Category Archives: Kross-køntri

It’s The End of The Snow as We Know it ……

While a decided notable proportion of the Noggie population are off to the pearly white painted hills and plateaus, yours truly is packing away his skis for the season. Other plans for easter involving visiting folk, so rather than do a half hearted dash for snow, sun and kvikk-lunsj, it is time for washing off the clister from the familiy’s skies.

Now the snow at sea level is slushy and sticky and you really need to mill the soles with water channels, and for me treat my furry middle bits with special, expensive spray. The bint’s skis need a yard of universal clister, now coloured a horrid silver, and the whole thing becomes more of a palava than a decent training session. The middle lane is like a treadmill of porridge for those who would attempt skate-skiing after 10 am. Qauntity there is though, so we may have skiing for a week or two given a cold snap materialises. Up in the hills at Kleivvann in Gjerstad kommune, there is well over a meter of compacted snow on the trails, with fresh snow when we had rain this week. They are talking about skiing through to mid May up there!

This season has been a little different than all seasons before. I have a certain wry self satisfaction with my skiing. Finally i am keeping ahead of most all the pensioners, and been able to ‘keep the wheels turning’ in my classic kicking style, with a much improved poling with single kick and more stamina for poling alone. I see myslef reaching for longer ski tours of 25 km and more and doubling up some of the tours I currently do most often as social ski’s. The other main difference is in my attitude. I accept my failings and look for points where I may be doing things wrong.

A bit like other sports I have taken up with, XC skiing needs to be deconstructed once in a while, and for me that has meant thinking about silly mistakes and weaknesses, and then using specific exercises to make up for them. One is the wobbly free ski and the uneven landing. Here I have looked at stadning a little more upright while I warm up, and trying to ignore the ‘kick’ backwards, while on the return swing, I try to land with a little more weight on the ball of my foot, rather than it being a little vague over the whole foot, which tends to wegfiht up the outside edge.

In skate-skiing I have then thrown away the poles so to speak a couple of times and now at least I know how weak I really am on my left side, and how I can perhaps improve my overall style. Classic then has alos had the odd minute or two of legs only, or a pole movement with only a kissing touch bails on snow. In skating and in downhill, iI still have to learn not to rush things and thus loose concentration. Better to spill a little speed than to go outside my abilities to focus and react.

So it has come to small things to fix and work on, and the bnig thing is to keep on loosing weight and in turn take longer ski tours on classic, while concentrating on fluidity and intensity in skate style. I can laugh a little at how far back I was those days in Kvamskogen when i first lashed skinny planks on my feet. My impression is that the apprenticship is over and the plan is clearly to focus on mastering skills, speed and distance while enjoying my sport all the more.

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I like to Ski

I like skiing and skiing likes me. Me Gusta. Kross Kontri.

I have discovered that my so called training sessions are, well, pretty mediocre while I can count on a social ski being much rewarding in terms of plain enjoyment, and in fact technique development. I said before I seem to drop my shoulders and let myself go at a pace which is lower than my actual fitness level. But perhaps I am showing off when I try techniques, egged on by company, or perhaps I feel safer with someone to scrape me off a pine tree or limp home if I broke both skipoles?

I think in fact that I over concentrate when I set out to train. I try and push myself cardio wise, and then get lost in impatience with technique as I try and hack up ‘bakkeglatt’ ( slippy , wheel slip so to speak) hills or my poles disappear into deep snow ont he soft verges and i face plant during enthusiastic poling.

I have a level then at which I can either focus on technique or alternatively huff and puff. The latter is basically interval training then, while the former is kind of pushing the envelope of technique nice and gently while taking an easier training session. The hope is then that the latter then informs the former and I get a speed benefit.

Over time this is true, Those die hard pensioners with their sports skis and old style upperbody ‘staking’ and slow rythm diagonal, arms slung far ahead of their noses, are now a species I either overtake, or turn and take another round while they scurry homeward, The 60 kg rtacing snakes pole away from me, and usually make a point of accelerating but at least I go as fast as most of the other middle ages skiers and a good few of the new found 20 something skiers who suddenly are back into the sport, having meant it was naff through their teen years.

