scooter. The speed doesn't matter. What you look like doesn't matter. Just those 3 things.
Weighting lets us glide. Unweighting lets us easily move our skis around. Extra-weighting gives the propulsion.
Casual skiing looks different from racing. It's good to know the basics of it all -- 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 -- don't judge the one by the other.
In particular, the kind of skiing that people do most and the places where they do it most are both totally different from racing. Trail Skiing and Ski Touring are what we'll focus on coz that's what 90% of people do 90% of the time. Race technique helps when the going gets tough and you really need to focus on the physics. Fun technique delivers the results the rest of the time. We'll cover both. We serve your needs.
Skis These Days
Now, all skis are good. And XC skiing works well with any ski that fits you, but the skis being made in the past 10 years are especially good for beginners and for the Trail Skiing that I like to encourage. Today's boots, bindings and skis offer so much more control than they ever did that it's astounding. The ski makers should be pushing marketing campaigns with that message. But they don't!
Really, the USA is considered almost not a worthwhile market to bother with. We think that some of us like skiing over here? Well, everywhere else in the world that has snowy winters REALLY likes skiing! We might have thousands of skiers. They have MILLIONS! They sell in the real markets. We are an afterthought. Sigh.
Anyway, a modern ski boot with a pivoting cuff gives huge support for ski-turning. A modern binding with a tight pivot and an easy auto-click-in and ridges along the sole of the foot that boot grooves fit into -- gives HUGE ski control. So much less slop and so much more leverage than ever before! And the skis themselves are torsionally stronger due to the cap construction. And most of them are built using a "mid-length" design concept that is SHORTER than in previous decades for much easier ski handling. -- However all these skis seem to also glide less, as any shorter ski does. I suppose they might have figured out some way to make shorter skis glide just as good in hard machine-set tracks but I've never had a midlength ski outglide my full-length ski. And I've never seen shorter skis beat longer ones anyway. That is, a longer ski yet than my long ski would glide faster than mine! But still: the new shorter skis are more nimble and turn easier, which is helpful for beginners as well as for many kinds of fun, twisty Trail Skiing.
Indeed, today's new common type of tour ski could be called the Mountain Bike of skis. A kind of ski set-up that perfectly matches skiing on realworld types of narrow, ungroomed Trails. ...Which are basically like dirt trails compared to the "paved roads" of machine-groomed ski courses. ...Yet this is an angle that makers have never bothered promoting. I'm one of the very few to promote this kind of skiing as an avenue for more free fun and skill!
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 and stand on one foot with a slight forward tilt of torso and let rear leg float/lift slightly up off the ground and hang there -- knee and ankle bent a bit and in tension but calm -- do this both feet.
The previous tip is your biggest ski lesson! 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 way late, way after your pole-action, and your poling hands will be too high and too far in front of you. This all 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? But you won't be able to easily get up a hill like this. To go up you need to stand up and tilt a bit forward and flex that ankle! It applies to both classic and skating. So kick back when you like -- but know how to get forward and really grip when you need the help to get up hills or to put the power down whenever you like.
Learn a Lot Just Standing there!
Time for more dryland motions:
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.
Now while you're standing there swinging your arms add in a bounce. As you swing your hands and your hands pass your thighs give a bounce like you're standing on a bathroom scale and trying to make it weigh more than I weigh. Flex those knees and ankles! Drop down with each arm swing. It's good for ya.
The thing with striding is that to get grip and power the foot stops for an instant, grips, and you leap forward off of the stopped foot.
Why does a classic ski grip? It has sticky wax or a textured pattern under the middle quarter or third of the ski. The ski also has a camber or arch to it. When you're just standing on the ski, with half your weight on it, as when gliding, or even with all your weight on it -- the sticky part under your foot is OFF the snow. There is much less pressure on it, anyway. Then when you drop down a bit and flex your ankle and knee then start to stand UP again you suddenly put MORE than your body weight on the ski and this presses the grip part into the snow and it grips! It only takes a little more increase in your weight to make this happen.
It's important to realize that the gripzone is centered around the pivot point of your binding: around the ball of your foot. It's not equally centered around your whole foot. That is, it goes farther forward than it goes to the rear. So when you press down with the BALL of your foot, that's when you grip. When you're shoving forward with your glide foot and have weight on the HEEL of your foot the camber has less weight on it and you glide.
