Monthly Archives: February 2018

Skating Skis and the Mid Life Crisis???

A few years ago in the office I worked in, skate skis for christmas or a winter time birthday had become a running joke for those slightly balding types like me. It was a sure sign of the mid life crisis, the man seeking new, modern challenges and keeping up with fashion.

There is something to be said for this cliche, but the main reason then was the generation a decade or so older me, had their kids earlier and now had finally some leisure time for themselves, so why not take up with the style which has crept into every nook and cranny of the sport of XC skiing?

For me it is indeed a challenge, although I see myself as having had middle age around my mid thirties when I fianlly grew up and started putting family priorities before my own petty yens. I had wanted to try skate skis after a particularly fine day for getting a skate rythm going in the mid field of the ski runs at a place called Kleivvan in Aust Agder. I towed the wee man on his steering sledge using the elastic cored towrope from the car, and it worked very well indeed as loing as I skated and didnt try the more undulating thrust of classic kicking.

Evenutally I struck, but the winter prove quite short, it starting snowing the day I bnought them and it thawing to become Icey some three seasons ago. I got an absolute bargain, but found that the Intrasonic skis I bought had a little odd balance point for my shoe size and despite NIS bindings, could not be adjusted forward. They did well though and I probably needed more on lift and balanceof my own mass than the whipping point of the ski. Eventually I bust the tail of one on ice during a fall i guess one day, or it maybe got stamped on or stabbed at in the ski bag by accident. My new skis are fancy carbon fibre, just got them on monday. i had gone in with my old ski to confirm its death warrant as epxected and ask for any good deals, and although I ended up spending 600 kr more than my budget, I got a pair for half price, ex bindings but with NIS plate on already!!

For me it is a challenge and a good, infact, fantastic way to improve my balance and manoervering on skis. I find the main issue is actually breathing, or rememberingn to breath deeply, and also not rushing it all. Anyway I needed a lot of percieverance to keep going after all the falls and all that start stopping, and wondering if I ever will have the concentration necessary for perfroming what is skiings answer to the ‘fixie’ bicylce! You are locked into a metronomic rocking from side to side, releived only on the steepest downhills by a tuck, or on faster slack down hills by double poling in the tamlines, as desired.

Concentration issues have plagued me down the years, often not seemingly anything more than ‘cannae be arsed’ but with neweven fancier and possibly slidier skis I had some motivation. That and a bad anaerobic back pain I get during classic diagonal, which needs about 20 mins warming up gently before it goes away. Skating is more aerobically demanding, but uses the body in a lighter and kind of more natural way than classic, which requires a bent in the knee while striding and a forward poised stance.

I became aware that I could just go and string things together a bit, and take breaks so as to catch my breath and concentration, and think over what went right and wrong. Now those breaks are getting fewer, and I guess like a fixie in a velodrome, the 5000m was not built in a day.

Rushing things is an issue and then forgetting to breathe, and then losing rythm. Howevver there seems to be a little key in the lock I am turning by just practicing. One issue with concentration is that skis can behave a little unpredictably. One common mistake I made and you see many making, is to cut too wide a vee when on the flat or down hill, and place the ski at too broad an angle to the line of travel. When coupled to a big rock of body weight, this means you end uyp shooting from side to side at high speed, and you can see some folk fighting their own efforts, legs splayed out. The wise money is on centering your ski, and placing it carefully down as you kick off the other ski,. The ski dangles forward in roughly the directioon of travel towards the end of the other skis glide as the push is ready to begin. many folk look like they are paddeling uphill, or proceeding like a chimpanizee raised walking on their legs/

Paddeling is in one way like first gear on a bike, you can sit back and take it easy, but if you ‘get out the saddle’ and put some effort in, you can saw your way up a hill Like nobodies business. It is a technique qhich many go over into at too early a stage in their speed versus gradient, and either end up losing speed and forward momentum or get caught as I have, in a skis which slide far out to one side at a time, and you kind of fight the skis and end up with too much travel in either zig or zag. It is better to double dance until you grind down to a speed where paddelign is snesible, a bit like using first gear on a moving car, you avoid it until you are really slowed up and are gonna stall otherwise.

You dont hgave to be very pure in your technque though. You can change between double dance and single dance, or throw in a quick paddle at times when you have really slowed down on a mdium hill, or even on the flat when you hit soft snow. However you do need to learn what proper dancing is, and not pole in the wrong synchosity to your skating movements in your legs. The poles are launching you off the end of the push away on the old ski and onto the new ski, and when your weight is fuilly on the ski, your arms are about waist level. Quite a few people I asee use a kind of high speed paddling, with the arm trhust coming before the push even., That show you get going on skis often in fact, a ,kind of angled paddle,

Downhill your skis feel much freer and easy to manoevre than the long, softer classic cousins. Step tyrning in partiuclar is much easier and indeed my new skis did behave better than my old Intrasonics Also you can choose to skate a little and practicine feelign how it is to skate with a ver tgtveepte i og,vey longlide phases.

Also you get to feel without using poles to propell you downhill, amd that is ta thing I should do on the flat, leaving my poles

Soi from frustration and a broken ski, to appreciating the learning curve and how I just need to sew a few things together, it becomes a picture from what was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle of small bits right,. much missing.

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Remember to Giggle Whe You Are Learning XC skiing

Me doing a Martin Clunes Impression on Skate Skis, with Bent Poles

Today my old mate had wanted to get out on his new skate skis, and knowing I would have someone who is actually worse than me in this form of the art of XC, i jumped at the chance for a Sunday morning jaunt.