Skiing skate style across country is the big thing for me. That and, non unrelatedly, the advent of a much better type of waxless ski. In reality, skiing int he tramlines using diagonal technique, the kicking, striding classic style, is actually a kind of skating only completely parallel. The weight is pushed off one ski, not really kicked per se, and then you glide on the other ski with 100% weight helping ‘oil’ your way, on the sheen of water which allows an other wise crystaline phenonemon to melt and permit low friction progress.

This year I have been able to sew together a lot of the small bits of skate technique and built confidence in tackling different manoevres, and most importantly that critical ‘duration of glide’ feeling. I am far from competent in skating, having a left side paddle which is plainly wrong, and a right leg bias in powering off the skate. However it informs my whole experience and gives me more confidenceto free myselfof tramloines and, as I set out to do 15 years ago, take up mountian tour skiing.

The thing is that I appreciate my flaws, and see them as challenges to be overcome, with each little ounce of progress, or successful step turn, or speedy , fluid section of single dance skating, being a little triumph. Had I stuck to only classic I think I would not have developed skills and , like a pal of mine, been back in pensioner stuyle, my body refusing to unload one ski completely of my weight.

This year there has been some good snow, as with much of Northern Europe, which means that we have had little of the old track issues, where the base of the tramlines is always glassy and needs a real dump of snow to cover it up so fresh tracks can be made. So the soft snow has helped because it is more forgiving on a poorly placed ski, easier to ploough down your speed, softer when you fall, and of course it is slower in itself. So this and working only part time now, has been a boon to my skills and probably fitness.

Tours out with the family are often seen as pretty low input -output in terms of training. Folks, back up here, there is win-win. Firstly, pick somewhere with circuits and plenty of down hill. Then the focus can be on fun, and you can let the kids play

on the slopes or sledge as well as xc ski. A circuit means you can take off a bit at speed and know you can lap aroiund and come bCk to the kids. Join them then for the downhills , matching pace with them and egging them on, having races, and showing off a bit to set a role model.

On the subject of fitness, I think a lot of middle aged folk seem to think they can whizz out, and do some new fomr of training which gives maximum output for intense small packets of input. Some natrually high VO2 max people with a light , atheltic body type can get away with interval training and train at a once a week long tour, peaking then at some event such as the 70 km odd Birkebeiner at a longer distance than they have actually done in taining up. For many of us we forget that our youthful fitness was based on many hours of varied training, and we would build up fitness after injury or at the start of a new season. All that blood in the back of the throat, aching muscles and wincing blisters, and sore joints. Now it seems a little uncormforatable to go through this pain barrier. We dont egg on each other for fear we will be calling for the nearest heart-starter. We rationalise away performance as we do at work or with our marital success or abscence of it.

So stop and prioritise skiing and dont comprimise or try and cram in hard sessions, when most bodies need long, low intensity training.Buy a head torch and get out in your local ski runs, after the kids are in bed, all 1km loop of it. It is meditational and totally absorbing , and cheaper than therapists or career burn out.

,ncepercdtt ugmoh coenttoe.

, hdogotu lhbloneco tot nstiff painfgu uceandit, whle

Wonderful 12km of Skiing in Vegarshei

I find more and more that the days I set off to go on a social tour at a light pace end up being the days I am most satisfied with practicing technique and testing some little high intensity nano sprints. Thursday was a day off this week, and the sun threatened to shine, although the combination of -13c and 25 mph winds was always going to be a bit of a challenge when we got up to the exposed moor.

Vegarshei has not been my favourite place, while I have been there quite often because it is other people’s favourite. It provides what you could call a varied tour, but they run it clockwise so the hill climbing is nearly all fishbone. You then have short and few opportunities for diagonal technique (aka kicking) after the stadium is behind you, until the breif 2km round the boggy moor, which so often has defied the piste machine by not freexing deeply enough in recent years. In winter it transforms to a fast section, a ribbon of sensibility on an otherwise ‘rollercoaster’ style route.