So it's good to feel where the weight is on your feet as they stride fore and aft. Getting a feel for that will help you both grip and glide.
Now, all kickwax is still wax and it will glide on snow if we don't tramp it down. So some touring skis have a long kickwax area and some skis have a very gentle camber. This is best for soft snow. Wood skis like this! These skis both glide and kick on the same wax!
It's fun to determine the kickzone for your skis. You can use a clamp at the pivot of the skis to force both your skis together, to see where the gap gets smaller around your foot-area when you compress it with the force of your bodyweight (even guessing works OK). Or you can use the famous old Paper Test where you find a FLAT floor and stand on the skis and equally weight them. You then have someone slide a piece of paper under the skis and see how far forward and back they can move the paper. That lets you know where your "wax pocket" is. When you put ALL your weight on one foot you can see where your most effective wax area is. Feel free to use a sharpie to mark a line at the front and rear of your wax pocket. (For spring/icy skiing this is called your "klister pocket" where you'd put your stickiest wax at such times.) If you stand with just one foot on one ski then give a bounce, even the final klister-pocket should bottom-out.
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! with skating the foot never stops gliding. That's why it's faster. But the sideways motion reduces the efficiency of skating due to the tangential direction. And the poles are only longer because they're set out at an angle from the body. The net effect is that skating is about 25% faster for intermediate skiers. As you become more skilled the speeds of the two modes get closer together. (Elite skaters are only about 10% faster than striders.) What's cute is if you think about it, an elite strider can usually ski faster than an intermediate skater. Also, when stride-skis are waxed just right their gripwax really doesn't slow them down, especially in klister conditions when only a small amount of wax is used.
Skaters are used to thinking of themselves as the fastest skiers on a course so it can be cute to see an expert go striding past the intermediate skaters. Indeed, on a certain medium-steep uphill grade a strider can go faster than most skaters. And on tricky downhills, the slightly slower glidespeed of a striding ski ends up being no disadvantage. I recall just such a situation when I was feeling good at a citizen ski race in Colorado once and I noticed the biggest hill was just right for classicking and a fair bit of work for skating and also that there was a lot of tricky descending so I classic skied in the skating race yet I still won. That was fun.
What makes skating easy and fun is there's no worry about kickwax or getting a good grip, especially 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. Well, unless you wash out the front of the skis, which is easy to do. The problem with skating is it's so easy to "get in the back seat." You can still ski like this and even have fun but it's TWICE as much work! That's why people say that skating requires more fitness or takes more work. Sure, you can put more work into it and thereby go faster, but you don't have to -- unless you're sitting back then to do anything at all takes more work -- though it does deliver a lot of glide.
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 (kind of sort of) up hills. If you don't stand up on your skis in striding and flex that ankle to get grip, then you can't ski up hills hardly at all -- and you'll suffer and hate it or just bail out on skiing and start to herringbone. (I often see the ski marks of other skiers who glide along until they get to any tiny uphill where they immediately bail out and start to herringgone.) Thankfully, learning to get grip in classic-striding is easy. But it isn't exactly intuitive! ...Which is why self-taught skiers almost always suffer on uphills and work harder elsewhere, too.
A nice thing about good skiing is that you can dial it back to whatever effort level you like. Even going really easy it can be really efficient. It's up to us!
Almost Ready to Ski!
Put poles on right -- hand up thru, then grab down onto strap and pole.
Adjust the length of the strap so that the web of your hand between your thumb and forefinger is right at the pivot point of where the strap goes into the ski pole grip. You want the strap to be able to keep the pole on your hand and to take a lot of the load of poling and you don't want to have to grip the pole very hard at all.
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. ...To take your skis off you'll need to press down on the button with your pole tip. Many skis are automatic to step into but they all require the button press to get out of.
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. This 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.
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
Skiing! ...Well, HALF of it!
Find a flat place and take your poles off and set them aside. Let's ski without poles. swing your arms fore and aft in time with your legs. Opposite timing just as if you were walking or running. Don't do bear-walking! When learners overthink it, or even when they're first just trying to comprehend what's happening to them as they pole and stride, they will very often start to kick and pole on the same side. Nope! We pole with one hand then stride with the opposite foot.
To get some grip as you swing along, 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 forward 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.
