Nordic Ski Colorado - The official cross-country ski guide
Article: Out-Thinking Your Feet On Skis
By Jonathan Wiesel / Photo by Carter Photographics
classic skier at a Nordic Center
Classic skiing the groomed trail. Photo courtesy of Dan Hunter.

I’ve had some great conversations (a few arguments too!) about what’s the most important innovation in cross-country skiing.

Some people say the biggest change is waxless skis to make the sport simpler; some think the answer is skate technique that makes it more exciting. Other folks argue for the introduction of fiberglass skis, or even form-fitting Lycra, to make the sport sexy.

I think the answer is Nordic centers, with all kinds of services and especially machine-groomed trails, instead of breaking your own trail. Among other things, they make the sport more social and open it up to folks who might not be comfortable skiing on their own.

One of the huge advantages of groomed trails is that they make learning relatively easy. You can walk on skis in almost any snow conditions, but it can be a lot harder to glide on them.

For most of us, it’s tempting to try to learn from a friend or family member, but it’s a lot more productive to get instruction from a teaching professional on groomed trails.

The most popular and versatile technique is “classic style” – ideally a smooth elongation of walking, with one arm swinging forward and the opposite leg driving in unison, ending in a graceful glide.

“Skating” or “freestyle” skiing takes place on a smoothed compressed surface without tracks. It utilizes an ice skating-like motion of arms and legs with skis in a V, thrusting off of the skis’ inner edge. Freestyle is swifter than classic but more energy consuming.

classic skiers at a Nordic Center
Classic skiers use the track to head down the trail at the YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center.
Learning classic technique in machine-set tracks gives you the basis for skiing efficiently in even deep, unpacked snow, which isn’t possible for skaters because they will catch edges. I was originally self-taught, in those far-off days before groomed trails were widely available; and I learned through trial-and-error (lots of both). I eventually re-learned in tracks – with multiple lessons – and became a far better skier.

These days you can learn the basics of skiing uphill, on flat or rolling terrain, and gentle downhills in a single lesson at a Nordic center.

Ascent methods include the herringbone (effective but kind of ungainly), sidestep (practical but boring), and switchbacking – or classic skiing straight up the hill. There are actually more ways to turn on cross-country than on downhill skis. Speed techniques include double poling, and double pole and kick. Really proficient skiers adapt style to terrain, snow conditions, mood, energy, and companions.

I try to start every season with a refresher lesson in classic technique. It’s more fun and takes less time than getting ski legs back all on my own.

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