A tour at 11am in Norway risks just what I had anticipated, someone wants to start a bonfire and grill hotdogs, and eat oranges and the kitkat copy KwikLunsj. I am not a fan of this with any km to do at all, and the lean to hut is about 2/3rds of the way round with the longest hill of the day being the sting in the tail1500m or so before your reach your terminus.

The steepest hill, where the skate skiers had reverted to ‘labbing’ up in fish bone too.

It had really dawned on me that my skintec skis would fall short of gripping – they are a little balding like me, and lucky for their middle age, a new set of skins is on order. They dont like the cold, loose snow, and the softness of the snowbase does not suit my hard bow tension skis. So I elected to take my older touring skis, which have three season old (applied but little used in this case) Start Grip tape. It gave some grip, but the new snow hadnicely drifted in a kind of micro catastrophe for the nicely lain tramlines. The skis dont track or rather I dont track well on the harder, rilled mid lane, and we all reverted to skating as often as possible to keep a pace on. Infact the conditions were ‘green wax’ with blue picking up too much , and my grip tape being like velcro gathers nasal fluff!

The skating and ski control in corners went very well, and i even did some paddeling ( a much nicer and appropos name for what is V1 Offset in English circles) Also I managed some fast fishboning and concentrated on relaxing my upperr body and arms a bit , an area I often find tires me. Down hill the tramlines were still like going on axminister deep shag pile carpet, with the need to rock back onto heels to keep the skis floating, and that not being very satisfactory in the soft base conditions. It was much more fun to come out of the spor and go downhill in the Frans Klammer style! ploughing worked well, which is good because there are a few really tight spots with very steep drops into corners. This all went satisfactorily. Only the first rollercoaster prove problematicon a fuill stomach , three sausages and some scoff sweeties. Here I strayed into a drift and canned out on my back side. Which disappointed me, but those steep and twisty sections made up for that as I managed to keep control.

It wasnt long, and in time elapsed on skis it was shorter, to get back tot he car. I had set out to have a bit of a plodding, classic diagonal day, and it had ended up being all about skating, feeling of fitness gained this last month or two, and downhill control. Oh and just the fun of dropping shoulders and not getting too seaty on what was a splittingly cold day as soon as you had the fuillbrunt of the wind in your face. Man Friday and Lady Satruday emjoyed it a lot too, and I was ratherjealusof them both having bath tubs at respective homes to sink into, me havbing only a shower cabinet and inch of depth max possible.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XC Skiing Jim, But Not As We Know It….

Today I had an appointment in a neigbouring town, which meant having a few hours over on a rare sunny afternoon.  Rain had washed most of the snow around the house away, but as we live right near the sea, often things just a little in land are much more like Narnia while we are in a filthy soggy mess.

We are blessed in having an enthusiastic xc ski and skating club who bought a former piste basher complete with rotary cultivator type back equipment, and a GPS with a SIM card! So we can track when they have been out doing their ‘dugnad’ , that’s volunteering in Norsk, and know that even quite icey snow can be turned into something useable, Today though was skiing Jim, but not as we know it.

Partly it was in my own resignation to conditions being less than ideal, or even a non starter due to ice and bare patches. Our little 3.7km run out to Jakobs “Kafe” is rather kissed by the snow gods for most of its legnth, because on the one hand it is in the shadow of a ridge of low hills, while on the other it is mostly devoid of fishboning which means you can get a really good work out and enjoy it more than those “kuperte” courses as they call them, which are typical a ring with lights made in a cheap bit of woodland where it is mostly fishbone-up, tuck down …oh and usually covered in dog shit and often joggers make a point of destroying the tracks. In rural Norway that is not the case, because you are likely to get lynched for such desecration of the national sport, but in the towns, some folk see snow and ice as a hindrance to an amble with the dog and talk about ‘condom clad’ lunatics on skis.