Upon arrival it was clear they hadnt pisted the ‘spor’ and there was a good few centimeters, ahem at least, of every so pretty and light as a feather new snow on the tracks,. The classic diagonal skiers had no great joy though, there being a soft set of tramlines making life hard for them. The feathery snow was delicate as babies’ breath, and the base below was really good for skating in fact.

It aint hard if you do fall, and after hitting submerged lumps or trapping my tips down in hidden depths of this powdery top coat, I did indeed hit the deck. Including getting a pole on the isude of the ski, I fell ove rin fact around every 200m or so. Ploughing our way through the flakes of wonder, was though a lot of fun and it kind of gave a natural breaking to those sometimes rather aggressive skates when you end up gldiing faster and faster off on one leg slightly out of balance due to the unexpected gain of speed. 

It was  a giggle = ,me and my pal Iain have had many silly trips of skis, espceially at night when we ventured out with puny head torches in masses of minus degrees, to bash through woodlands or freeze to death on courses. We have had our mmissions and this was a one of them too, his first 7 k or so on skate skis.
Perhaps because I did drop my shoulders and had a buddy as an excuse for slow progress and a sociable tour, I was able to concentrate on a few of my failings on XC skis.
1. The Right Time to End a Glide

Well this is as mentioned above, sometimes harder to know. The ski can fly off on harder pisted areas, or the waxing can suddenly work better in the shadowy areas, or you can just give a little better thrust and balance at a little too wide an angle from the centre line of travel. Alternatively you can find that your ski brakes up, judders even, or sinks deep and you lose glide.

The main cure here is not in correcting the glide itself, it is in placing the ski down correctly, and as far forwad an angle as poissible. You see that the biatheletes in particular, place their foot down after what looks like a little heistation, with the ski hanging over the ground more or less parallel to the over all direction of travel. So the right time to end a glide with a ski a little forward in driection before your slide off in a skate movement, is kind of obvious to you. It does not surprise you by taking you way off to one side on a big Zig making the returning Zag harder or skew wiff. 

I practiced today a little long glding until the ski actually stopped and a little straight gliding, when you dont really get that weight transfer boost but do get a good movement right forward to start with. Also a little extended glide by poling twice on the same ski glide, which makes for a better feel to the duration of the glide,. 

As then you go a little down hill, the skis make a vee which is more forward, and eventually you may parallel and double pole or make long, biathelete style gl;ides without using the poles, body tucked down, ski going almost straight forward. As the skier moves onto a flatter area or slight uphill, the glide needs more power putting into it from poling and sliding away the ski in the skate motion. Eventually you move over to paddling, and most amateur day skiers do this a little early, and would be better served by double dancing (V2) which makes for less distancelost in side to side movement of paddeling.

2. Paddeling

To me this seemed a little difficult before today. Today I cracked the code, by doing it first really slowly and not forcing the ski too far out with my leg thrust,nor using a lot of poling, Instead I focused on gettin my footdown with a bent ankle and knee, and moving my weight oversidewars on my hips. 

Before today I found paddeling became too rushed, and that takes me back to it being a reserve first gear for the steepest gradients while double dancing serves a more efficient VMG veloocity made good, ie foreward motion towards  goal. Before when I felt the skis wanted to fly off either side when paddling, in fact the snow was fast enough to permit double or even single dancing with just a little more power, and if I did want to use first gear, then I should just cool it, use my body weight and ease of on arm and leg thrusting, like being on a mountain bike and chosing a super low gear to get up a hill while also getting your breath back. 

Paddeling is typified by planting the pole at the same time as the ski, leaning the body into the slope, and using a marked side to side weight transfer across the hips at an oblique angle to the fall=-line of the hill, pretty much 90 degrees it seems to me. 

Paddeling fast takes a lot of concentration, but you can get carried away with it and end up shooting off to one side into the ‘rough’ or over the nicely laid tramlines for the classic skiers. The youtube videos you can look up yourselves, often break it down into head, hand, knee, ankle and then hip movements in that order, because it is the hip which transfers off onto the new ski. 

Hte beauty of it being a low gear is that you can practice it very lightly on slight inclines and then you can use it quite lightly on steeper short sections where the first ski side down is really just an anchoring ski, with the pole helping nail this side down, until you slide off at a better glide angle onto the other ski ie angled a little more away from the fall line than the first ‘Anchored’ ski was. 

Today I just got it together and remembered to pace myself, keep a little cool on the leg rythm and power, and concentrate on getting to the top and suddenly it clicked in place and I flew up the hill, my weight being an advantage for once, being sliung over on my hips on the interchange of skis. 

3. Weight Right Over NOSE KNEE ANKLE

Further to this pointon paddling, you want to use your weight to advantage as they always go on about on Youtube vids on the topic. According to some you wont fall over your outside edge, but of course that edge when overloaded in my experience, can catch a rut and throw you ‘high sider’ to the ground!  

A good rule of thumb is to gety your k’nose ofer your k’nee ., which is bentd like the ankle. You need all your weight on that leg and can then rise up m,oreupright as you glide and thrustoff the skii, then moving all your weifght over to the other ski,. which is placed as near parrallel to the line of attack as possible. This is the big difference between competitive skate skiers and out for a jaunt skiers. Oout for a jaunt skiers make far too big zig zags, and that is in part because they are using too much weight transfer and not enough thrust !

