Frequently Asked Questions for Skiing on "Classic" cross-country skis, mainly for groomed set tracks -- by Ken Roberts

what's here 

 - shuffle 
 - classic stride 
 - double pole 
 - kick double pole 
 - herringbone 
 - hill bound 
 - downhill strategy and techniques 
 - other techniques 

- But isn't there something you can do where nothing works? 

see also 

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The main questions and ideas 

What are the different forward motion techniques on Classic skis? 

For a long time, the only motion techniques I dealt with were the shuffle, the stride, and the herringbone.  Then I started practicing the different poling techniques, and found them more interesting and more powerful than I had expected.  Later I noticed a conceptual difference between what works best for striding on flat to moderate terrain and what works for steeper uphills -- so here I've tried to distinguish the two.  I've had fun learning these different techniques and using them creatively in a variety of situations. 

  • shuffle  ( = "walking on skis") 

The idea is to simply walk on skis with help from the poles.  The main difference from walking is that you don't lift the ski off the snow.  You slide the ski forward.  That's why it's called the "shuffle".  Sometimes on a gentle downhill there is some glide with each step, but that's not the primary idea.  [ more on this ] 

The idea is that you are taking long gliding strides on skis.  When you step onto the new ski, first you glide on it.  When you are ready, you push back on that ski with your leg (this leg-push is often called the "kick").  As you finish that leg-push, you step onto the other ski, and glide on that one, etc.  For each single leg-stride there is a single pole-push with one arm.  [ more on this

The "diagonal" name is not obvious.  It seems to refer to how it looks at one point in the glide phase:  Where the arm on the same side as the gliding ski is down and back, and the arm on the opposite side is up and forward -- so you get a sort of diagonal line through the two arms.  At the same time the upper body is leaning forward and the opposite leg is angled out behind -- so you get a diagonal line through those two body parts. 

Just do it all with your poles.  Move both poles together in parallel.  Bring your hands up in front of you to about shoulder height.  Plant the tips in the snow with the shafts of the poles angled back a little -- and then push.  Then bring your arms back up and forward for the next push.  [ more on this ] 

The idea is to add a leg-push to the double-pole push.  First push with one leg back against one ski (the "kick"), and at exactly the same time bring both arms up and forward to get ready to do a double-pole push.  Second, start gliding on both skis.  Third, do a double-pole push, and keep gliding on both skis.  Then start the next kick-double-pole by pushing again with the leg (the other leg or the same one -- it's not important which).  [ more on this ] 

To get up a hill too steep for any other technique, you angle the tips of your skis out to the side, and press the inside edge of each ski into the snow as you push on it.  For each single leg-stride there is a single pole-push with one arm.  [ more on this ] 

The idea is to sort of run up a steep hill with long steps or "bounds".  Sometimes both skis can be in the air simultaneously.  Each long step is helped by single pole-push with one arm.   [ more on this ] 

Key ways that hill bound is different from classic stride are: (a) there is no attempt to get any glide; (b) the pole-push is always pretty nearly simultaneous with the opposite leg-push (though sometimes the pole-push starts just an instant before the landing of the opposite leg). 

There are several strategies and techniques for dealing with downhill slopes -- some of which do not include any "skiing".  [ more on this ] 

Any of the skating techniques can be executed with Classic skis.  Most common is to use a sort of one-sided skate for going around a curve.  [ more on this ] 

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What are those different motion techniques used for? 

Once I learned these different techniques, I tried to find out what each one was best for, what are the pros and cons of each.  

Here are links to the details that I've come up with so far: 

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Are there snow conditions where nothing works for getting good grip? 

Yes. 

  • With waxless skis, there is one notoriously tough situation.  

That's when the snow thoroughly thaws, and then re-freezes into hardpack. 

So when you encounter snow like that, and you're just not getting good grip, you can at least have the comfort of knowing that a big part of the problem is something other than your technique. 

  • With waxable skis, there are two notoriously tough situations.  

The first is the same as for waxless:  thawed and then re-frozen snow. 

The second difficult situation for waxable skis is when old snow thaws and gets mushy. 

So when you encounter snow conditions like those, and you're not getting good grip, you can at least have the comfort of knowing that a big part of the problem is something other than your technique. 

  • Tricky points 

Sometimes the snow on one section of the trail will be very difficult (the parts in the open field, or on a south-facing hill) while another section is great (the parts in the forest). 

It can change during a single day.  Like when snow that got warm during a sunny day re-freezes in late afternoon.  

Or sometimes it can change for the better:  Like when bright sun hits the icy hardpack of early morning, warms into mush for afternoon fun on waxless skis.  

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But isn't there something you can do on snow where nothing works?

Actually Yes -- in fact, two or three things. 

Kicker skins 

Kicker skins are like big furry "Post-It notes" that you can temporarily stick on your skis to handle real tough grip situations.  And then peel them off when you don't need them. 

The ones I use are made by Black Diamond / Ascension. They are sold in different widths, and I try to buy them wide, but just a little narrower than the width of my ski.

The side which sticks to the bottom of the ski has a removable, re-usable sticky surface. The side which rides on the snow is furry nylon, which often has amazing grip capabilities, even on icy or mushy snow.

The main disadvantage of kicker skins is that they don't glide as well as other approaches. And they may not stick as well to the ridges and hollows of waxless skis as they do to the smooth base of waxable skis. 

But it you really want to get out there on the trails on a tough-snow day, give them a try. 