I digress a little to set the scene. Why was this skiing, only different? Usually of a sunny afternoon there are plenty shift workers like nurses, houswives and of course pensioners leaping at the chance to glide on their sports skis or touring planks. Not this afternoon. The car park was what they call ‘klink is’ ,  resembling a skating pond with a frozen river runing down to it where the road is. I surveyed the opening by foot, reccie’ing out the possibility of becoming completely stuck with spinning wheels if I dared drive further in. The ice though, as it often is, was not very slippy because it had a texture of rain and gritty snow on it, and it was resolutely frozen so as to be doing a good impression of permafrost! So there had be no other takers, not for their intelligent 4×4 drivetrains nor their metal studded tyres. “Personne” as the French say, with a melancholy tone of voice.

The start of the tracks were equally uninviting being composed of machine track crocodiles, a glacial mid plateau and fossilised footprints to interupt a plastic sided ski like a pneumatic drill perterbs a walk down the high street. What was left of the ‘spor’ ie the tramlines, was a pale resemblence of their former vee-sided, prestine selves. I can understand why many would glance up the forrest track from their car window, and shake their heads and sigh, looking to abandon skiing or resign themselves to an hour round tour the the next, higher ski tracks at Vegårshei. However I knew well that the end of the road is the nasty lumpy tail of the bobcat, while further in you can usually rely on their being skiing as long as the bobcats clump has 5cm of cover.

It became not a lot like skiing at this point. I elected to walk so that if it was crappy further up too, then I could bail out without the furstration of having to take my skis off again, or rip up the outside edges trying to plough to a halt on the concrete like lower stretch. I was kind of resigned to calling it a day, not annoyed, go home walk the neighbour’s dog, do some pilates, have a cappucino. I had the tail end of a cold anyway.

I sruveyed the tracks a little more. The LHS lies a little more in the shadow, so was deeper and better defined than the right hand. Both sides are driven rediculously far out allowing for a super generous centre lane for skating, quite immodest in its sprawling width across the road. In fact the ski run is pisted a good meter either side of the actual dirt road, which makes this method of pushing classic to the extremes frustrating! I use it a lot and apart from on dark evenings, the large majority of folk are using classic style, with only about one in four skating. When you get good at ‘staking’ double poling, you can find out just how far out to the side they make these tracks as your pole disappears into the bank of snow which has been groomed out over the ditch at the side of the actual road! Also now there is more battling with tree branches and the odd little subsidance where the tram line weight trailer thing starts to fall into this soft fringe.

The road is a little narrower for its first 100m or so, and I didnt think too much about the extremities being soft this time. Everything had a consistency somewhat like a cross between concrete and polystyrene. Soon the tracks became better defined and at least safe to rattle along in using doubtle pole “stah-king’.   I was out in the fresh air, and could always just enjoy the walk if the conditions prove to be intermittantly rubbish, and also I elected to walk down the only fishboning part and back that last 100m I had just come up sans planches.

On the brow of the next little ascent, I clipped on my very best skis, which have lots of spring in them, and poled off. It wasnt long until I remembered than around half my time around the very melty-freezy woods and hills of Kristiansand had been spent on such cement like paving. I had my cold, tail end, so this was going to be nice and easy, concentrate on technique if possible. Poling – down with the pelvis, point the knees forward. Diagonal on slippy stuff – press hard down and transfer weight gingerly with a shorter than usual stride, as if on a steeper hill.

The boys of the wee 5 mph machine had done a pretty good job, because there was texture in the track beds! All be it hard, abrasive, big crystals. It was blue clister material but not actually blank ice. I had friction in the kick! I could concentrate on aforementioned technique! But not for long before I missed a step. MMore concentration and there were no missed steps. Slow, but ‘nail like adhesion’ ” Spikerfeste” as I made my way up hills, and then there was just poling with a chance ffor double poloe with kick every so often, which is probably the technique which demands best adhesion to work as it was a little sketchy today.