In paddeling, you use your weight to effect a decent zig zag from side to side, in order to counter the resistance of the hill, while remaining in motion. It is ‘holding the wheel in motion’ and very muych like being in a sailing boat, tacking up wind in order to keep motion on, while making some progress to the goal otherwise straight ahead where the wind is blowing from., The  gradient being the resistance not ht ewind in this case of course. 

Some Skiers dont progress in fact from kind of paddelig, placing htie pole at the same time as the ski lands, and using a lot of sideways weight transfer on a well angled ski even on the flat or downhill, rather than getting their weight forward and up on the new gliding ski. They cut big zig zags and look like those dancing dolls you used to buy at fairgrounds, when you pull a string the legs fance out to each side. 

4. Drop Your Shoulders and Giggle

Dont learn to ski on ice with skate skis. I tried to repair one at the weekend and it just sprung open today, having had an earlier ding with the ice of parallel tramline spor. Instead do go out on reasonably soft days, where the ski edge can get a good grip as you skate off each ski, and when you fall, well just giggle, you have L plates on. 

As with all snow sports, hard, icey conditions are not good for learning on,. Your skate skis will jitter and track badly down hill at speed when skiing parallel out of the tramlines, and they wont plough well eigher when compared to a longer classic ski. However in soft conditions, they will feel much more responsive to steering and easier to step turn on, or enter a full snow plough position. In fact you could have a good laughh on the first day out, just fishboning up a steepish hill in soft snow on a pisted trail, and then skiing down, pracitcint skate style in the run out section as you start to slow down. 

Breathing technique is different from classic skiing which seems to come more naturally with both diagonal, double pole and also running Klaebo stylye up hill! I forget to breath in skating, or dont breathe enough until today, when I dropped my shoulders and took smalkl bites at it all. I foudn then that during my paddelign sprints I did, I could get breathing going without having to concentrate on that alone, it was coming of itself finally. 

Skate skiing is more fun that classic in many ways, but like riding a fixie bike, you feel obliged to keep it moving and it is easy to get a pace you cannot aerobically maintain. You oftem see in fact, couples out together where the one is trad and the skate skier skis alongside them, usuaklly taking it a little easier than the classically kicking spouse. 

So drop your shoulders and take it a little easy to start with. One big thing if you are a very experienced classic skier coming to skating, is that your arm, shoulder and chest muscles wont be used to the higher pole position and may get very tired easily. That can be avoided by concentrating on a good thurst from the legs and good use of weight transfer, and in fact of course , you can practice witout poles or with them ‘feathered’ upwards behind you,in order that you break any lactic acid build up in those new wee muscles you never knew you had never trained before. 

Today I had a bag of fun, and managed to sew together a few of the basics of paddeling which I had felt were at odds with each other, like the spark plig not firing until the exhaust valve was open before. I also learned to relax my breathign and take deep breaths, and to use my weight to extend a more forward angled glide. 

