Back to Ralph's Blog
Posts from December 2006

A Tail Tucked Under
Posted December 26, 2006

New snow that was as fluffy as down provided for fast and smooth skiing this week. The snow had that wonderful greasy feel that allowed skis to glide for ever. The wax for classic skiing was in the "Blue Extra" range--the best there is. Skating on Toko Red was a ride on the express train. Great fun.


Amtrak's east bound Empire Builder arrives at Essex, Montana on a snowy morning just before Christmas.
Look who's watching from the front porch!

Steve from Milwaukee had a couple of questions:
On the skating techniques you are practicing, although the technique is more efficient,  it seems to require a lot of muscle to push with the upper torso and arms. Also with a beginner would the tendency be toward remaining too static with the skis often sliding out to the sides?

Answer: I'm not sure I can explain everything just yet but here's a try: I don't think any more muscle is required to push because you use the upper body and especially the arms more efficiently. Hands in closer in front allow the upper body to work over the poles easier and more efficiently. The torso provides bigger muscles for the beginning of the pole push. As the arms engage (with hands in closer) you are using the stronger arm muscles. Pat Casey (USSA Coach) also talked about "answering the cell phone" when skating V-1. That is the power side hand comes close to the head so that looking out of the corner of your eye you will see the palm of the hand slightly to the side and in front and the pole is like the "cell phone." Pretend the volume is real loud though so you don't put the phone right up to your ear.


I repeat this photo from last week's post to help you visualize some of the concepts I'm discussing.

Less experienced skiers will use the same drills to get the feet under the body. Things like Toes-knees-Nose still have a place. Beginners may have to twist some but should avoid tilting altogether. Forward flexion should come from the ankles and not a lot from the waist. The skis will not slide out to the side if the beginner can learn to put the ski down under the body in stead of off to the side. Most instructors already have drills to get the skis under the skier since it is a very common problem in learning to skate.

Here is some more info on skating that I gleaned from the Examiners College

  • Don't Step up the Hill: One of the things I was working on the past several years involved a step up the hill. The US Ski Team is going away from this with all their athletes because when you put a foot down out in front of you, or up higher on an ascending trail, it requires too much energy to bring your rear end up to that point. What results is the ski you put up there to glide on slows down and looses it's momentum. It then requires more work to get it going again to keep climbing the hill. USSA athletes are working on a strong skating motion off a solid foot platform that begins with a flat foot (this should sound familiar) but instead of putting the new glide ski onto the snow in front of the body they are bringing it under the torso to allow efficient weight transfer.
  • Keep Your Tail Tucked Under: One thing that really aids all this is how the pelvis is carried. He uses an example of the pelvis being like a bowl full of water. If you tip your pelvis forward (arch your back or lower the front of the pelvis) you spill the water out of the front of the bowl. To keep the water from spilling we worked on keeping the front of the pelvis up higher. Another way to say it is to imagine you have a tail coming off the tail bone and keeping that tail tucked under between your legs. That is a pelvic thrust which instructors have used before in lessons. The tail tucked under position aids in the formation of a rounded back, a very desirable position when skiing.

Keeping the tail tucked under and not stepping up ahead has allowed me to do a better job of climbing hills. So has the change in how I was poling.

This is not all entirely new stuff, just another way of thinking about it that seemed to make sense to me. So far I've been able to V-2 much more on the trails, especially on uphills, than I could previously and I think that's a good thing.

When all of us discussed these concepts at the Examiners College we realized that we were talking about is an advanced or very good skier. Tilting to the side is probably the first thing that a skier can move away from. We decided that Level I Instructors would still have some twisting or bending at the waist when skating. Level II Instructors would have begun to quiet this down and Level III Instructors would have full control of their panel to minimize twisting and bending at the waist. A couple more things to remember is that we are not expecting the panel to be rigid or stiff. Second is that these descriptions are what you'd see on average in a skier skiing so called average conditions. There might be terrain or snow variations that would require some twisting and maybe some bending at the waist. The advanced skiers knows when this is the case and can control the panel efficiently.

After all was said and done here's how this section of the Cross Country Skiing Certification Standards was described:

  • A Level I Instructor should be able to ski with a stable 'panel' (torso) oriented in the direction of travel in one of the three: twisting, tilting, hinging at the waist.
  • A Level II Instructor should be able to ski with a stable panel in two of the three: twisting, tilting, hinging at the waist.
  • A Level III Instructor should be able to ski with a stable panel controlling twisting, tilting, and hinging at the waist.

A Quiet Panel
Posted December 18, 2006

A few weeks ago I mentioned attending the PSIA Examiners College in West Yellowstone. At that event PSIA Education staff collaborated with the PSIA National Nordic Team and Pat Casey, Coach for the US Ski Team. The purpose of the college was to examine how cross country skiing is described so that instructors can better teach their students. We divided skiing fundamentals into three groups: Body Position, Timing and Propulsion.

One aspect of Body Position introduced by Pat Casey was skiing with a quiet panel. The panel, which might also be referred to as the torso, consists of a rectangular area of the body from the shoulder to the hips. When skiing we should be able to control three aspects of the panel. These are tilting, twisting and bending at the waist.

For me to think about a skiing concept such as this I usually need to slow it down so I can focus on specific body movements and position. After I work on the concept for a while and implant it into my muscle and mental memories I can work on increasing speed and power. In the sequence above I worked to minimize movement of my panel.