Play around with big arm motions and big leg action and then also with compact arm motions, keeping your arms bent and close to you and making your motions have more 'flick' to them. All the combinations of big and little arm and leg motions are fun to try. Going back and forth on a flat area and then also on a slight grade so you can feel it going faster down a hill and having to be more precise and with sharper bounces to get back up a hill.
A Bit More Skiing!
FINALLY! ...put poles on! do it right -- hand up thru, then grab down onto strap and pole
If your poles are sized about right when you're standing on the ground they should be to your armpits or your shoulders. When you're in your skis they'll come a couple inches lower.
Your desired pole length can vary depending on where you'll ski most: if you're in the hills then shorter poles are handy. If you live where it's flat then longer are nice. If you'll be touring in deeper snow, or skiing homemade trails in places where it snows a lot, that is, if you're dealing with snow that tends to come up higher on you as you ski, then, again, shorter poles will be handy
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.
If you think of the physics, the poles will help you the most when they are pointing the most down the trail rather than up to the sky. If you push on a vertical pole your force lifts up your body -- what good is that? If you push on a pole which is tilted forward the pole will go to the back and you will move down the trail. that's what we want!
Now, it's all one smooth motion. You put weight on the pole when it's more vertical then tilt it forward and keep adding power. The first weighting is called the 'loading.' You can really 'pop' the poles at this time and the rest of the action can just be a whipping thru of the hands. But propulsion is happening when the pole is tilted. So make sure you're still giving good power to the poles as they come close to your hips. You can ease up on them at that point. When you're enjoying nice long ski glide you can let your pole-hands fly WAY to the back and let go of the grips except for maybe your thumb and forefinger. Your straps will keep your poles from getting too wild.
Practice doublepoling and single-poling. A slight downhill is easiest for both. When you go up a slight hill notice how falling onto your poles and an ab-crunch really helps with doublepoling. Also notice that you will shorten-up and choke up on your poling motion when going up a hill. Adjust these things to keep the glide going and avoid bogging down. You want steady gliding, not a yo-yo type of flow.
Here's a final thing to ponder about poling: as you whip your "off" hand or hands back to the front and up they're actually helping you set your kick wax to get grip (as when striding or doing the kick doublepole). It's pretty neat!
STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
Now for Real Skiing!
First let's learn how to turn. Your star-shaped ski practicing will serve you now. To make a turn that's kind of fast you just step around it, skating out on one foot, or just weighting the outer foot, then moving your unweighted inner foot to the inside in the new direction then bringing the outside foot back in to meet the inside foot. The tips move away from each other. This is called a skate or step turn.
On uphill turns or in tighter situations you may well want to step the inside ski into the turn then lift your heel and swing the tail of the outside ski outward and keep the tip down and near where it was before then swing that outside ski forward and alongside the inner ski. In this case the tails swings out wide while the tips stay in similar places. This is called a striding or swing turn. You can actually keep the stride and gliding motion going throughout this turn. it can be quite beautiful. And effective. the skate/step turn is less efficient in some situations, especially on an uphill turn. Also, very often if you get off the trail or into some shrubbery or when getting up from a fall you may want to "unthread" your skis, being comfy with swinging your ski tails around is key and even fun! it makes quick and smooth work of "extracting" your skis from a tangle.
Remember, you'll only be able to do things with your skis by using the 3 methods of weighting, unweighting, and extra-weighting.
If you lock up and straighten your legs they won't be able to be unweighted or extra-weighted, so you won't be able to move them around easily. Such half-weighting is only good when you're gliding down an easy hill in some nice deepset tracks. Anywhere else your skis might want to wander a bit in which case you'll want to be able to weight one ski, unweight the other and move it. XC skiing isn't like alpine downhill skiing where you can bully the skis around. Indeed, in alpine skiing people who just shove their skis here and there aren't really skiing but at least they can still have a little fun. in all real skiing the skis work when they're weighted and then can be turned during an unweighted phase.
So just get used to stepping around and lifting your skis and moving them from side to side by weighting one ski and unweighting the other.
Now we get into the propulsion part...
In classic skiing when you flex down a bit in knee and ankle then leap off of the ball of your foot you get grip. And when your weight is on your heel you get glide. That's because the gripzone is centered around the ball of your foot and because your skis have a springy camber to them.
With such pouncing moves we can easily climb a steep hill or ski fast on a flat.
Up We Go!