A Small Revolution in XC Skis In Scandinavia

In the winter dales and snowy plateaus of Scandinavia, there is a quiet revolution taking place in ski technology for cross country, classic (diagonal kicking skis)                                                                                                                          <&> While many ‘serious’ competitors turn their noses up in disgust, the masses are flocking to skis with furry soles. They are throwing out their wax and clister tubes and throwing their skis in their cars top ski boxes without so much as a single rub with a cork in the ‘grip zone’.    PA   Now however, even the more serious of amateur competitors are buying these skis and winning races. The populairty of the Birkebeiner ski run has meant now that a friday event is run, and two years ago that was won by a man on “Skin” skis.  The ski industry themselves have declared that 70% of sales of new skis in 2017, were of this type, and in the south of Norway, as much as 80% of new sales of classic skis are the skin type.                              It started maybe a very long time ago because there are no patents pending the actual concept of machining out the sole of the ski and sticking in a skin. Indeed a company in Norway called Fantaski AS, offered such a service and would even convert skating skis over to a kind of kombi set up with a velcro like insert.  At0mic were though the first with off the peg skis, with their Skintec, originally launched with an innovative and patented magnetic insert, which can be changed out for twin strips or single, broad strip for less or more grip respectively. Someone should have noted that this was put into a very advanced pair of skis, with a strange looking symmetrical camber, which works in combination with a carbon fibre construction, to make the ski stiff in glide mode, while after a threshold of downward force is applied, the ski shows a softer characteristic during the ‘kick’phase as it is pushed down and back on the snow. This meant the manufacturer was moving away from waxless skis being a beginners ski, to offering something for the more advanced skier, and even letting one of their pro teams train on the ski.   PA                                        As with any innovation, such as electric cars of late, there were detractors who like to focus on the drawbacks and maintain a smug superiority with their established ways of doing things. The issues for the skin insert skis have been namely, cold weather performance and becoming wetted out and ‘sucking’ in wet weather. However we have to look at another driver here. The Nordic countries are experiencing amongst the most rapid effects of accelerated climate change. On the one hand average winter temperatures have risen while on the other there can even be more snow fall in the course of a winter as atlantic and artic weatherfronts cross the area in the abscence of the once so stable ‘Scandinavian High’ which is thought to have typified midwinter conditions for many centuries. Scandinavia like the USA has also experienced the bizarre consequence of rapid artic warming in extreme cold weeks when the splittingly cold air spilling down over continents due to the new instability in the artic winter. So we have in effect far more variable snow types on the ground, more thawback and re-\freezing , more new snow and on average a less cold snow base. This then lends more towards clister and away from the more classic blue cold, waxing over to Lillac and then Red as the season moved towards spring. We encounter more transformed and hard skispor which would have meant clister, with actually many lower level serious skiers having chosen a skibox with clisters for -5 to 6 degrees air temperatures to cope with the abbrasive and low traction conditions.  PA    Skinskis in all but ice, are clister busters! As long as there is a crystaline structure in the base of the ‘tramlines’ then skinskis grip well without picking up crystals in sub zero, and doing as good a job in ‘zero’ conditions as the fancy rubber insert rubbing zero skis which had become part of the armoury of competitive skiers. As conditions get milder and the snow haas a high water content, typical easter time conditions, skinskis require a glider treatment to avoid waterlogging and resulting squat-suck onto the snow base.   PA  Coupled with another innovation in bindings, the skis seem unstoppable! The NIS and comepting systems allow the binding to be repositioined fore or aft of a middle, installed position, sliding between notches on the base binding which is fixed to the ski. Hence a little bad grip can be compensated for with a couple of notches forward, and bad glide at easter time can be overcome a little with the binding and thus weight moved backwards. It seems my original, fixed bindings on the Atomics were quite far forward, as I have struggled with good grip on the standard mid mounting of the new NIS I had installed. Little better on my last run with one notch and about 0.8 cm forward, so now it is going to be a full inch forward for the hard, transformed tramlines we have now.   PA   Environmental and Health Debate.    Health and Enviroment are together for good reason. What goes round, comes round and the extensive use of flourinated hydrocarbons in both grip and glide waxes comes in for criticism. Essentially they are not biodegradable, and there is some suggestion that a keen skiing lady in Norway who had a waxing shed of her own and was otherwise the picture of health, died from cancer resulting from extensive exposure to the fumes when ironing. The residues are to be found for example, accumulated in earthworms along the woodland routes of Oslo for example, and while not as pharmactive as pesticides, flourcarbons will accumulate higher in the food chain once they enter it, and as they are not degraded, it is then a problem which will only get worse and more prominent over time. The issue is that these products are just so much better than normal waxes. They resist emulsification under the stresses of water contact and friction far better than ordinary hydrocarbons, being highly hydrophobic. Thus I found that  when compared to a typical lilac special, Swix VF version would last an entire day out, rather than getting thing and slippy on our typically abrasive south norway, low altitude conditions.  Also a wax will cover a slightly wider temperature range. thus reducing the choice down to just three Flour waxes for most skiers looking for a reduced time in the waxing booth, and a full day out without corking on new  wax. Normal hydrocarbons will be degraded by aeroibic bacteria in the top layers of soil and gravel and cause little issue other than the annoyance of  reapplication for skiers themselves. Skinskis seem to then offer a cure , but of course no wax free ski is actually truly that, they all need glider wax dont they?  PA  Well here we come to an interesting proposition from a former Russian ski athelete living in Sweden, one Mr. Kuzmin. He produces a metal blade scaper which he has shown to work in contrast to traditional techniques. Traditionally there is talk of structure from stone grinding and then ‘rilling’ with a patterned roller. This achieves to purposes in tradititional glide sectoons of the ski. Firsly it presents different first contact areas to the snow. A fine structure with tight over pattern will press the ski on the snow with few air spaces and thus allow for the maximum pressure for that all important partial melt which makes us able to slide on snow. The second function of structure is to give a greater surface area for the adsorption (NB not absorption, UHDPE is not porous) of glide waxes which act to help the ski base either brake crystals to water in cold conditions, viz hard waxes, or to aid water disspation in mild conditions. However as Kuzmin points out, modern ultra high molecular weight (density) polyethylene which ski soles are made from,  is a very slippy material when it is allowed to be polished quite flat. A flourinated glider on the correct structure will give a lower coefficient of friction as they talk about technically, but for the average amateur competitor that is minimal and in any run over 12 /15 km say, so much of the wax is abraded off the ski that the skier is reliant on the structure for effect. Kizmun produced scrapers which actually remove the stone ground textrure and any rilling for cold conditions. For warmer conditions he has produced a wacky looking hair pulling resembling device, which rills in leading channels for water to leave the ski in wetter conditions. Here we get then a truly waxless ski and I look forward to trying this ona  new ski, which I may order unground ! PA Of course a good deal of the ritual of skiing has been the waxing bench, and a good deal of Scandinavian ice breaking chat down the decades has been about how badly or you have waxed and how much hindering your own stupidity or the idiotically incorrect weather forecast has been in your day. It has probably given a pyschgological advantage for competitors to come away from their everyday jobs or other trials of physcial training for semi pros, and go into a virtual meditative hour or so in prepping the day’s skis. For many though, their backs are now turned on the wee shed or basement bench, the wax iron and the cork. I bet that a very good percentage of skinski users dont bother with glider more than once a season, and if Kuzmin ever takes off, then we could see the revolutuon of waxless truly come into effect. 

Wrong Type of Snow!

