cross country ski tips



roller blade with poles for xc training
roller blading is great for skateing technique
With or without poles, roller blading is great strength training
for ski skating. It's fun too!
summer roller skiing near maroon bells
Roller Skis are the most specific nordic training device

We all have a million excuses why we're not in shape when it comes to skiing the first tracks of the season. Don't let those excuses prevent you from making strides in your skiing and enjoying the season ahead.

Let's take a look at what we can do during the month of December to get in shape, then what to focus on to improve our strides and turns for the winter.

Until that first taste of snow, there are a variety of strength and movement exercises available to keep us busy.

The biggest complaint skiers have at the start of the season is the "wimpy arm syndrome". It's easy to exercise our legs in the off-season easy to leave the upper body alone.

Roller skiing and bladeing with ski poles are excellent tools for increasing upper body strength. Double poling in uphill terrain on both devices work especially well to get the arms in shape.

My favorite ski related exercises don't require these fancy wheels but only a pair of ski poles that are about sternum height. Take them along and use them when you jog or hike in hilly terrain. Mimic the motion of long slow strides on uphills, using the poles to propel you in mid stride. When you come to steeper hills slow down to a long exaggerated walking stride.

If you're an Athletic Club member, ask the trainer for some supervised ski related exercises with free weights.  If weights aren't available try pull-ups, dips, push ups and sit ups at home.

While the roads are dry, keep on the road and mountain bike with lots of stand-up riding for ski specific strength.

For telemark skiing, add running up and down hills to your program.  In the weight room try lunges and a few leg exercises that focus on the thighs and hamstrings.

Once you start a weight or exercise program, keep it up through the entire season.

The first month of on snow skiing should be used to work on technique and ingrain the correct movement patterns into our skiing. Creating good habits from the start are a lot easier than trying to break bad habits later.

First, let's look at some goals for cross-country skiing: diagonal and then skating.        

The most critical factor in the diagonal stride is balancing on one ski. This is what creates the exhilarating glide but is precisely one of the skills that many people lack.

diagonal stride body position
Stand with your foot underneath then extend the foot behind. Notice how the upper body leans forward when the foot is behind. Keep the forward lean of the body position at all times

Balancing on one foot is something that can be practiced before you get on snow.  In a quiet room, assume a classic diagonal stride position: balanced on one foot, the other leg extended straight behind you with the foot off the ground a few inches.  The key to this exercise is to keep your front leg relaxed with only a slight bend in the knee.  Try balancing on "the spot" under the front foot; that's the place between the arch and the ball of the foot.

To help balance, let your arm participate. If you're balancing on your right leg, your left arm should be forward.    

On snow, your first diagonal stride motions should copy what you practiced at home. This deliberate weight transfer should be equal from ski to ski.      

Start with an easy rhythm that lies more on the fast side. Going too slow means you'll have to balance that much longer and gives you more time for error.

To stay in balance from foot to foot, keep these two things in mind.

  1. The front leg requires only a slight flex in the knee.
  2. Feel your body weight centered directly over "the spot".

Now that we have a few goals in mind, take at least ten minutes at the start of each ski session and ski without poles.  That's right, leave the poles at the trailhead and find a flat loop to practice balance and weight transfer from ski to ski.

Don't forget to include the arm motion into your skiing. The arm swing doesn't have to be exaggerated but a deliberate swing forward and back.


ski skate technique with no polesSkating without poles will also help balance and body position.

The key to good skating technique is a total weight transfer from side to side and a centered position that allows the skis to glide. Too often I see skaters that ski through the entire season and never accomplish a total weight transfer.  Their feet are spread apart with their body lined up in between their feet.      

The first hint is to copy Dorothy's heel tapping in the Wizard of Oz. When we skate, think of going to Kansas like Dorothy. In between each stride try to bring your feet as close together as possible.

Once we get our feet back together between each skate, our next goal is to work on our body alignment. Our goal is to face toward the direction of each gliding ski. This alignment is not only with our head but with the whole body.

A helpful hint is the "over there" technique.  With an active arm swing try to throw the body over the gliding ski after each skate. Say "over there" as you look and project your body to the new direction.

A good exercise to test whether you are over the gliding ski is the "Tony's Nose" technique. Your toe, knee and nose should be comfortably lined up over the gliding ski.

An early season goal for telemark skiing is to accustom ourselves to the correct leg and body position.

One problem I see are with skiers trying to kneel down too far in the telemark turn. This deep knee position strains the knees and slows down our reaction time.

At the start of each season start with parallel turns with your focus on the position of the outside leg.  All that's needed is a slight flex on the outside leg to carve some gentle turns.  Next, work on quicker, short radius turns trying to add more bounce and rhythm in the legs.

Once you feel comfortable and balanced, start to mix in some telemark turns. My favorite drill is to start with short to medium radius parallel turns. Then, keeping the same rhythm, telemark left and parallel right repeating for about ten turns. Next, try a run with two telemarks and two parallels, increasing the amount of turns in each style as you feel comfortable. The goal is to incorporate the same outside knee flex that you use in the parallel turn into the telemark turn.

An added benefit of this exercise is that it helps your upper body face down the hill. Your goal again is to take same upper body alignment that you use in the parallel turn to the telemark turn.

All the above exercises will take some deliberate action on your part. With patience and practice your skiing will take on a new level of excitement as you achieve greater heights in skiing performance.

This article was written for Rocky Mountain Fitness Magazine in 2000



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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