Ralph's Nordic Web
Posts from January 2006
Welcome to my Blog on cross country skiing.
History, Instruction, News, Wax, Skating, Classic, Racing, Backcountry
with a bias toward the Big Sky Country of Montana.
Last Updated: Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 10:45:42 AM

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Visual Cues for Effective Skating
Posted January 30, 2006; Updated February 11, 2006

A few weeks ago I talked about some visual cues good classic skiing focusing on Flexion and Extension. There are similar visual cues to good skating. Review the Visual Cues related to Flexion and Extension, Poling, and Relaxation and examine the images. The next time you're out skiing think about the visual cues again and see if you can feel these concepts while moving down the trail. All photos were taken at Izaak Walton Inn on January 22, 2006. Update: On February 11, 2006 I added two more image of skating sequences. These give a pretty good overall look at the variety of skating form for different individuals.

Flexion and Extension in Skating

  • The new foot lands in front of the old foot with an exaggerated flex of the ankle and with the knee lined up over the toes
  • The ski is edged progressively with extension of the leg to the point where the ski is most edged and the leg is most extended
  • Movement toward the new ski begins by starting to extend the glide leg and moving the core over onto the new foot
  • When the skate leg is most extended, the new unweighted leg is most flexed

Two other important aspects of skiing (both classic and skating) involve poling and relaxation. Read them over and look again at the images to help you relate these to your skiing on your next outing.


  • When the poles are engaged the arms are flexed at the elbows and functionally tense
  • On the backswing of the arms, the arms closely parallel the extended leg
  • The arms never stop moving or there is no "hitch" in the arm swing (impossible to tell from these still images)
  • The most efficient muscles are used in the order: abs, triceps and shoulders
  • The upper and lower body movements are blended
  • length of poling is directly proportional to the length of the glideSomeIn

An often overlooked part of skiing is Relaxation. It is extremely important! Relaxation permits energy conservation and minimizes extraneous movements. All power movements in skiing involve contraction of muscles followed by an almost complete relaxation of those muscles. Combine this with balance and rhythm and you're on your way to great skiing technique. When you ski you must relax!


  • During the forward motion of poling, relax the arms and shoulders
  • When the feet pass, all muscles are relaxed
  • After the skate, the leg relaxes as it comes back in under the core

In looking at the images here keep in mind that it is very difficult to capture just the right part of a skiing sequence to best illustrate the concepts. Looking at the photos below, careful observers will note that I might have placed another image between some of those in the sequences. If only the camera was a little faster it could have gotten more images. Maybe next year.

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John Carr
Posted January23, 2006

John Carr was my very good friend. He passed away suddenly January 19, 2006. John was only 52 years old. I will miss him dearly.

John and I shared many outdoor adventures together. He was a superb mountaineer and avid outdoorsman. John loved to ski. His favorite was backcountry skiing with the chance to make a few tele turns on an open slope. He took up skating a few years ago and was just getting into local races this winter.

John was my most frequent companion on mountaineering and climbing trips in and around Glacier National Park during the past few years. Together with his wife April, we climbed all of the 10,000 foot peaks in Glacier National Park. John completed these in less than 13 months, a rare feat indeed.

On difficult climbing pitches or at the top of a particularly challenging ski run, I will always hear John encouraging April with, "You can do it Missy!" And she always did.

John was a lively companion, always putting the brightest face on difficult situations and turning tough times into great memories. I could count on him completely as I hope he could me.

On a climb of Mount Poia this past fall, John and I were pummeled by snow pushed along by high winds. Ice pellets stung our faces and our boots were often invisible under the blowing snow. On reaching a somewhat steeper slope covered with crusted snow, John looked back at me and said, " Now, whose idea was this?" We both knew that neither of us would be there unless the other agreed to continue on.

The summit was at the end of a narrow snow covered ridge that we negotiated carefully. On top of the mountain John exclaimed over the beauty of the scene. After only a few minutes on the cold windy summit we started back down, John leading. I can still see him heading off into the swirling snow.

John will always be with me. I am thankful for the wonderful times we had together and will cherish those memories always.

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The Klap Ski?
Posted January 15, 2006

Photo by Bruce Adelsman, skinnyski.com, used with permission.

