Learn classic technique to pick up a sport that will last a lifetime.
WHEN I FIRST learned to cross-country ski, I skipped classic technique and went straight to the speedier skate style. I liked how fast I could go and focused on getting better at huffing up hills past the classic skiers in parallel tracks.
Many years later, I realized I had been overly dismissive of classic skiing. Classic skis didn’t deserve it. It was time to give classic skiing a chance.
I headed to the Summit at Snoqualmie, which had received a big layer of fluffy snow, ideal for a cross-country ski. Everyone else was racing to ski powder on the slopes, and I was delighted by the relative calm at the Nordic Center.
Summit Nordic Center
Terry Glaze, the Summit’s snowsports manager, told me to think of classic skiing like a formal dance. Work on slow, refined technique and getting all my weight on one foot at a time, rather than muscling through, he said. He also mentioned it would help improve my skate technique. I nodded, internally quelling my skate skier’s impulse to race up hills.
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Understanding technique and equipment is the first step in any new sport. My teacher, Sharon, showed me the ski, with its scales in the middle for grip, and the camber, or the flex in the middle of the ski. You want to press down into the middle of the ski with your weight, she explained.
We practiced on a small loop. She told me to pretend I was a teenager sneaking into the house late at night. I did my best imitation of a 16-year-old, and suddenly Sharon shouted, “Run!” I was soon breathless. This classic ski thing was not so easy.
After a few laps, Sharon said I was thinking too much about my hands and took away my poles. Soon, I was unsteadily trying to sneak around the track, though my balance improved once I focused on my feet.
I graduated to going uphill. You need to angle your body roughly 90 degrees from the slope of the hill to take advantage of the ski, Sharon said. She told me to let my butt pull my weight down toward my feet rather than leaning forward. If you don’t, I soon learned, you’ll slide backward.
When a hill gets really steep, you might need to herringbone your way up. Rather than take a ski lift up to flatter terrain, I suggested we should go the steep way and practice herringbone technique.
Once we got to the freshly groomed rolling trail, Sharon refined my technique, telling me my back foot was not getting quite far enough forward past my front foot, limiting my glide. I focused on relaxing my toes, bending my knees and punching my foot a little farther forward.
She told me again to relax my hands and arms so my poles could move naturally with me. We also practiced double poling, pushing with one foot then double poling forward. It was a little hard to get the rhythm down, but once you get it, you can go much faster downhill, Sharon said.
During our ski, I also remembered to look around. The scent of fresh pine wafted across the trail, and a light snow fell. There was a deep hush from the new layer of snow. It was a perfect day to be outside.
One huge benefit to classic skiing is that you can go all day, Sharon said.
I’m sure the lesson helped my skate skiing. More important, I am finally interested in working on classic technique. A sport that lasts a lifetime is one I can get behind.