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Marathon Skate
Level: beginner intermediate technique

marathon skate salomon ad
One of the first real "Skate" ads for Salomon with yours truly! Nice classic ski boots. 1984

"During the 1985 - 1986 season, it appeared that classic skiing was a technique of the past, as all the top racers skated. However, the International Ski Federation (FIS) convened and decided to bring back the traditional technique, and to have two separate types of skiing for Nordic racing: freestyle and classic. Some athletes protested, including [Bill] Koch, who said that “classic skiing was being artificially propped up” by traditionalists."
» read more at northernlightsonline

Background Babble
It was the technique that changed the sport of cross-country skiing forever. For me, it started with the Brenton Woods Marathon back in 1982. It was painful. The first 25 kilometer loop was nothing dramatic - crispy morning air on new powder snow under the watchful eye of Mount Washington. It was halfway through the second loop when the change came. Skiers were starting to litter sides of the trail franticly making swiping arm motions above their skis like priests trying to pry demons from a forsaken sole. But in place of the crucifix were corks, scrapers and klister tubes. Mt. Washington had thrown warm air onto the valley floor and created a slippery mess on the scant coverage of snow. Rewaxed and clothing layers wrapped around our waists, a skier ahead of me begins a steep downhill section through the slush. I see him loose balance and veer 12 inches off the trail. A small twig grabs his ankle and watch in amazement as it's attached 3 foot branch flies out of the snow and bounces end over end chasing him down the hill.

Audun Endestad was up early the next morning and talked me into his day-after-race ritual of an easy ski to loosen up the muscles. I'd met Audun while teaching at Telemark Wisconsin a few years earlier. He'd come to Telemark Lodge in Cable, Wisconsin to race in a World Cup event. Turns out he was unhappy with his instructor job at neighboring Rhinelander and decided to make Telemark his new home for the racing season. I spent that winter learning ski technique from a master that changed my skiing forever. Every day was a new adventure as he'd talk technique, recount his weight and body building training in Norway and laugh at my escapades of trying to match the length of his glide. Now Audun was on the marathon race circuit around the U.S. and Bretton Woods was his last stop prior to heading west for the spring Dannon Yogurt race series.

After skiing for a few minutes that morning Audun stopped on a flat section of trail and began telling me of a technique he'd seen at ski marathons in Europe. It was a new technique by skiers over the many miles flat lake and meadow crossings. He admitted that he was just starting to play with it and wanted to keep it quiet, for the time being. Then, making sure there were no other skiers in sight, he angled one ski out of the track, made a skating push with the ski, and a double pole push, and he was flying! In between the skate and pole push he'd glide about five feet, then repeat the process. I'd watch as he'd balance over the gliding ski for a moment, as if resting, then he'd skate again.

It was weird.

Skating wasn't new but this combination was. We'd all throw in a few skates around corners but skating with one ski in a track was a new combination. I gave it a few tries but it felt awkward and tiring, but was way faster then double poling alone. I made a pact with him to keep it quiet - for a while.

The skate stayed quiet in the US for a few years. I practiced it in the flat sections of trails and even snuck it in in the later portions of races when no one could see. When rumors of all-out ski skating were seen in Europe I tried skating with both skis whenever there was a smooth section of trail but my soon tired thighs convinced me of it impracticality - or maybe the need to practice more! At the time, all the trails were groomed with diagonal tracks which made it nearly impossible to free skate without getting stuck in one of those tracks.

Over the next few years the Marathon Skate was a staple with the majority of citizen racers in the the US. As it evolved into full fledged skating it's speedier virtues were realized over the classic technique and new race terminology was invented - Classic and Freestyle. Soon trails were groomed flat and wide for skating and the new craze took off.

Now, to the Lesson

xc ski skatingLets begin by standing in the marathon skate position. Set one ski in a track (gliding ski) and set the other foot down with ankles together and ski angled in a "V" position (skating ski) (PHOTO M-1B). You'll notice that the angled ski tail actually crosses over and above the opposite gliding ski. Your arms should be forward and ready to double pole.

To start gliding down the trail, bring your poles forward and lift up your skating ski (PHOTO M4), then set them both down at the same time (PHOTO M5 just like the V -1!). Set the skating ski down on its edge by rolling your ankle to the inside. Begin your double pole and pressure the skating ski, giving it a give a lateral push out to the side. As you finish your double pole and skate, bring your body back over your in-track leg, glide for a moment, then repeat the movements.

marathon skate side view
To refine the marathon skate we need to work on weight transfer and balance. The skate power comes from transferring as much weight as possible to the skating foot. Lean your body over your skating leg as you set the foot down to begin the push.

THE SPLITS
v skateIf you're having a hard time with the timing or not getting a solid skate push-off, think of the Splits. Put your weight equally over both skis as your start your pole push (PHOTO M-2a). Keep weight over the skate ski with your body in between both feet. You'll start to feel more of a commitment to the skate ski push off.

After the skate and double pole, our body position over the in-track leg will enhance our glide. For balance during this glide phase, go back to our starting position: body straight and upright and ankles touching together (PHOTO M4).

LATERAL PUSH
As in all skating movements, the skate push is straight out to the side. The skate foot stays directly across from your gliding ski (PHOTO M1-6).

 

 

CLASSIC TECHNIQUE: Diagonal Stride; Adjusting Pole Straps; Arm Swing; Double Pole; Kick-Double Pole. CLASSIC UPHILL TECHNIQUE: Classic Uphill Diagonal; Edging; Side Step; Herringbone. DOWNHILLS AND TURNING: Getting up from a fall; Kick Turn; Track Snowplow; Five Tips for the Diagonal Stride; Kick Double Pole. SKATE SKIING: Ten Tips for the V-1; V-2 skate technique; Marathon Skate. ALL AROUND: Stationary Turns; Step Turns. RESOURCES: Nordic Glossary; 20 Q and A; History of Cross Country Skiing

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