To first learn how to ski up a hill, just jog up it. this will also reinforce good arm action. Use your arms like when you're jogging. As you trot from foot to foot you'll be putting 100% of your weight on each and as you jump forward you'll put even more than your bodyweight on the ski for an instant -- then the gripwax will grip. Hold yourself in place with your pole and up you go. Shorten-up to go up hill
Try light flicky moves -- on the uphills but also on the flats. Ski around a bit both up and down skiing lightly and making sure you don't bog down.
Then stretch out and put more into it. Pounce like a puma! Drive your foot up the hill. As your hands and feet all come together, feel yourself coiling up. Then pounce out!
But feel how you have to choke it up a bit as you go uphill. Don't pole as far back or reach as far forward.
And when you kick you don't really kick down and back. It's more like you're kicking a ball forward down the trail with the other foot! The forward driving leg is a more definite action than the rearward. That's because to kick you have to STOP your foot. You set the kick wax, get grip, then swing and drive your other leg past it and forward. It also helps to think about driving forward with your opposite hand.
Here's something important: everybody now and then slips and misses the kick going up a hill. It's gonna happen. It's a balancing act. If a ski is too grippy it doesn't glide its best. If it glides too fast you will find that it has no grip for an uphill. The best ski, though, does have nearly perfect glide while still giving perfect grip when your technique is spot on. Also you will also be skiing as a balancing act: if you pounce a lot you'll get more grip but it's easier to just flow so you'll adjust your technique to the steepness of the uphill: and you'll screw up and suddenly find that you were too casual at some point and you'll feel your ski start to slip. So both things are going to happen: you are going to slip, and sometimes you'll feel that you're STARTING to slip. What you do in either case is the same: DROP! Get lower. This will mean only an inch or two of drop. Flex your ankles more deeply. Lower your hands. Crouch. Sometimes on a steep climb it feels like my hands get awful close to the ground when I do the Drop. This may well give enough extra grip to let your ski work. It's interesting how it works!
So even if you've missed that kick totally just DROP. This will let your NEXT kick have a better chance of sticking. And if you feel a kick STARTING to slip, also drop, it will give it a bit more bite and maybe bail you out.
HAVE A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
More Skiing on the Flats
As you stride along you might start hearing that your rear ski is slapping down behind you. It can get pretty loud sometimes! This happens because you're not standing up enough on your glide ski nor are you shoving through enough with the glide ski. It also happens because you're not powering forward with your toes pointing down the trail. Your toes might point back after the kick when your ski has floated up into the air behind you. That's nice. But then you need to bring that foot back and it's important to get it FLYING back forward. Flex that ankle already, lift up with your toes. And bring that foot back thru under your hips like it's an airplane hitting a landing strip. You can zoom the SKI itself thru like that but if you think of zooming your FOOT thru like that as well then the ski will have a SOFT, quiet landing -- which is also the FASTEST and most glidey landing it can have. In this case the ski touches down right when it comes under your hips or maybe even in front of them. You're really driving for the glide!
But there's a time for letting your rear ski come back to earth farther back. Or even for hardly letting your ski come off the ground to begin with! This is a bit of a misnomer, though -- we're never doing stuff with our back ski as it's going back. That's all just side effects of kicking and of the position of our body and the flex of our ankles (mostly). That's why if you do my base move of just standing on one foot and flexing your ankle and tilting forward a bit your rear leg will tend to outrigger a bit to the rear: it doesn't take work that's just where it goes to balance you. The more you tilt, the farther back the rear leg goes. You don't have to force it.
So if we're skiing with a rucksack on a soft homestyle style that's a bit uneven and if we're scouting the countryside for all these reasons we might have an UPRIGHT posture. In this case, as you kick your leg won't go back very far and it might come down quite soon. Sometimes having both skis on the snow more often will let you keep a better feel for the trail -- especially if you're not looking down. This is the essence of Ski Touring and striding on flat terrain. A lot of time people will start doublepoling when it gets flat, but if you want to keep striding and look around you'll do the Touring Stride. Your poling is also greatly affected by your orientation. If you're looking around, carrying a pack, skiing on a soft trail, your poles may well be placed a bit out farther to your sides and if you're standing upright they will probably get planted farther ahead and with straighter arms. This is because you're using the poles for some support! They're a bit more like outriggers now. You're watching the trail less. We're only talking a couple inches here. If your arms are way forward or way out well, that's bad: we don't usually need much Frankenstein in our style. But using poles for stability is a great thing! With an upright posture our poling will also stop sooner: right at the hip. If you try to shove them farther back you'll just end up arching your back backwards and making your low back too concave -- and tire it out.