I think the snow has come and gone, only to come again five times since november. Fluctuating around the magical white button point of zero degrees means not just that it disappears, but allso the snow that is there is not so darn useful! “kram” snow which although ideal for snowballs and those rotund sculpted carrot nosed people, it can be frustrating for XC skiing.
The whole winter has been frustrating in fact. Firstly and foremost I have dammaged my two once so new and perfect skis. Possibly someone has thrown the ski bag around, someone maybe being me, but I managed to delaminate the back of one skate ski from a shock to the top surface, while the screws on my Atomic skintecs in the crucial place, pulled out on one side leaving decrepit, dusty holes. Lucilly the top break is a straight forward exppoxy and clamp job, while the latter could be fixed with a new binding. Fortuitioulsy the NIS system uses a base plate with six screws I beleive, all very different points to the traditional type! Most advantagously again, the NIS bindings can be adjusted with a little key spanner thing, so you can get some more grip or glide as required out of your ‘furry bottomed skis’
Claissci skis fixed, the last two or three runs have been frustrating and made me wonder what I am doing wrong? I even trained up for the season in my usual doldrum November by joining the day memerbership at the local gymn! It seems it is the ‘wrong type of snow’ as British Rail once put it when their new premiere trains out of action. Or rather I get into having the wrong type of ski !

I felt this year should be a plateau year on classic while a progress year on skate skis, and so far that has only proven true because I have bothered to skate on my classic skis! It has been hard work on severaaal days without much of an immediate explatnation apart from the day with glider on the furry bit which turned out to be a massive mistake in asking for it! Washed out with the neighbours spray cleaner, the next day prove to be not much better, but at least I got some good kick with double pole out of the day, in kind of mixed conditions, mostly quite fimr and a little wet. 
Bad workmen complain about their tools, but the best workmen on the ‘Lonmg Tour’ style have about a dozen pairs with them! I have come up against the issues with fast skis – they can be slow as hell in the wrong conditions. My newish atomics have a lot of camber tension which makes them ride well with the mohair inserrt about the snow when gliding. Some days with my firend out before me I can just kick a little with double pole and feel like I am freewheeling along. Then came the new snow and minus seven, and then came the ‘kram’ snow, the snowman rolling perfection which is so rotten for daphne here! 
I found the extremes of my otherwise perfect classic skis. In fact so much so that on all three of my last tours I have gone over to skating with them, all 210 cm of them. Yesterday I had in fact some very, very satisfactory skating on them in quire heavy snow , and able to practice pushing out to the side on the boot to get the best skate. The skis have also been cleaned and glided , also over the mohair ‘skin’ which seems to have been an instant mistake ! They felt like kicking on a ski without any grip wax. 
On the second of three runs on them, I picked up a pensioner behind me, and although he never got past me, it felt like i was being whipped all the way while having a heavy pack holding me back. I turned at the top of the fish bone on the back to the car park, and decided to whip myself again if only to show the pensioner i was made of better stuff than he may have thought. I ended up skating about half of it!
I just have too much camber spring ! Without a good kick you can’t get good glide and in slow, kram conditions or cold and soft new snow, you cant make up for it with double poling as a rank amateur. You need the power of kicking with good grip in both diagonal and ‘keep the wheels rolling’ kick with double pole. Since I am heavy anyway, I dont get the advantage of being held over the snow. There is possibly some other dynamic going on there too, where the pre bend is actually digging in a litte at the front, I dont know.
Waxing for null conditions hasnt been a big issue for me before. Special Lilac flourinated worked well, whille the grip tape from Start was as good as red special or an expensive clister. However my old skis were broader and this helped quite a lot in the glide round zero, as I remember when the tracks were just lain by skidoo when the bases are really pretty soft.
Even the pensioners here go with pretty sporty, race style skis and I found out for the most why, because the narrower skis are by in larger a hell of a lot faster. It used to nbe a mystery why so many old folk had fancy Fischer skis, but now that is obvious. Also the mystery as to so many different pairs of skis per competitor at the top levels in the sport. They need different camber spring for the four different temperature ranges. 

So the question is there then – do I bang my head against the wall with skis which have their limits in soft snow? At easter I have several times taken out my broad jumble-sale waxless, 1979 type models, a fully wooden structure with a fishscale sole bonded on. They are a lot of fun when the snow is otherwise porridgey!  

A good workman will also, as they dont like to say, will choose the right tool for the job and sharpen it for the task ahead. This year could be the bumper long, late season which means the snow can go three ways- icey or at least firm, wet and sloppy or there can be new mild weather snow. Two of those three favour a softer ski but will I invest?

 

Keith’s Tips for Getting Into XC Skiing – Part I

You may have seen the successes of British skiers in the winter olympics on XC skis or have moved to an Alpine or northern area where XC skiing seems a more practical propositions for winter training than cycling or jogging How do you get into Cross Country Skiing?

In this blog we will go through an introduction to setting your first herring bones  down on snow and what skis to buy, aimed at those of you who will have access to prepared ski trails. Learning XC is a good proposition for an alternative week long winter holiday to Alpine downhill if you have are fit and have good balance, and it is a good means of getting really fit in the winter if you live near to prepared tracks. Also of course as the key to success for British competitors, you can train on asfalt with roller skis all year round when snow is not available or too far away for daily trips.

I feel a bit like an old hand now, although far from being expert I actually find myself giving some Norwegians tips on their skating style skiing, and often get into discussions on waxing and the new ‘furry soled’ skin-skis.  As an adult it has been a long journey to become competent on classical kicking skis, and I am still learning skating technique. I can look back and see that I made a lot of basic mistakes by not having good instruction or not listening to what people told me, and most of all not asking questions of experienced skiers.

