Classic or Skate - What do Do?
Posted December 27, 2010

Many folks new to cross country skiing ask about the skate technique. I think it looks unusual enough and that arouses some curiosity. While one could certainly learn to ski either way first I generally suggest that beginners begin with the classic technique. I think the real answer lies in where you plan to ski and whether that will be on groomed snow.

The classic technique is versatile. You can classic ski on groomed terrain, in deep snow, on narrow trails or in wide open spaces. The skate technique requires a good firm surface and that means either groomed trails or springtime crust skiing.

I'm also asked whether the same equipment can be used for both techniques. Unfortunately this is not the case. Cross country skiing has evolved and each type of skiing has it's specialized gear. I'll try to get into the differences between skating and classic gear in a future post. Right now though, let's take a brief look at each technique.

Classic skiing uses a movement that appears to the casual eye like walking or running. Those forms of movement, however, do not have the gliding characteristics of skis on snow. Take a look at the classic skiing image sequences below.

There is a distinct forward lean. One pushes down through the ski onto the snow to get grip while the other leg pendulums forward to prepare for the next push off. The ski grips the snow because it is waxed specifically for grip or the ski contains some kind of pattern than allows it to grip the snow. The poles are used alternately to add power and propulsion. Here are some more aspects of classic skiing. How many of these can you see in the photo sequence.

  • Their is a complete transfer of weight from ski to ski.
  • As the feet pass, the body is forward from the ankle and joints are at maximum flexion.
  • The new foot lands in front of the old foot with an exaggerated flex of the ankle and glide begins on the new ski.
  • As the glide continues, the rear leg straightens.
  • As the forward ski starts to decelerate, joints collapse preparing for the next push off.
  • The gliding ski stops, while the feet are passing.
  • There is strong push-off and the rear leg extends.
  • When the leg is most extended, it appears in line with the upper body.

Ski skating uses a movement more similar to ice skating or in-line skating. Skis are waxed for maximum glide and grip is obtained by a push-off on an edged ski. There are many similarities between the two techniques though. These similarities make it a little easier to learn skating once classic skiing techniques are firmly in hand.

In skating the skis are angled out to the side somewhat. The arms swing together to create a double-poling technique. Some more aspects of skating are given below. Check the photo sequence above to see how many of these you can detect.

  • Their is a complete transfer of weight from ski to ski.
  • As the feet pass, the body is forward from the ankle.
  • The new gliding ski is placed flat on the snow and the body is "stacked" over the ski for good balance.
  • The gliding ski is edged progressively and the gliding leg is extended to create a push-off.
  • Movement toward the new ski begins by extending 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.

The descriptions here do not form a learning sequence. They are just descriptions of various parts of the technique. To learn to classic ski or skate ski effectively it is very important to take some lessons from an instructor. A good instructor will have the training and knowledge to teach the techniques to you, analyze how you are progressing and prepare you for the next step in the learning process.

Don't expect to learn either technique completely with one lesson. Skiing requires an ability to balance well on one foot at a time over a moving platform and be able to transfer that balance from ski to ski in a smooth and rhythmic motion.

The sequences above show skiing on relatively flat terrain. There are many other techniques to learn that will enable you to climb even the steepest of hills AND descend those hills safely.

The most important thing is to get out on skis and take that first lesson. That process was a life changer for me and it could be for you as well.

Winter has definitely come to my part of the world. The mountains are white and the snow is beautiful. Here's a look at part of the scene from my back yard. It definitely tells me it's time to ski!

Only 61 Days 'til the Birkie!

The Rhythm of Skiing
Posted December 21, 2010

Winter has arrived and we have plenty of snow. It looks to be a great snow season in Montana this year. As the snow continues to deepen and winter maintains its grip, skiing takes on a rhythm all its own. The days dawn slowly and evening twilight might seem to come too early. But there is plenty of time in between for me to get a days fill of skiing.

At the beginning of every ski season I seem to get winded quickly as I ascend a hill. In the early phase of winter I try to remember the three parts of skiing. These simple things are being used by the US Cross country Ski Team and the professional Ski Instructors of America. They are Body Position, Timing and Propulsion.

I've listed them before but it's important for me to remind myself of these three facets to good skiing at the start of each skiing. Good body position puts you in a position to make the best use of your ability to move across the snow. The timing of the skiing movements builds efficiency. Without good body position and timing a lot of power is wasted. But with good body position and timing you can put your best effort into propulsion.