If tour-skiers who have an upright posture try to kick too far back or pole too far back they'll tend to get sore backs and let them down soon. Low back fatigue isn't what we want.
At the same time, this style of skiing won't work to get grip up a hill! This is Flats Striding. Once you get to an uphill, you'll need to get punchy and flex your ankles and shorter your poling to get grip.
STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
The Full Enchilada
So here are the 6 gears of striding from easy to hard: herringbone > race striding > striding doublepole > kick doublepole > (tour striding) > doublepole
Let's work on the doublepole moves.
When you're on the flats and gliding fast, or even on a slight downhill, you can just use your poles. You might be going too fast to feel like your feet can help you so you'll just use poles.
We've already gone through the doublepole basics, but let's do them again: reach forward with bent arms, plant your baskets near your feet, then collapse your weight onto the straps, then do a little ab-crunch and rocker your arms down toward your hips. Straighten your arms as they approach your hips and even more so after your hips. Your hand pushing aims to the baskets. You kind of 'whip' your hands. You don't need to bob up and down a whole lot but it will more more so than with striding.
You can compare a lot of torso drop to just a little. And depending on your glide speed you can shorten or lengthen your poling action.
The fast guys find it helps to recover your poles with your elbows kind of sticking out. This helps flick the poles back forward. Then when you plant your poles if you keep that kind of "flared" style you might be able to use your Lats more. Feel it and see what you think. They also "wham" the poles down hard. That first "catch" moment is a good place to put most of your work. ...Especially if you feel that it works for you! Remember, efficiency in one place and for one person doesn't always translate everywhere.
A really cool thing about doublepoling is that you can get into it as a rhythm. A lot of people think it's boring because it's only half of a skiing action. There's no legwork. Well, it's a bit like canoeing and we don't dislike paddling, do we? A way to bring interest into DPing is to get the breath involved. You don't want to force a pattern but it can't hurt to use your motions to assist your breathing. So when you first 'hit' the forward hands, at first just hang from the poles, and let your belly sag and exhale -- 'woof!' then tighten and do the ab-crunch / curl and finish emptying your lungs. Then when you stand up really breathe in. Then again with a really nice big relaxed full exhale during the poling. I find that this turns DPing into something that I could do all day.
Actually legs do get plenty of work in doublepoling -- just like they can in canoe or kayak paddling (if we're bracing our feet). As you drop onto your poles and your hands go past your hips you'll be flexing and bending your legs. Then as you recover you'll be standing up again. That takes work!
Now we'll learn a couple more DP moves.
The kick-doublepole is also done when the gliding is easy and fast, but maybe not as fast as when just only DPing. Indeed, you can do it up a bit of an uphill. What you do is as your hands come forward together from a doublepole move you flex your knees and ankles and "gather up" as your hands come forward past your legs. then as your hands are rising up, you kick down with one foot. That kick lets you really reach out far. It shoves your weight out there more over your hands so when you pole again it has more umph. Then as you drive your hands back past your hips, you drive that foot forward again. Then the same foot can kick again or you can alternate feet. Again, if the foot slaps down loudly at the back think about "landing the plane" as you drive that foot forward, also flex more in the glide ankle and stand up more in a forward tilt. ...And, again, if you're doing this move on the flats, while wearing a pack, in soft snow, you might be more upright and the rear foot might naturally come down sooner but just try to keep things smooth. This move is basically like scootering with one leg -- the other foot keeps riding the "scooter."
Now we come to a cool thing. It's a new ski move that I'm promoting. Actually, it's not new. What is? But it doesn't officially exist and I'm the only one doing something about it. It's called the Striding Doublepole. It's a kind of doublepole that's real easy. It doesn't involve moving the torso very much and you don't need a lot of speed or power. It's also great for when the glide isn't that fast for whatever reason, including that you're just taking it easy. But on soft trails or when carrying a pack, it's just the ticket! It's the kind of doublepoling that works up the steeper hills. So you might do it just before you have to start striding or you'll bog down. So you kick as you bring your hands forward past your hips then you kick again as you doublepole down back past your hips. In short, your legs are striding just as in stride-skiing only you're only poling for one of the strides and the poling is doublepoling. It's two-hands action every other stride, but both feet are striding.