There are many pitfalls in terms of technique, tuition and of course equipment and those waxing problems. So here are my toptastic tips to help you get a head start and a fast learning curve while enjpoying your skiing to the max.

  1. Decide What Type of Skiing You Are Actually Going to Be Doing

My own journey into skiing sans gondola  came from days spent walking in the Fruin hills between Luss and Garelochhead. Often the highest 150 m of the hill and the long ridge towards Arden were covered in lovely fluffy white stuff, which was a nightmare to trudge through . On a couple of occaisions I saw how someone had managed to glide over all this, leaving their tracks as tell tale to the lifting heel variety of skier! I was mad keen on this idea. Perhaps mountain skiing with randonee skis or ski touring in the more gentle wild country is most for you?

For some reason I decided to learn to go in the tracks on skinnier skis and took a holiday to Geilo via Bergen, underwent some instruction and at a party on the way home, met my Norwegian other half. So living here with XC skiing as a national sport it is fairly straightforward to go and and enjoy both nature and an extremely good cardio-vascular work out while still getting home toute suite for a shower. I dropped the idea of back country, making your own tracks, only now to rekindle the idea.

So if you want to explore wild places then get into that type of back country skiing, and go on courses to do it as it is a challenging form of downhill skiing it has to be said, and there are some things to learn for traversing both valley and moor on ‘BC’ skis. Certainly many keen mountaineers in Scotland use XC skis for winter ‘ski -ins’ to remote areas and to scale the gentler hills of the easter grampians, like Mount Keen, or those suitable in the Perthshire area.

The only real places to find perpared ‘tramline’ tracks and a groomed centre area for skate-skiing style are near Huntly, Braemar and around Aviemore in Scotland. There was earlier discussion on Ben Wyvis plateau being used to both wild and prepared skiing, north of Inverness due to its very high number of snow covered days, but nothing came of it. The ski centres though have allowed XC clubs to come and train on their green slopes and Aanoch Mor actually groomed a skating track on the top plateau for the national team.  I have often met ski mountaineers using chairlifts for access, and I think that many of the low level green runs at like Glen Coe and Aanoch Mor are good for learning ploughing , skating and going up hill! I would however ask before travelling and choose a less busy time for your first go, booking tuition if it is available, or going with some folk from the club you have just joined ! ( Huntly and Avoeimeroe and some other clubs aroudn England too)  Nearer Glasgow Lowther Hills ski club in the southern uplands are getting their act very much together and enjoy up to 100 snow days a year, so may be persuaded to piste top sections for XC skiers if you join up !

Apart from the Back Country and Mountain to Prepared Track “schism” you may call it, there is another division in the prepared tracks which has become such a cultural apartheid almost in some people’s minds, and that is the classic kick style versus skating technique. This is worth taking up as point number two in itself!

 

2. Baby Steps In Learning to XC Ski and NOT to Walk on XC Skis

Now here lies my biggest mistake and how I was kind of mislead into many years of mediocre and often frustrating skiing, with some downright dangerous downhill escapades in faster conditions. XC skiing can be a graceful and fast sport, but not if you think you are going to start by learning to walk on skis. The techniques are really based on a stride onto a glide in essence, where one foot is completely unweighted with the loaded foot providing a long glide.

In assisting this core concept and learning goal, you really have to learn in outset,  without using poles because otherwise like I did for many years, you will use your poles for balance and not learn the fine balance and posture directing weight through the skis that you need to progress beyond clumping around.

Your first day on skis should be with a very baby steps approach to it all, without poles you will feel a little like learning something quite new to the body, controlling slide and balance on one ski, with propulsion alternating between skis. Take that in mind, it is going to be little baby steps, back to play school and if you are a little stiff and untrained, then it is going to be a little uncomfortable.

However you can find you have the knack and get going on a tour, recommended less than 10km to start with, on your first day in those tempting “tramlines”!   On my first day ever I managed 20km which was completely over ambitious and I was left in my hotel the next day aching from all those small muscles which I didnt know I had and a sore back side and thigh from falling in what was very hard conditions.

Your First Hours WITHOUT POLES!

Learning withougt poles is like going back to absolute baby steps. It is going to be slow, awkward and on icier days painful progress. The very fist exercises from an instructor will include:

  • Fishboning up a gentle slope
  • Moving around on skis, changing direction lifting skis
  • Getting up safely and easily when you fall
  • Assuming plough position and skiing in plough down hill
  • the one ski off, scooter drill
  • Skiing parallel down hill in the tracks to a run out stop

Probably the most fruitful of the above will be the one ski scooter drill and skiing in a safe downhill with a self braking run out at the foot. The latter is fairly self explanatory “bend sie knees” look where you want to go, hands out forward (without poles) and weight on the middle of the foot. The Scooter drill is then one ski in the inside tramline track on the course, and use the other foot to stride off the snow and propell yourself on the single ski, practicing balance.

Styles – Learn Both Classic and Skating from the Word GO!

My next point then is for ski schools and instructors as much as for new beginners. Learn the skating style from day one of your skiing! Skating has always been part of the sport, it is just it came as a ‘young upstart’ technique in the 1980s. Your agility on skis will grow exponentially compared to being locked in the tracks or prone to not releasing all the weight from one ski.  You will find out quickly that your outside balance point when you skate out onto one ski, is far further than you imagine, and this will build a great deal of confidence in your skiing.