Another little key has cropped up in my skiing to let me know my technique is off. My left knee begins to hurt. When it does, I focus more on bringing my leg under my core when completing each skating stride. If I do this right the pain goes away. Better body position lets me ski longer and easier. That rhythm of skiing that is so much fun.

Here's a few photos from my mid-December week of skiing.

Mount Wright rises high above the North Fork of the Teton River. I was backcountry skiing above the
Teton Pass Ski Resort in deep powder snow.

Essex Creek flowing at the bottom of its deep and silent valley.

V-1 up the long grade on the Pileated Trail at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Only 67 Days 'til the Birkie!

Total Lunar Eclipse
Posted December 21, 2010

It was a treat to watch the total lunar eclipse last night. A daytime snow with low clouds gave way to clear skies by evening. Driving home from Izaak Walton Inn I was presented with the full moon rising in the east right at sunset.

By late evening temps had fallen to around zero F and the bright moonlight illuminated all that new snow. A few wispy clouds floated across the sky.

I awoke at 11:20 Mountain Time and went outside. The air was still and some high clouds blurred the moon's disk. But I could still see the moon fairly well. Soon a shadow began creeping across the face of the moon. In actuality it was the moon that was moving into the shadow cast by the earth.

By around 12:30 am the moon was mostly in shadow. A bright meteor flashed across the sky just below the moon. Very cool. Shortly after that the moon became a dark copper colored disk barely glowing in the night sky.

After another hour or so the sky cleared completely and there was no wind. Strangely the temp had warmed to about 6 F. The moon still glowed a dull copper color and it was quite dark on the high plains of Montana. A great horned hooted down by the river and I heard the rustling of a mouse under the snow in Nancy's flower beds.

As I watched the moon began to get a little brighter. Brighter still and eventually a bright patch showed on the edge of its disk. The bright patch continued to grow and the moon soon last its copper glow. Slowly the shadow retreated from the moon and the high plains were bathed is moonlight once again.

When I woke later that morning the moon was beginning to set behind the mountains to the west. Winter had come and light began to creep into the shortest day of the year.

Over 8,000 Skiers Registered for Birkie 2011
Posted December 15, 2010; Updated December 17, 2010

Friday December 17, 2010: I just received word from the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation that the 2011 Birkie and Kortelopet race cap of 8400 skiers will be reached tomorrow (Saturday December 18, 2010) and race registration for these events will close on Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. (CST). For complete information visit the American Birkebeiner website.

The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation reports that they now have 8,026 skiers registered for the 2011 American Birkebeiner and Kortelopet and have closed Wave 4. This means that there are now less than 400 positions remaining in these events.

There is a Race Cap of 8,400 skiers for the 2011 Birkebeiner & Kortelopet. There is also an overall Registration Deadline of January 31, 2011. Skier registration will close upon reaching the cap or the deadline, which ever comes first.

I believe this is the earliest that the 8,000 skier mark has been reached. This testifies to the wide ranging appeal for this well run and exciting event. If you've ever considered skiing the American Birkebeiner, I suggest you visit the American Birkebeiner website soon and submit your registration before it's too late.

Photo at left: I'm skiing down Main Street in Hayward, Wisconsin approaching the finish of my 30th consecutive Birkebeiner Ski Race in February 2009. In February 2011 I hope to finish number 32.

Only 73 Days 'til the Birkie!

Warm December Days at West Yellowstone
Posted December 13, 2010

In addition to the day at Lone Mountain Ranch I skied two more days on West Yellowstone's Rendezvous trail system. West can be a pretty cool place. Just look in the archives for our Christmas trip last winter when temps were -15 to -24 F. Yep pretty darn chilly then.

The archway and warming hut at the trailhead near downtown West Yellowstone.

Massive snowstorms during Thanksgiving week created these fantastic cornices on the warming hut. Snow depths on the trails were right at 3 feet, pretty deep for this early in the season.

But this trip things were beautiful. There was plenty of snow, plenty of sunshine, and perfect temperatures for skiing. Daytime highs were in the mid 20s and it was only a little cooler at night. A few inches of fresh snow each evening added to the beauty. I skied the great powder and groomed packed powder snow on Toko Low Fluoro Red mixed with Toko Low Fluoro Molly and had smooth silky glide.

A flat section on the Rendezvous Loop.