Klister 

Klister is very sticky stuff, usually gooey too.  The key difference between klister and normal hard wax is that a klister is a gooey liquid (or at least semi-liquid) at room temperature.  It's like a temporary glue for making ski base stick to difficult snow. 

Like glue, it comes packaged in a tube.  Like glue, it's a hassle to get it off when you later decide you don't want it there any more on your ski base.  Like glue, it's a bother when it gets on your fingers, and sometimes a big bother when it gets into other places you did not intend.  But a good stock of base cleaner solvent and paper towels usually solves those things.  

There's a learning curve with using klister. 

But when you get it right, the performance of klister is awesome -- for both grip and glide.  A good klister day is a special fun day of classic skiing. 

Given the learning curve and the hassle, these days it's mostly just racers who use klister.  My advice to non-racers is to get waxless skis for the mushy snow, and consider trying kicker skins for the thawed and re-frozen.  

the Other way 

You can skate. 

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What can I do to stop my ski from slipping back when I try to push with my leg? 

It's frustrating to feel your ski slip back when you're counting on it to help push you forward.  There's several possible reasons for it. 

Here's our troubleshooting questions: 

  • Is it just bad snow conditions for your skis? 
  • Are your skis too stiff for you? 
  • For waxable skis:  Is it the wrong grip wax?  or not enough grip wax? on not a large enough area of the ski base? 
  • Not getting all your body weight committed to the ski? 
  • Not focusing your weight on the grip zone? 
  • Uphill slope too steep for normal grip? 

More details 

  • Is it just bad snow conditions for your skis? 

Sometimes it's not your technique, and not your wax -- the snow and temperature conditions are just really difficult.  See Are there snow conditions where nothing works for getting good grip?

Not sure if it's the snow?  Ask other skiers you meet out there, and see if everybody's having trouble or if it's just you. 

  • Are your skis too stiff for you? 

Your ski won't grip very well unless the grip zone of the ski is touching the snow -- and not just touching the snow lightly, but firmly.  With waxless skis, the grip zone is the non-smooth section with ridges or "fish-scales" molded into its bottom surface.  With waxable skis, the grip zone is wherever you put any significant grip wax on the base -- normally around the center. 

The ski is designed with a bend in it,  called "camber".  This "camber" bend makes it so that it's easy for the tip and tail to touch the snow, the sections of the ski base designed for gliding.  But this "camber" tends to keep the grip zone in around the center away from the snow.  That's why you need to put all your weight on the ski to get grip. 

If the ski is too stiff, then even your full body weight cannot push the grip zone down firmly enough into the snow.  This is even more of a problem when the snow is soft -- because the tip of the ski reaches the snow first and presses the snow surface down even further before your grip zone comes over it.  So your ski might be too stiff for soft snow, but OK for hard snow. 

See more on how to avoid a bad ski fit.  

  • For waxable skis:  Not enough grip wax? on not a large enough area of the ski base? wrong grip wax? 

Waxing is a complicated matter about which small books have been written.  Here's some of the typical problems: 

Not enough grip wax:  Lots of people don't put enough wax on.  The best way is multiple thin layers. 

Not on a large enough area:  Some people are afraid that if they put wax outside a small center area, it will slow the glide of the ski.  But you can get big improvements in grip by putting grip wax over a larger area of the base, especially toward the tip.  See Grip wax also Glides

Wrong grip wax:  Modern grip waxes are pretty good when used for the conditions intended.  Frequent problems are:  (a) Relying on someone else's temperature reading, instead of measuring with your own thermometer in the right location; (b) Selecting a wax based on a temperature range for new snow, when what you've got is old snow; (c) Selecting a hard grip wax for old snow, when what you've got is thawed and re-frozen snow; (d) Copying somebody else's guess, instead of carefully following the wax manufacturer's instructions. 

Not sure if your problem is the wax?  Ask other skiers you meet out there what they're using. 

For some helpful tips, concepts, and detailed info on waxing, check Eagle River Nordic

  • Not getting all your body weight committed to the ski you're pushing on? 

If you don't commit all your weight to the ski you're pushing on, the grip zone will not get pressed firmly into the snow.  This is the big difference between ski striding and walking/jogging.  In classic ski striding you need to keep shifting your weight strongly from side to side as you push on alternate skis. 

The first level of this problem is that you just didn't know that -- so you need to start getting the feel of that side-to-side weight transfer. 

The second level is that you're consciously doing the side-to-side weight transfer, but you are also doing other things unconsciously that obstruct the full weight commitment.  

That sounds tricky because it is tricky -- the most frequent undiagnosed problem of experienced classic striders.  Most skiers find it hard to get out of this problem without taking some lessons from a good instructor.  See Balance and Weight Commitment for Classic Striding

  • Not focusing your weight on the grip wax zone? 

Our normal way of committing weight to the ski is with our whole foot.  But with many skis, the grip zone is actually centered around the front of the binding (actually a good design feature, once you know how to use it).  See Exploiting the Wax Pocket

So if you press your whole foot, you're not pressing the grip zone in its best spot:  the center.  

The center of the grip zone is normally near your toe -- so try pressing more up near your toe, with the "ball" of your foot. 

  • Uphill slope too steep for normal grip? 

Sometimes body-weight is just not enough.  

Sometimes in order to get enough grip friction, you need to supplement your committed body weight with some conscious direct downward push with your leg.

When that isn't enough, you need to take a little hop. Or even a big hop. If you want to use this approach a lot, see more on hill bound.

If hopping or bounding seems like too much work, there's also herringbone.

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