A very interesting article by Dick Taylor, former Olympian and National Team Coach, was published in the December issue of Cross Country Skier magazine comparing ski skating with speed skating.

Dick described when ski skating first hit the scene in the mid 80s ski coaches looked to speed skating (ice skating) for technique ideas. At that time, because of the long speed skating blades on the skates, speed skaters could not afford to flex their ankles at the end of the push stroke and toe off because that would cause the long blade to dig in at the front as the skater picked up his/her heel.

Ski skate coaches picked that up and we taught a push-off from a flat foot for a long time. I especially remember clinics with Steve Gaskill and Nikolai Anikin where the pushoff with a flat foot was emphasized. I worked hard to emulate this technique and incorporate it into my ski skating.

Ah, but while ski skaters focused on the speed skating technique at that instant in time, speed skating was in the first years of being revolutionized by the klap skate. This new skate had a flex point in the connection between boot and blade that allowed a skater to flex their ankle, lift their heel at the end of the stroke and "toe-off." This provided more power and a longer push stroke in speed skating. With the klap skate on the scene all of the speed skating record books were rewritten within one Olympic cycle..

If you haven't seen a klap skate, it works something like a cross-country ski skating binding. But while speed skaters were trying to loosen up the ankles and provide toe off, ski skate equipment manufacturers were devising ways to stiffen the ankle and make the boots more like the pre-klap skate boots. The two sports were actually working in opposite directions.

Sometimes technique info takes a while to filter down to the "rest of us."

Now take a look at Chris Cook out in front in the men's team sprint in the Capitol Elite Sprints in downtown Madison, Wisconsin last Saturday night (photo at the left). Ah, toe-off is pretty obvious. So if Olympians and Elite athletes are toeing off when they ski skate perhaps we should too!

When is a Rainbow Not a Good Thing?
Posted January 13, 2006

When you're going skiing!

Over two feet of new snow had fallen on Marias Pass the previous week and it looked great for a backcountry ski. The rainbow foretold otherwise. Heavy rain had fallen all night and throughout the day Saturday. The snow was already gone from the plains west of Browning and at the pass it was a soggy mess. We spent the moring in the coffee shop over a second breakfast. Yuck!

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Sidecut and Skate Cut
Posted January 9, 2006

Michael Scoba asked: What is a sidecut? What do the numbers mean 65-55-60 ?

Thanks Michael for this question. It is one of those topics fairly common to our sport but one which is often left unexplained.

Sidecut refers to the shape of the ski along the side from the tip to the tail. Most skis do not have exactly parallel sides. A curve is manufactured into the side to enhance ski performance. Sidecut is identified as a series of numbers pertaining to the width of the ski at various points.

A ski with the sidecut of 65-55-60 is a ski with a width near the shovel, or where the tip reaches its widest point, of 65 mm. I usually refer to this as simply the width at the tip. The width across the waist or middle of the ski would be 55 mm and then ski widens again to 60 mm near the tail. Put in another way, this ski would be 10 mm narrower at the waist than at the tip and 5 mm narrower at the waist than at the tail. If this is a cross country ski it is probably intended for backcountry skiing and designed for good flotation and easy turning in deep snow.

Skis with sidecut around 50-55 mm are designed as touring skis and used in off track (ungroomed) conditions or on groomed trails. Light touring skis, designed for mostly skiing on groomed trails, have a sidecut something like Fischer's SL Superlight (48-44-46).

Most cross country classic racing skis have an almost parallel sidecut. Fischer's RCS Classic is 41-44-44. You'll note right away that this ski is slightly narrower at the tip than at the waist and tail. This is referred to as a javelin tip and allows the ski to follow a set track around a turn with less friction than if the ski were uniform in width.

The high end Atomic Beta RC:11 Classic ski has the same side cut as their high end skating ski (40-44-42-43). Salomon, on the other hand built a javelin tipped ski. The Salomon Equipe 10 Classic is 40-44-44.

In recent years skating skis were constructed with a double sidecut often referred to as a skate cut. The Fishcher RCR skate cut ski has a side cut of 41-45-44 with a 39 side cut. This means the ski is 41 mm in width near the tip, 45 at the waist and 44 at the tail. The ski also narrows further to 39 mm between the tip and waist and again between the waist and tail.

