XC Skiing – to skate or not to skate, that is the question…..

Skating technique has always been part of the repertoire of all kinds of skiing, fixed heel or nordic style. From top down hill skiers powering out of the gate to three year old experiencing their first glide on xc skis, skate style is pretty natural part of moving yourself around on skis.

After Robert Koch skated his way to victory though, now over 30 years ago, classic XC racing became more tightly controlled with style rules forbidding skating. No more could the marathon push be used when kick-wax failed, and no more could a competitor forget kicking and glide out onto one leg outside the tracks for any more than minimal manoevres.

Perhaps the conservative elements in the sport hoped skating would be there by relegated to a side sport, but the sport has of course grown and taken over biathalon… and many an amateur fitness trainer’s preference.

Why though learn to skate as a fun and fitness skier? Is it worth buying all that extra equipment?

Well people skate a lot on their ‘classic’ skis anyway, and for kids under 8 the combi skis and boots present no hindrance to learning classic too. Equipment need not be a concern to just get out and try it.

Why learn? Well it will greatly increase your balance and therefore confidence in the sport.  You will learn to commit to one leg, use your hips, bend your ankles more and so on. This contributes to glide ability and especially down hill con.fidence, helping you progress from plough turning to step-turning.

As a seasoned classic skier, it will add interest while also presenting an alternative for days with new snow or hard worn “tramlines”. Days when waxing is difficult and so skating on the middle lane gives you a frustration free training session as far as the soles go at least!  That is often quoted as a reason people stick to and end up prefering it after years with classic parallel skiing in tramlines.

Another good reason for UK or southern clime residents taking up skating technique is that roller skate- skis  (or roller blades with special “slow” wheels) are easier to use than classic kick style, and are now available with brakes.  All the phsyical demands translate pretty much identically from asphalt to snow.

Drawbacks?

The drawback of a whole set of new equipment is not so important to begin with. Eventually if you take up with the style then you “need” new skis, new boots and new, longer ski poles to really master the art with efficient propulsion. More on using non special stuff to get going below.

Another drawback which I hear from many people who have tried and given up, is the nature of having to keep your self sliding and penduluming seemingly inexorably. Keeping your skis sliding up hill is a real challenge, but it is a knack to pick up which soon makes fishboning seem a bit archaic.

5o answer to this for the new beginner on skate comijng from experienced in classic, is that you can actually fish bone quite happily on skate skis, double poling is identical, you can jump into the tramlines downhill too and you can even kick a little parallel. Ploughing even to me with otherwise 208-210 skis, seems a lot easire and thus more effectived on my new 195 skaters.

Also you can of course just cool down the pace, taking little breaks, enjoying the glide out. You could vary between two-skate, parallel double poling, paddling and one-skate while you gather concentration again for a typical two-skate tour over light gradients which could get a bit monotomous.

It probably does require a higher level of fitness to carry out to the correct style when compared to classic, probably because of that kind of magnetic tractor beam of gaining power and momentum on light terrain and then wanting to keep your skis gliding upwhill.

The only other down side would be if your local trails are narrow, especially with two way tramlines and not a real skating lane in the middle. Here you will cut up the tracks, risk bumping into people and be tempted to use them as a guiderail, all making you a little less than popular with the club who laid them and other skiers out there. Also where of course trails are skido laid with no concession to a centre lane, thus progress is just a pain.

On the other hand, you may be at a resort where there is a huge ski school area at the foot of the hill, or on the high plateau, where they do not lay tracks but the snow is pisted and great for skating. Also well driven scooter trails can suitable. The same is true of new snow fall on asphalt, which can reach a perfect depth for skating on without touching through while being not too deep. Iced lakes can get the same effect, but snow on ice can be less predictable and you must confirm the safety of the ice first.

You can as I mention, just get out there and try it. Many resorts set up for xc will hire you skate sets. You can of course just glide wax your entire classic ski. Even with up to purple wax types to +1 ‘C, if there is new snow on a firm base you can skate quite happily. Dont plan for a long tour though! Alternatively do what i did. I bought combi boots for more confidence downhill and then I bought a cheap pair of “shopping trip skis”, waxless and about 190 long, at a jumble sale. You could try borrowing shorter skis, longer poles and higher boots from club members or who ever.

I am pretty hooked now after just three weeks of owning skating skis, with the number of outings on them this season already outnumbers classical tours. I feel it has really forced me to push my boundaries with balance, while just giving me something new and fun to concentrate on while I otherwise keep fit.

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