The Rendezvous trails are immaculately groomed. Skate lanes are smooth and the classic tracks provide straight lines and smooth curves. There is no where else that I've skied where the trails are so well maintained.

A group from Ohio working on their skating skills.

I arrived Tuesday a little after noon. I bought a season pass at the Forest Service ranger station and headed right over to the trailhead. This gave me a good three hours of skiing before it began to get dark.

I skied easy and casually around the Rendezvous Loop then headed around Deja View. After completing the two loops I was pleased to discover that I still had more time to ski and I still had plenty of energy. So I headed out for another go round.

I spent the next day at Lone Mountain Ranch and returned to the Rendezvous trails on Thursday. This time I added Dead Dog to my route. Dead Dog is a nice rolling trail with a long gradual uphill at the end. It gave me an opportunity to focus on easy, smooth, continuous skiing. This is especially important to me early in the season because I often start out too fast. My early season technique is not as efficient as I might like it to be and if I go too fast I'll poop out quickly.

After skiing Dead Dog and finishing the Rendezvous Loop I approached the biathlon range. I began to encounter more skiers and heard the pop of the small calibre rifles on the range. There was a National Guard biathlon camp in progress and quite a few skiers were working on their skiing and shooting skills.

On the biathlon range coaches were spotting hits and misses or helping skiers with their shooting position.

After watching the shooting and taking a few picsI I got back to skiing, this time on Deja View. The day was wearing on though and I still had a 5-6 hour drive to get home. So I cut Deja View short by taking the fantastic downhill Meadow Cutoff. Flying through the forest and meadow brought me quickly back to the range. From there it was only about 2 km back to the trailhead.

The last kilometer heading back to the trailhead is a long gradually ascending trail. I was pleased to find I could V-2 that entire section. I felt refreshed and just a little tired after my ski and began to look forward to another visit to West Yellowstone later in the winter.

Only 75 Days 'til the Birkie!

Lone Mountain Ranch Instructors Tune-Up
Posted December 13, 2010

Each early winter I venture down to Lone Mountain Ranch at Big Sky to meet with other ski instructors. We spend a day going over the standards for cross country skiing. It gives us each a chance to refresh in our minds what we hope to accomplish with our students. It also provides an early season check on our skiing ability.

Left: Herb leads a discussion of the important aspects of classic skiing. Right: Brenda waits while Brenda skis for the video camera. Hmm? "How does that work," you wonder? It's all part of the magic of digital photography.

The day began with classic skiing the Ranch Loop. Temperatures were perfect for Swix Blue Extra or Rode Super Blue waxes. There was time for discussion and plenty of time for skiing. Herb and Brenda also took several video sequences for us to examine over during lunch.

We spent the afternoon on skate skis and headed up to the upper sections of the trail system. There's plenty of uphill at Lone Mountain Ranch. And what goes up must come down. We had a blast.

Check the archives for more stories from Lone Mountain Ranch. It's a great place to ski with almost 100 km of groomed trails and fantastic scenery. You can bet I'll be heading back that way later in the winter.

It's a Winter Wonderland
Posted December 6, 2010

The storm began with a little freezing rain that provided some "glue" to hold the snow to follow. Then came the snow, heavy and wet at first but gradually changing to powder and the storm wound down. A foot of white covered the ground. Cold air moved in and more powder snow came with it. All the trees were flocked with snow. The ground was buried. All that powder muffled any sounds in the forest. A quiet winter wonderland was our December gift.

I enjoyed that wonderland last Friday and found the trails still a little soft. The skiing was definitely fun though. What was not fun was the flat tire I returned to when I was ready to head for home. Got the tire changed and the flat fixed.

On Sunday I met Jen and Ron at Izaak Walton Inn. It was a chilly 12 F and the snow was beautiful. Words are not enough to describe the beauty of the forest an mountains. So here are some pics for your enjoyment.

Jen and Ron at the trailhead.

We skate skied in the morning. None of us had waxed well for the cold snow and our skis were a touch on the slow side. But with all that beauty around us -- who cares?

Skating Pileated (left) and Highline (right).

After lunch it was time for a little classic. Waxing was easy as the temps were cool. We all used Rode Super Blue. The morning clouds had dissipated and the mountains were bathed in sunshine. Not much of that sun reached the forest floor in the narrow Essex Creek Valley but there was some.

Classic skiing up Essex Road.

Jen's just a little frosty!

Only 82 Days 'til the Birkie!

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