The first down hill has a soft run out and it was fun. The track then turned and climbed a little and that was slow, there was suddenly lots of friction, and maybe a little suck. My ‘hairy’ Atomic Skintec 4000s were however really doing the job of the best clister prep I have ever managed. I got a real sense of feel for once on the hard snow, because my skis have such hard arches ( nicely they call it just ‘spenn’ which means both tension and excitement in norwegian!) In double pole there was usually no interference from the mohair skin under my soles. They can though get very ‘sucky’ in wet conditions at easter, but there is apparently some magic spray for them should this be the case.

The thing that wasn’t skiing as I am accustomed to it, wasnt really the jurassic mudflat like trail conditions, but my attitude. I had come out with no intention of doing anything more than getting a little air in my lungs, prepared to bail out or walk with my skis over shoulder. Yet I was enjoying a very laid back ski, with the 7.4 km round route completely to myself . In days gone by this could have been a personal hell as I tried to keep up a pace which the conditions and my fitness would not really allow. Like a steam loco trying to go hard at a banking and only wheel slipping while exhaling great plumes of steam in the process.

On the way back there is a long down hill from Jakobs cafe which is usually a little pussy cat of a ride, but in ice it can soon become a 50kmh rush and then if the tracks are a little skew-wiff, then bam, a ski jumps out and you end up hurt. It is very destroying for sports skis to plough or half plough down this stuff, better to know where you are and go into a tuck a little lower than usual. What would have terrified me ten years ago, brought a grin to my face. I remember doing the Nespebøvarden run and coming down to what I thought was a gathering at a Lean-To where the piste basher had stopped. I was hurteling down the narrow one way track and wondered if I would get past the gang of folk talking . However in fact it  turned out not to be the piste machine, but cars at the car park and I was lucky to have newly learned single ski out ploughing because I could reduce my mighty momentum while keeping tracking in the dark, blinded by the headlights a little as I was.  I stopped just short of the boom and felt rather proud of myself. I had kind of graduated. Applied that ‘experience is the condition you aquire at the exact moment after you most needed it’.

I made a good speed back, less hurry more haste as it seemed and met no oncoming traffic, epseically not those irritating snow is whiter on the wrong (left hand for Norway of course) side of the road. It was almost meditative and serine as I poled along, gliding like a great sail ship running her top sails above the fog. Personne.

Even when I came back to the car, there were no after work Birkebeiners blow torching their clisters. It was for once a very secluded feeling of being at peace with the woods and not at war with the ski tracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

XC Skin Skis – Furry Business or Gliding Hairily?

I’ve had a couple of seasons now on Atomic Skintec Pro 4000 models, with built in mohair skin in the usual kick wax zone. What’s the verdict then? Should you get a pair of skin skis as a new beginner, occaisional skier or higher up in the sport?

Firstly you should not forget the importance of picking the right pair of skis for your weight, height, fitness level and style of kicking.   Some shops will tend to set you up against height – length being about 25 cm longer than you are high, but that can be hit or miss. Fischer for example, have often produced a shorter ski with a higher camber-tension ie stiffer flex in the mid arch.  You need to go to a good shop, or baring that if you are in a club ask for advice and try other people’s skis who are around your weight and height.  Good independent shops are also now invariably on line, and will be happy to reply and spec’ you up a pair of skis, all be that maybe a bit more expensive than chain stores for the same ski.

You also have to back up a little here when thinking of buying classic skis for the kick style. I see that conditions in Scotland for example are either lightly groomed, thin and often wet snow at lower levels, like the Huntly Club’s “Clash” routes, while using the upper plateaus of ski senteres usually precludes driving up ‘tram lines’ due to other skiers using the area. So do you actually want a pair of skate skis and to learn that style and potentially with use of the Kuzmin scaper, avoid waxing altogether?

Certainly I would recommend learning to ski on skate ski’s first if you are used to skating or want to be a bit sportier than your average beginner who dabbles in “walk-skiing”. Ther reason for this proposition is that learning to lift the weight off one ski completely and forcing yourself to turn where you want to go, will greatly enhance your balance on skis and you ability then on ‘classic kick’ skis. In reality classic skiing in the ‘tram lines’ is really a kind of parallel skate as you will completely unload the kicked ski as you glide on the forward ski!  Rather than the ‘skate’ motion in the foot being outwards, it is downwards and back. It is still more of a squeeze than a kick.