I asked Jen to ski with a tilted panel and you can see the results below. Tilting side to side requires expenditure of energy that does not provide any forward propulsion. Tilting results from an attempt to balance on the gliding ski when, perhaps, it might have been placed on the snow a little to the side instead of under the body's center of mass.

The next time you are skiing, either skating or classical, see if you can become aware of how your panel is moving. I'll try to get some pics showing excessive hinging at the waist and twisting in another post fairly soon.

In the meantime, I wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season and I hope you enjoy my snow angel and ski ball ornaments at the beginning of this post.

The Big 60!
Posted December 11, 2006
Photos by Brian Kennedy, Tom Kotynski and Ralph Thornton

Skiing this week included a day of backcountry, a day of skating at Izaak Walton Inn and a day on snow celebrating my 60th birthday. 60 seems like a big number but my daughter told me that 60 today is like 40 a few years ago. Nice way to make time stand still.

To mark the big event 20 good friends joined me for a ski and/or snowshoe trip to the summit of Flattop Mountain just south of Glacier National Park.

We all met along US Highway 2 at Marias Pass. Most of the group skied up the Pike Creek Road (above left) while some took the more direct route straight up the north ridge of the mountain. After skiing about 4 miles and gaining 800 we changed over to snowshoes (above center) for the short 1/4 mile and 300 foot ascent to the summit (above right).

I took the leisurely approach and was the last to reach the top. The sun kissed the summit, there was almost no wind and the temperature was in the 20s. Add to that the backdrop of Little Dog and Summit Mountains in Glacier National Park and you have a truly magnificent scene. A loud chorus of Happy Birthday greeted me as I walked the last few feet (above left). We shared several treats including a Toblerone chocolate bar, Hersheys Miniatures, chocolate Zingers "birthday cakes," 2 bottles of Champagne and lots of camaraderie. The corks flew high in the thin air and we soon were partying hearty.

Lest you think we are not aware of proper manners we did have cups. The crowd outpaced the cups though so April took to the bottle (above right). The Champagne disappeared quickly with several toasts but the party continued for some time (below).

Just before leaving we gathered for a group photo. I was honored to have so many friends enjoy my perfect birthday party. But then most of us can find just about any kind of excuse to have a good time in the mountains! After a few more photos the fun began as we started our descent. Those that skied off the top made a quick descent carving turns while those that snowshoed ran down to our skis. Our fun began a little lower with a nice long ski down to Marias Pass and Highway 2.

Return to top of Page.


Ah! Great Skiing at Izaak Walton, Looking Glass Pass and Up the South Fork of the Teton
Posted December 4, 2006

Skiing this week included a couple of backcountry days, perfect groomed trail skiing and a few glimpses of the Kick Out the Kinks race at Izaak Walton Inn.

The photo below pretty much says it all! Skiing was wonderful. Trees were flocked with fresh powder and there was over a foot of groomed snow on the trails at Izaak Walton.

We began our day at Izaak Walton Inn by classic skiing. Snow temp was -7 C (19 F). I found Toko Carbonline Blue wit a touch of Viola was perfect. Jen and Ron used Toko Bright Blue and Bruce and Rhonda used Swix VR40.

The snow was so silky smooth gliding was almost effortless, except for the fact most hadn't skied since last winter. Of course I cheated by spending part of Thanksgiving week in West Yellowstone. I may have had a slight advantage. In the photo below Jen is disappearing into the "Black Forest" followed by Bruce and Rhonda.

These photos are from the River Trail at Izaak Walton Inn. The trail meanders for several kilometers through open forests providing views across the Middle Fork of the Flathead River of Rampage, Scalplock and Running Rabbit Mountains in Glacier.

It was a delight to begin feeling the ski muscles working to move us quietly down the trail. We periodically broke the silence with shouts of glee that winter has returned.

After lunch we changed to skating gear. My Toko Dibloc Low Fluoro Blue and Red mixed provided wonderful glide. I began working on some of the concepts introduced to me by USSA Coach Pat Casey during my stay in West Yellowstone.

Pat demonstrated using some new catch phrases like skiing from a solid platform, keeping your tail tucked under, skiing with a quiet panel and answering the cell phone . After I work on these a little more I'll talk more about them and include some photos. Let me say for now though, that these concepts are greatly improving my uphill V-2.

This race marks the beginning of the ski season at IWI. Several teams from Kalispell and Whitefish were joined by other skiers from around the region for 5 K and 10 K races. In the top photo a racer finishes the 5 K course. Below left another 5 K finisher who remarked after the race that she hasn't skied in two years. Hmmm, I wish I could look that good the first time out after a 2 year layoff. Below right, the 10 K racers head out to begin a series of very challenging uphills punctuated with fast downhills that go by so quick there is no time for recovery.

My week began with some backcountry skiing, both along the South Fork of the Teton River and another day on Looking Glass Pass.

Bud Iszler, Bill Hedglin and I skiing to Looking Glass Pass on the east edge of Glacier National Park. Some fog covered the mountains but we managed to get a few views of Rising Wolf Mountain (below).

There was some wind blown crust but we managed to stay on top about half the time. These skis are always nice for the scenery, camaraderie and the long downhill return to our vehicles.

On my drive up the Teton Valley near my home the winds were really howling. What look like clouds along the mountain tops in the photo above are actually banners of snow being blown off the summits by high winds. I drove up into the canyon and began to ski. After about 2 hours I turned back and reached my vehicle in about 30 minutes, all on a fairly level trail. Yep, the winds were pushing me along nicely.

Return to top of Page.