For regular kick doublepoling one foot stays still and gliding all the time. But the trail might not be fast enough for that so you'll want to use that leg, too, sometimes -- so feel free to do just that! I note that this technique isn't in print anywhere or officially taught anywhere, but it's a wonderful move! It's actually an old technique from back in the wood ski days. It's also a move that many Tour Skiers have stumbled across on their own when they were just feeling lazy or like changing up their striding. I've even had a Tour Skier tell me "Yeah, it's probably all wrong, but I like doing it!" No, it's all good!
I also note that the poling and kicking action is the same as with the most popular ski-skate move, the V1. It's kinda neat how they're the same. Indeed if you change the timing of the pole-side kicking in the Striding Doublepole so that the kick happens right with the poling, you can do it up quite a steep uphill, just as if you were V1 skating. Then if you delay the kick the Striding Doublepole becomes more like the V2A or Open Field skate move and is nicely suitable for flat, fast terrain -- just like the V2A.
Anyway, all these moves are easy! It's fun to just realize they exist. You don't have to worry about them or even remember them when you're first beginning. At some point, though, they'll all show back up to help you have fun when you need them! certainly don't stress out over any of the details. We're just playing around here! Mostly it'll be great if we can just get you comfy with all the basics and get a feel for handling your skis around and for gripping and gliding. ...For crashing and getting back up and such.
You'll often enough find an uphill that's too steep to get any grip up. Well, to get up it easily we do what is called the Herringbone. That's where you stick your ski tips out to each side, or, really, you just rotate the ski outward at the front and the tail rotates inward at the rear. You set the ski down at an angle to the direction of the uphill. Then you tilt your knee in to bite the edge. You do this when your wax will no longer grip. But you don't change anything else about what you do! You flex your ankle deeply and you reach up the hill a bit with your other hand, arm bent. Then you trot up the hill! You keep your keep mostly moving just forward and back. You don't waddle! sometimes when it's really steep you move more from side to side. But really the skis should move entirely over and past each other before they set down. So they're at an angle but they don't hit each other. It's fun! Take your time. Don't try to step too far. Keep your poles set with the baskets to the rear and behind you! Don't reach too far forward. Try to keep yourself doing the same as always. Light, relaxed. Don't work too hard -- it's a steep hill! The trick is to not waddle and not lift your skis very much -- only enough to have the one ski pass over the other.
If the hill is too steep even for herringboning, then put your skis totally sideways and sidestep up the hill -- or down the hill if you don't want to descend it in another way.
Here's another trick that's fun. It's also illegal! Yep, don't try it in a Classic race, you'll get DQed. It's pure classic but someone might think you're Skating, which isn't allowed. So if you slip when climbing and want to herringbone don't do it totally, take a herringbone stride and then another one but glide out onto that ski! It's doing classic skiing to the sides. Pointing the ski to the side and edging it gives the wax a better chance to grip so you are still stopping the ski and gripping with it and then kicking off of it and gliding onto the other ski. The slope of the hill is less when you angle the ski out. With normal herringbone you trot and stop with each stride and get no glide but very often you still CAN get some glide! The problem is if you glide the ski WHILE you are kicking it: then that is skating! But the rule says "no glide when ski not pointing down trail when there's a set track" even if you are NOT skating the ski. The striding/gliding herringbone is fun and also instructive. Just don't do it in a race!
Here's another special trick that we've developed around here. I suppose others have as well, but, again, I'm the first to promote it. We call it the Skidaddle. So, what do you do if your uphill is eroded? What if your trail has a U-shape to it? A lot of trails do have eroded sections. What happens when you try to herringbone such terrain? You splay your tips as usual -- yet the ski still washes out backwards on you! By rotating a ski outward on a U-shaped uphill you can INCREASE the uphill steepness of the ski rather than decrease it like herringbone usually does! It can be IMPOSSIBLE to herringbone up such hills! Very frustrating to say the least! But we've discovered a way to make it fast and easy! Hooray! You sidestep up one side of the trough! Yet it's not regular sidestepping -- you're not exiting the trough sideways. You're not even stepping sideways! You can BOTH skis to the center of the trough and raise BOTH tails up onto the side of the trough as you scamper up the hill! Your skis make a parallel one-sided Vee going up the hill. Your poling action is quite normal but it has a sidedness to it. One hand reaches farther up than the other. Try it! It's fun to try to keep it smooth and relaxed. Again, you don't want to lift your skis any more than you have to. Let them stay low. You're always lifting yourself enough, I'm sure!