You can start with scooter technique in the trail and then try it out of the tramlines on a slight downhill. Then try with both skis on, still no poles. pushing off on one with kick backwards and outwards to a glide and stop on the other ski, only then returning the kicking ski to the ground. You can then also try smal step turns on a slight down hill to correct your direction, or on a larger area to turn to face uphill or even in a full circle if you can skate kick round.

When I took up skate skiing, I suddenly got a huge boost to my glide in oridnary classic kicking, and also found it much easier to manoerve in and out the tracks, round un-tramlined corners, and over into full snow plough. It felt like my legs had been made of lead before while now I could glide around obstacles and feel under control at far greater speeds.

Purists will tell you that you need proper skate skis to learn to skate, but that is just not true. Yes it helps to use a shorter pair, which often you will be given anyway as a new beginnner from a school or hire shop, but to start with the only difference is that you should avoid using any grippy kick wax, and if on the usual beginners patterned or mohair skin soled waxless skis, make sure they are ‘glidet’ with slidey wax or spray.

In effect when you are proficient in classic technique you are unloading one ski completely to glide on the other, and in effect ‘parallel’ skating.

So the ideal situation is to go from skis which are a little longer than you are tall, to borrowing skis about your height or upto 5 cm shorter. Then the ski will be easier to skate style with, esepcially when not using poles.  So this brings us onto equipment rather nicely

 

3. Buying the Right Equipment – Candor and Camber!

In general sports shops and some alpine skiing oriented shops, you may not get hold of staff who know enough about XC skiing to sell you the correct skis. Although they dont need to be an aficionado or top competitor, they have to know about not just matching length of ski and budget to the buyer, but also the use the skier will be putting it to, their ability and their weight.

For the typical sporty style of light skiing we have in Scandinavia and the clubs in Scotland tend to practice, then it is the tension in the curve

of the ski which is most important in matching a ski to your weight, ability and the typical conditions you will encounter. The absolute essential of both styles, classic kick- and skate- , is that the ski supports your resting weight on the arch, while being compliant enough for the sole and edge respectively to the styles here, make contact with the snow when you kick or skate off then when they are compressed.

Thus a very stiff, curved ski will hold a proficient skier off the ground while they have to be really quite physical in applying downward/outward force to affect kick/skate respectively. These will be fast skis for experts but even then in very hard icey, or very soft, new snow conditions they will fail to allow the skier to get enough traction. This is why the Norwegina national ski team take a whole containter with hundreds of pairs of skis for their 40 or so atheltes in international championships,.

A soft ski will conversley allow for good adhesion in all conditions, but will not suspend the skiers weight during glide phase, and worse, the wax zone on a kicking ski will brake the ski further and gather ice crystals or be worn off completely over a dozen or so kilometers!

Ski camber and the spring / tension is a function of the length of the ski, the depth and position of the camber ( ie arch ) and the material design of the ski. So for example Fischer offer a ‘short cut’ ski design in their range which has the same spring as a traditionally longer ski. Camber has often been design to have a shallow entry and be a little deeper under the foot, with a steeper exit from the heel towards the back of the ski. Atomic however have an advanced, symmetrical arch design in their top skis, which when combined with carbon fibre side wall elements, make for a stiff ski which when compressed acts like a softer ski during the downwards thrust of the kick phase.

So weight then is important to be candid about, followed by height which is a rough guide in helping the seller, and then how physical you are and how fast you want to go, finally a quick check on where you will be skiing. If for example the lower trails around Aviemore are in mind, then it can be that these are often hard packed and icey, in which case a softer ski will allow for better adhesion.

A good shop or club will have a camber tension machine. This is clamps the ski and then uses a scale to apply the equivalent of skiers weight to the ski via a clamp. You can then see if the ski will be the correct spring for your weight and beginner ability. Also they will mark off the usual average condition ( -4’c about) wax zone front end, with the rear being just before the heel of the boot. There is a ‘shop floor’ alternative whcih oddly enough works best on a light carpet or rug, simulating snow, where you stand on both skis and a sheet of A4 paper is slid forward andbackwards to ensure that you are lifted over the wax zone, or that the patterned fishscale zone is not too much in contact with the snow when you are going to be gliding. It isn’t a bad substitute actually for the machine!

Complications for Later

There are a few more compliating factors. Firstly waxing, and the legnth and type of wax used to achieve grip on a given camber spring in response to the conditions of the snow. Secondly we now have Nordic System NIS adjustable ( and competing) bindings which can be slid back and forth about an inch using a simple tool while you are out.

These complications are a little beyond the scope of this introduction, suffice to say you can correct and adjust for conditions a little bit, but in principle you need a stiffness / spring which is suited to you and your expected, average conditions.

Steel Edges?

Steel edges are a feature of many touring skis and most all mountain (touring) “fjell”  skis, and this is to afford the skier good directional control and braking on icey snow bases. As for prepared tracks, very many Norwegians use these as family tour skis because of the added control over speed they get when goign downhill with their small kids between their legs!

I would only really recommend steel edges for those who either live in an area prone to a lot of thaw back and icing, when they are a boon, or for those who want to use a broader ski for some back country work. A ski up to 45mm will fit in most all ski tracks anyway. The drawbacks are weight and to some extent glide, and they are not good to use around our four legged friends because they can cut paws open very easily when Fido gets tangled up with you. The other plus point is stability on these turing skis and being able to use a heavier soled boot if you are combining with some walking up the hills.

