Training

The Two Techniques

Most Nordic centers that groom their trails do so to accommodate two types of cross-country skiers: those that ski in tracks and those that skate. In-track skiing is also referred to as "classic" skiing, because that's the way the sport began. Initially, skiers skied with their skis pointing straight forward, leaving two parallel tracks behind. Then in the early 1980s American Olympian Bill Koch popularized a style of skiing that featured sideways movements, like an ice-skater or roller-blader.  Koch won a World Cup title using this swifter style, and the racing world changed techniques almost overnight. But classic skiing remains popular among purists, and unless you ice skated as a child, it is probably easier to begin as a classic skier.

Here is what you need to know about the two techniques:

Classic: Skiers move straight down the trail. If you are skiing at a Nordic Center with groomed tracks, there usually will be a set of tracks on one side of the trail for you to use. (Sometimes tracks will be on both sides.) If skiing where there is no grooming, other skiers may have preceded you establishing similar, parallel tracks. If the snow is fresh, you will need to set your own tracks, which is hard work, but also enjoyable. In classic skiing, as one ski moves forward, the pole on that side moves backwards. The opposite ski and pole meanwhile move in reverse. It's a basic, one-two movement, just like running where your arms counterbalance your legs. Learning to ski using this traditional style is relatively easy, particularly if you have a ski instructor who can show you how.

Skating: Skaters move down the trail in the same direction, but take up more room, sliding from side to side. Seemingly their side movements should waste energy, but actually skaters move much faster than classic skiers, one reason why racers quickly mimicked Bill Koch and switched styles. (At the Olympic and World Cup level, there are now separate races for skaters and classic skiers.) In order to skate efficiently, you need a well packed surface. When skating first became popular, classic skiers became irritated when skaters obliterated their tracks, but trails now are groomed so that skaters use the middle and classic skiers use one or both sides. The two types of skiers get along more amicably now.

The equipment used for the two techniques is somewhat different. Classic skiers use skis that have more camber (bend) in the middle. When they weight one ski, it grips the snow allowing them to push off onto the opposite (forward sliding) ski. They either use kick wax on their skis or use waxless skis with patterned bottoms to assist that kick. Skaters, however, push off more from the sides of their skis and don't need kick wax. They use skis that are flatter and wax their skis only for glide, not kick. Skating poles are somewhat longer allowing skaters to push themselves down the trail in a movement that is more like double-poling than the one-two of classic skiing.

As a runner, I tried skating but found that it required muscles and movements significantly different from those used in running. Since one of the reasons I took up skiing during the winter was to stay in shape for running in the summer, I switched back to classic skiing. However, I occasionally will throw in a skating stride, to pick up speed going downhill or around a turn, and also because it's fun.

Getting Started Ski Technique In Full Stride
Introduction Moving Forward Destinations
Conditioning Going Uphill Racing
Equipment Going downhill Nutrition
Where to Ski Turning Snowshoes
Two Techniques Stopping Downhill Skiing