AND NOW TAKE A BREATHER AND STOP FOR A SQUIRT OF APPLE JUICE AND A SNACK!!!
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.
If you're nervous about downhills, or a hill in particular, get yourself down it slowly somehow first. Snowplow, sidestep or even take off your skis and walk down. Then from the bottom walk up a ways and try to glide down part of the hill. (you can walk up and put your skis back on from a sidehill stance or you can herringbone or sidestep up the hill.) Go higher and higher up the hill until you reach your limit for downhill comfort. Taking a downhill one part at a time is a good way to learn how to ski the whole thing. (I use this method myself when trying to sort out a technical downhill on a tricky trail that I want to do again better someday.) Of course some hills may always be too much! There is always a way to handle a hill. It doesn't always involve skiing the whole thing!
Braking and Stopping!
To brake you'll snowplow with each ski -- weight one ski, unweight the other, move it out to the side a bit and forward a bit, step the heel out farther so that the ski is angled, then set an edge, put some weight on it, and skid the ski. Try one foot then the other as you go down a hill. Then try both feet at once. Play with the amounts of edging and weighting, and how far to the side and forward you set the ski. Go between light and tiny snowplows and extreme skid-braking. Notice how a snowplow can also help you turn. You can use the snowplow to stay in control on fast downhill turns by braking with the outside foot.
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. Total instant hockey stop.
Hit the Deck!
Sometime you'll misjudge a hill or make a mistake or just have life happen to you. Don't worry. Snow is softer and slidier than dirt. But still be careful! If you're going to crash or just want to bail out on a downhill, 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. Don't let yourself go down a hill faster than you can control your skis! It's better to bail out early than to wait until you're going too fast. Try to always fling your pole baskets behind you as you crash. Both skis and poles do a good job of getting out of our way when we tumble because they're only held onto us by one pivoting point that moves quite freely. Ski gear is so light that even when it's torqued it doesn't tend to overburden our joints so injuries are rare, unlike in alpine skiing where the gear is so heavy and the skis are attached to our whole foot, creating huge lever forces which severely injure a huge percent of enthusiasts.
Well, you've probably been at it a good hour by now. ...Time for another swig and snack!
Then maybe call it a day and see if your brain can stop swirling.
For best results if you're skiing in good snow in actual cold winter conditions you'll use a waxable ski and apply kickwax that matches the snow to give you great grip and also great glide.
You really don't need many kick waxes. warm, medium and cold will do the trick. You'll also want a cork to smooth them in and a scraper to scrape them off when they build up too much.
If you ski where it's often slushy and your trails have a lot of dirt and roots you might want to use nowax skis instead. If they have a fishscale pattern on them they'll make some noise, but that's OK. It's also good if your trails are somewhat hilly since your fishscales will be slowing you down. On a hilly trail this won't matter.
You'll also eventually want to wax your tips and tails with a glidewax -- especially in good snow and on moderate trails. With nowax skis you'll also want to wipe a wax-paste onto the grip-pattern area.
Ideally, for the tips and tails you'll want to iron in a glidewax (and even your kickwax) that matches the temperature of snow, then to scrape and brush and structure your base -- but really you don't need this at all. Certainly not for casual tour skiing. However, this does make the skis work a lot better and help the kickwax to last a lot longer. (Temperature-sensitive glide-waxing is much more helpful to do for ski-skating which relies on efficiency to keep the skate-action working.)
Of course you can have a shop do all this, or the rentals place already does it. So we'll worry about it all later. But creating your own rocket-fast skis is a fun part of skiing!
In the end you might have a few kinds of skis. But don't worry about that now! ...Like, you might have an allrounder waxable ski, a nowax for tricky slushy conditions, a stout, wide backcountry ski for powder tele turns, a skinny ski for going super fast, and a skate ski! plus a couple pairs of poles. Who knows! But the main thing is to not spare your skis! Use them! They're tough! If we're going to see more low-snow winters, don't fret: adapt: keep skiing even if the snow is thin.
I hope that all these basics together will help you have the most fun a person could expect on mellow terrain in any typical snow you might bump into.