You might be wondering about the advantage of such a side cut. Supposedly a skate cut ski will track better in a straight line. This is important when gliding on a skating ski prior to skating off. Unfortunately, when turning the ski on edge when skating off, some additional friction results from the skate cut. Because of this many World Cup racers began requesting a previous model of ski with a more parallel side cut configuration. In response Fischer created a new top end skating ski based on a previous model's dimensions. The Fischer RCS skating ski is 41-44-44.

Other manufacturers took slightly different approaches to skating side cut. The Top of the line Atomic Beta RS:11 has a 40-44-42-43 side cut. The Salomon Equipe 10 Skate is 41-43-/42-44. Both manufacturers claim their side cut is to emphasize tracking ability of the ski which is one critical factor to ski performance.

Which is the best ski for you? First determine what kind of skiing you plan to do and what performance level you are looking for. Then it is a matter of comparing the products from the various manufacturers. Talk to other skiers to see what works best for them. Then shop for ski at a dealer who has the knowledge and ability to match the right ski to you, the skier, and to the conditions in which you plan to ski.

Now for a little fun. John and April Carr are posing with the winning snow sculpture at the Izaak Walton Inn Ski Fest this past weekend. The sculpture is Peruvian Girl with a Kivuna. On the hill in the background is a row of remodeled cabooses that serve as unique lodging at the Izaak Walton Inn. Of course there are also rooms inside the inn.

Three Classic Skiers
Posted January 3, 2006

Here's the photo I used last week of myself to illustrate some of the visual cues for good Classic skiing. I focused on Flexion and Extension. Compare this sequence with the sequences of a recreational skier and a sequence for Bruce at the bottom. You can see a wide range of techniques here. What's important for most is that the skier has fun. To some it might mean just getting out in the snow. To me more fun means greater relaxation, less energy use and more speed.

Flexion and Extension

  • Maximum flex off all the joints occurs as the feet pass
  • The body is forward due to ankle flexion
  • The glide ski lands in front of the pushoff ski
  • As the ski glides the lower leg straightens, as the ski decelerates joints flex
  • During pushoff the leg becomes fully extended
  • When the back leg is fully extended, it is in line with the upper body

When photographing skiers with a simple digital camera it is difficult to get the exact shot desired. In this sequence the skier's feet pass in the first image on the left. Notice how little flexion there is compared to my image above and the sequence of Bruce below. Also the body is mostly upright and finally in the last frame on the right we can see the skier's core or center of mass is behind the feet. These three factors reduce or waste the energy available for pushoff and maintenance of glide. Hence the recreational skier seen here will move more slowly down the track using the same or even more energy than a more efficient skier like Bruce.

It is very difficult to apply power to the pushoff when you pushoff from a relatively straight or upright position. Just try to jump into the air without flexing your legs first. Very tough.

When you pushoff and you body is upright, most of the force results in an upward in stead of forward direction. Again energy is wasted in the pushoff.

Finally, having your core behind your gliding ski keeps weight on the trailing ski. This make it much more difficult to transfer weight to the forward ski which is absolutely necessary in order to pushoff from that ski in the next stride.

Now let's take a look at Bruce. His "feet pass" stance is in the center of this sequence. Noticed how flexed he is in the ankles and knees. This flexion provides a pre-load for a powerful kick or pushoff.

The right image illustrates the end of pushoff where Bruce's leg is fully extended. His leg is in a straight line with his upper body. The right most image in my sequence is taken a split second later where my leg has relaxed following pushoff. The legs relaxes then swings forward completely relaxed.

Is there anything in Bruce's technique that might be inhibiting his performance? Drop me an email with your comments.

Waxing on January 2, 2006
Snow Temp:
-2 to 0 C (wet! with new snow falling)
Snow Temp: -2 to +2 C
Grip Wax: I tried Toko Carbonline Red, the added Yellow, then added Silver. Grip was elusive. Everyone else went to no-wax skis. I went in to change skis and decided to change techniques as well. I skated the rest of the day.
Glide Wax: Warm fluorinated gliders would work best. All in the party used "yesterday's" wax, however.

For posts from previous months click on the links in the left column.