Fischer did actually offer a narrow training ski called ‘steel lights’ but they were not in the catalogue last year infortunetly. These were aimed exactly at skiers encountering icey conditions in otherwise well prepared tracks. Hard, icey conditions can actually be a real joy to ski in because the speed is so much higher, but down hills can be hairy. Very often as mentioned above, you find the track bases are hardened ice while there is enough texutre in the middle lane to snow plough down hill , all be that a little jittery in those conditions.

As mentioned a great many Norwegians use classic madhus or åsnes touring skis in the oridnary tracks, but you do notice when they have them on that they are using a more leisurlely pace and technique!

Waxless Dilema? 

For new beginners it is recommended by all and sundry that you buy a waxless ski. The traditional ‘scaled’ pattern skis gained a bad reputation over time because often beginners bought the cheapest ski and that could mean too little camber spring or a ski which became soft quite quickly. However Atomic and Salamon for example, offer patterned skis through their range, being more popular in North America on better quality skis. Also fishcher offered a top end carbon fibre ski which many a serious amateur had in their arsenal for races where conditions were expected to be very variable.

This type of ski remains an affordable and low threshold ski to getting into skiing. The only drawback with ‘fishscale’ or machined patterned soles is that in order to cover all ranges of grip with one design, the pattern extends into the areas of the gliding areas of the ski, usually by a good 15 cm or so on the front. This causes a lot of friction and if your skis are quite soft spring it can destroy a lot of the glide in ‘stickier’ conditions and hamper the development of good technique. Some people will sand down this front area a couple of centimeters at a time until they get a better compromise between glide and kick, and a good shop may be willing to do this based on using a ski camber measurement machine set for your weight.

Waxed skis however have a very clear place for the beginner and that is if you expect to ski in stable alpine conditions with ground temperatures of -5’c or lower and snow which has not become icey or very hard. Here you can hire or buy a set of nice smooth bottomed skis, asking the shop to prepare the wax which is likely to be ‘blue’. So for example if you are going to learn on a two week holiday to an alpine resort in February then this is a good proposition! You just need to ensure the ski is not too stiff for your ability.

Best of Both World with Furry Bottomes Skis!

A reasonable starter ski in patterned or smooth sole would be about $/€ 200 with bindings mounted and you may get a pair of boots in a package offer for around that figure.  For comparison, racing skis cost around €$ 600 off the shelf excluding boots and bindings!

If you are prepared to spend a little more on skis then you can find that you can solve the issue of wax vs waxless drawbacks with the new ‘skin skis’ such as Atomic Skintec , twin skin, intelligrip etc – all the main manufacturers now offer these skis with a mohair skin glued into a machined out groove in the sole. They are wonderful ! Usually these start at a boots and bindings included package about €350 – 400, and that can be money well spent.

Skin skis are making waves in traditional circles because they cure the problems of varied conditions over the course of a day or over altitude for the popular longer ski runs like the ‘Birkebeiner’ – They offer the amateur who wants to jump out right after work without worrying about waxing correctly, the chance to do just that.

I have a set of Atomic 4000s which are a fancy ski of about €500 and used allegdely by some pro skiers for training.  They are an absolute boon because we live at sea level and have very rapidly changing conditions. They work best of course when the snow has good grip but as long as there is a crystaline pattern in the snow in otherwise ‘clister’ conditions they will grip really well. They also by in large glide nicely without any major comprimise although they can get a little waterlogged in soggy, ‘easter’ conditions.

If you are quite fit and have good balance in outset, and are going to have an instructor/school or a good skier as a friend,  then I can recommend getting a fairly stiff pair of skin skis matched for your weight and then learn to grow into them rather than changing skis later!

What About a Set of Skate Skis?

As I mentioned I recommend learning skate technique as part and parcel of your introduction to XC skiing. How about a pair of skate skis then? Of course you can use waxless or just dewax and glide wax an ordinary set of skis, and borrow longer poles to get a shot at it.

There is real merit in buying these instead of classic when you have few prepared trails or when, as with the Huntly “Clash” snow cover is often little and hardens, or if you are going to have access only to a groomed green runs at an alpine station. Thinner classic skis are quite awkward to use without good ‘tramline’ tracks being available.  In my experience too, the middle flat lane in good ski runs remains useable with some texture and ‘bite’ when the base of the tramlines has become concrete smooth ice.

Another big benefit for UK skiers in choosing this route into the sport is that you can learn to use roller skis, or use your rollerblades from the loft, pretty easily and even London boasts a major specially prepared asfalt course for roller skiiing. Roller blades can roll a little fast but there are alternative wheels which give a better feel. You can use your winter poles with a simples unglueing of the winter ‘bails’ to summer spike-ends.

A word of caution here though. Skate skiing  demands a slightly higher level of fitness as the body is more active in motion and you need to keep up a tempo just to maintain yourself on the course because of the constant zig zagging on the flat and up hill. It also demands or you could say, developes a better sense of balance which is of course the big benefit i point to above.

If your the courses you are going to be skiing are very hilly then you  may want to learn on traditional skis in the tracks first in general, trying skating on flatter sections. This is because classic skis offer a little more stability and far better ability to brake using snow plough due to the longer edges. Given the opposite terrain, for example the Golf Course at Braemar or Kristiansand being your nearest prepared tracks, then you may find a set of skate skis give you much more enjoyment than classic style because you will achieve better speeds for less effort after some practice.