Given that you have access to prepared ski tracks then as an amateur skier, mohair or other skin integrated skis are a very good option for you.  Good waxing takes a lot of time, in reality and it actually begins to cost a lot of money. Also the flourinated kick and glide-waxes do not decay in the environment and their affects on nature are unknown. They are very much better than the standard petroleum waxes incidentally, wearing longer and often designed to cover temperature ranges standard waxes cant tackle, like thorugh zero degree C.

The main issue with a good wax job which you spend maybe an hour or more on, is that it can be completely wrong for the conditions you encounter. As soon as you have laid on too soft a wax, or a clister, and there are colder conditions with new snow, you have to strip down messily in the open, or go and take absolutely all off your skis. Some people then cover their bases with two pairs in the boot, or a little like me, take their skate ski set in the car just in case the tracks are poor. That said if you have a hard green and blue base you can wax out in the field, using the cork, for the conditions as they actually are, or apply clister. Another typical issue for longer ski endurance races or the organised distance runs over terrain are that either the altitude changes the demands on the ski grip, or the weather changes – typically either a thaw, new snow, or a rapid freezing of what was wet snow.

Skin skis then come in all the varieties of usual track skis, from tour oriented medium broad skis, to out and out, high am’ level racing skis.  Apart from the ski design there is only really two variables we see which are of note in my opinon. Fistly the length of the  skin insert and secondly if it is in two stripes or a single broader stripe. The idea behind the former is that it glides better, and Atomic first offered their Skintec with the fancy magnetic shifting system to switch between the two types. The twin versions are supposed to be for colder conditions or fast, transformed snow which has good grip. However there will quite likely be as much if not more resistance in a double skin if it is either longer than, or on a softer ski than for a single mid zone ‘furry bit’. So in principle a heavier skier could benefit from a twin stripe skin, or if you tend to ski in colder conditions you may find a twin helps you glide.

Certainly in soft or wet conditions you can hear that my skis have a skin, single broad type as it is, covering the front of a usual kick wax zone to just around the ball of the foot/ sole area. However in some conditions a good wax job will still pick up some ice crystals and ‘wirr’  until they wear off.  To confuse things slightly, you can also buy most of the marques with an NIS type binding manifold, which allows you to use a little key and move the biding back and forth on the ski to get either more grip , forward setting, or more glide , back wards. This will not really make up for an incorrect flex in your ski, it wil only compensate for different types of snow, or indeed, if the binding plate manifold is not ideally mounted onto the ski. It is then a useful ability for when you need your weight back a little, heel in as you would call it, such that you avoid the ski sucking or being dragged down into the snow, and the opposite being a little forward when you need more traction against say harder clister conditions.

In the very variable conditions we have had this winter, and the porridge like snow of the spring last year, skin skis seem to be ideal. We also have terrible weather forecasting for around zero degrees to plus two Celsius here, which results in either rain, new snow or thawing and sudden freezing as unpredictable factors. Not having to wax, and not having to use clister is a boon, sling your skis in the car away from the salt and grit, and get on with the game.

In my experience though Skintec have three limitations. Firstly very hard packed and icey conditions in the track beds. Here a good ice clister will keep you going for a decent days skiing. However on a poling course, you could just as well use your skin ski for powering around as long as its mohair is suspended above the tracks. Secondly the other end of the extreme, they can struggle to grip in cold, new snow. Thirdly they are subject to a good deal of ‘ suck and sqaut’ in wet, easter like conditions. Here perhaps those new sprays will help, or putting the NIS binding back, or as I do sans adjustment, rocking back on to my heals on the down hills to release the vacuum.

Where they come into their own is in zero-conditions, plus conditions with transformed or new snow, claissical ‘lillac’ conditions down to about -4 and then older tracks in colder temperatures, or very well prepared tracks. My own limitatsion are in style, fitness and there being a little too much stiffness in the arch for some conditions given I like a light, fast ‘kicking’ style. One work around for icier conditions could be to run some clister from just behind the skin to just behind the heel.

I also expect to see permanent skins on mountain touring skis, perhaps with the ability to have a short skin loaded onto the ski infront or behind the embedded version. The materials used in the skins are very like the glue on skins anyway.  Another little advantage of skinskis is that when kicking, they are grippier than an ordinary ski on the middle lane, bar perhaps clister, while in relation to that, they do not pick up snow crystals in the ‘rough’ here where skate-skiers ply, and so can be skated on quite well without usually catching as you often get with an oridany wax job, optimised for the bed of the tracks.

In Norway the tests on ‘TV 2 Hjelper Deg’ and elsewhere refered to noted that Rossignol produce skis with the best combination of grip and glide, whereas fischer are maybe getting towards pro racer level with their highest model. Sales of skinskis now account for over 80% of all langrenn skis sold in the southern half of the country where the weather is most variable. That is astounding, especially when you consider that they were laughed at only three or so years ago. That is kind of testimony to how good they are and on line you will find that common-or-garden skiers are very happy with them, and it is most likely the type who would complain about equipment or recommend top level pro gear, whom patronises the masses who are buying these in bail loads!

No

Finally an overnight freeze and I could try the Atomic Skintecs out for camber tension in double poling conditions, and see how much grip there was in icey tracks.

This week has thrown all that would be unusual for Atomic or any other ski-house, at me. First new, wet snow and rising temperatures then a freeze back. Really conditions the skin was not designed for perhaps, but also conditions which are almost impossible to wax correctly on the ‘right’ skis. In the soft, the snow was too wet for hard wax yet too soft and granular for clisters. In the hard, it was wet enough in places for a ‘red’ or ‘silver’ clister while the harder areas needed blue ice clister. For me a good universal clister job today would have lasted only about 15km, and I racked up about 25km without thinking about more than water breaks.

So we have to seperate out a few things here

1. The Mohair skin
2. The camber tension
3. Conditions
4. Technique and weight of skier.

1. The skin ….. And 2,3,4 also….

Any skin’s grip varies with the length & width of it, the snow base its on and any treatments such as glider or anti-icing.

Mohair skins in full legnth will climb anything, but being about 30 – 40 cm under the camber sole on all these new class of skis means that there is quite a finite amount of grip relative to 2,3 and 4 !

In other words to get to the performance of the skin alone, you have to subtract the other factors, including your own skill or style , which means you either need a comparable pair of non skinned or you compare to your ‘best ever skis and wax job’.

So my personal opinion and summary on using Atomic Skintec is-

1) the skin’s limits are new snow over 1 cm in the tracks; very soft, wet snow; glazed, icey tracks. Here you get bad traction.

2) the skin seems to waterlog in warm conditions, and ball up just a little bit in ‘zero’ conditions.  Sprays or glide Treatments may help. It both looses traction and glide imho when it gets waterloged

3) camber tension – to race or be really satisfied throughout the season, nyou probably want a softer pair and a pair which are quite hard. Atomic SDS gives an edge here.

In the hard conditions i felt the camber was great for double poling, but i had to press pretty hard on anything icey in diagonal to get ashesion. Downhill i could rock back weight onto my heels to get more speed and lose the little skin-noise there was. Hey, i do this with a clister job or in slower conditions on wax skis.

One odd thing which dawned on me after a few days, like a kind of double take, was how far forward on the ski the skin sits- from a mid ( clister ) forward mark back to only around  the ball of the foot I dare say you could clister back to the heel on the bare ski and get some much needed traction on polished – icey uphills !

So my conclusion – it sucks living near the coast if you want to enjoy an easy life of xc skiing !  The correct length and camber skin ski will give any skier less to worry about in well prepared tracks which are firm but not icey. They bust universal clister, but are not as grippy as red or silver clisters and on pure ice, blue clister.