learn Classic striding on cross country skis

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Objectives at this stage of learning 

  • Start getting comfortable with the feeling of having a glide phase in each stride. 
  • Shift weight from one side to the other (without falling over). 
  • Start getting comfortable striding without using poles. 
  • Start playing with extra down-force "stomp" with the leg (beyond just body weight). 
  • Start applying the Exploiting the Wax Pocket "secret":  Press the toe for better grip; press the heel for better glide. 
  • Feel the differences with the many possible variations in the leg push. 

Before you learn this 

Before you try to learn the things on this page, first get solid on all the techniques and ideas on the Getting Comfortable on Skis page. 

Actually you might not be able to resist trying out some glide in your stride before you get through with all those things under Getting Comfortable.  It's OK to make an early start at playing with glide in your stride -- as long you you keep it only on flat ground. 

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Approach for learning 

First this website is not trying to cover all the details needed for this stage of learning.  There's so many different ways that different people learn the basics and so many different combinations of things that go right and things that don't.  We couldn't know the helpful thing to say for every person and situation -- and it would take too long to write them all down anyway.  Therefore: 

  • Have fun exploring this "puzzle-game" of learning to ski, your own way -- make up your own learning story 
  • Find a pleasant ski center with friendly people.  Then go there and work on your skiing technique puzzles on nice sunny days that aren't too windy or bitter cold.  That way even if you fall down eleven times, at least you got a little exercise outside in the sun. 
  • Share the confusion and fun with other people -- and enjoy hearing their learning-puzzle stories 
  • Spend some time with a good instructor or coach. 
  • Check out some of the other Resources -- they've got lots more details on these basic learning stages -- and perhaps the perspective and style of one of them just fits you better. 

The key hurdle 

If your goal is to learn all the all the points for modern effective classic striding technique, then know that the biggest obstacle to most of those points the requirement to have solid balance on one ski and complete weight transfer from ski to ski. 

But trying to learn this with both the arms and the legs together turns out to be too complicated.  The coordination is so complex that it's hard to sort out what's working right and what isn't, and very easy to slip into bad habits that deliver only short-term improvement. 

So the secret is to simplify things: by focusing practice on the legs, and by keeping the arms as separate as possible. 

The problem is that this "keeping your arms out of the action" does not feel good or much fun in the short run.  Your control will not be as good.  You will fall down and slip back more often.  You won't go as fast. 

So you need: 

  • a safe environment, so you don't get hurt 
  • some help from an instructor or coach who can 

 - - get you access to a safe environment
 - - sort out distractions of odd snow + equipment
 - - spot easy-to-fix problems early
 - - keep you from getting into a discouraging rut 

(I don't think videotape is that helpful at this point -- what's important is getting acquainted with new motions and new feelings.) 

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Presumably you already learned about appropriate skis and boots and bindings. 

But the selection of the ski is a bit tricky, so it's worth examining it again. 

Check that your skis are suitable for you and this technique style: 

  • waxless base is usually simplest. 
  • but not with the waxless ridged or fish-scale pattern covering the entire base from tip to tail. 
  • flex of the ski not too stiff:  using "the paper test", the paper should be solidly held under the wax pocket with your body weight center over your whole foot on one ski -- see the Fit of Skis "secret"
  • but flex of the ski not so soft that it's hard to make one ski glide with all your weight on it.  Don't use skis that are only good for shuffling. 

Best to have a coach or instructor -- or a good ski shop -- check the flex of the skis with you. 


Find a flat wide trail with a Classic track on it where the track is set far away from the sides of the trail -- so that there is no danger of you hitting trees or rocks or other obstacles, or falling over a steep drop-off or cliff -- in case you fall or lose control. 

Choose a day and time when: 

- - it's not snow conditions where nothing works (see FAQ

- - your chosen flat wide trail is not crowded with other skiers. 

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Basic glide 

The basic idea for getting glide on a flat trail is to 

  1. Make your leg-push off one ski a bit stronger and quicker than it was for walking on snow or "shuffling". 
  2. Step onto your other ski, 
  3. Hesitate, before you make the next leg-push. 

If all goes well, that first leg-push generated more energy than was needed to make the step -- so when you hesitate, the left-over energy is available to make you glide on the other ski. 

You can try it on the other side, too. 

And then the idea is to link together these steps-with-a-little-glide on alternate sides -- so you're getting into the concept of striding on snow. 

Problem 1:  Balance.  It would be surprising if you did not fall over to one side or the other -- or both -- in the first five or ten minutes of this.  Really working on balance is a whole learning stage in itself -- for now it's OK to just let your body figure something out, and do what you have to do.  

Problem 2:  Ski is slipping back.  You try to do that "stronger and quicker" leg-push, but your ski loses its grip against the snow.  Instead of your push helping you go forward, it just makes the ski go backward.  

This is something worth playing around with . . . 

Play around with grip 

Getting your ski to grip against the snow is the key equipment trick of classic skiing.  And this is tricky -- because it's the same ski that also glides on the snow -- and there's no button to press your finger on and no special "twist" to the ski to make it switch from one mode to the other. 

So it is critical to develop your feeling of how the ski is gripping, and your feeling of your different kinds of moves, and your feeling of how those moves relate to grip. 

Here's some moves and variations to play around with: 

  • stronger leg forward-push or quicker -- versus lighter or smoother leg forward-push 
  • upper body toward the leg-push side versus away from it -- and greater or lesser percentage of your weight on the ski as you push on it. 
  • add extra down-push "stomp" with the pushing leg (in addition to your body weight) 
  • focus your weight on toe -- versus focus on heel -- versus spread evenly along the length of your foot. 
  • upper body forward or back 
  • etc. -- others that you and your instructor can suggest. 

It's not much fun to be trying to stride when you're not getting good grip.  But there's a lot of moves and other things that affect your grip. 

One of the great benefits of a good coach or instructor is to get you focused first on the the moves that will get you past your special difficulty with grip. 

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Play around with Body Position and Tempo 

There's lots of things that can affect how effectively you can push and move in your stride.  

At this stage it's less important for your mind to know what the "right" ones are -- more important to let your muscles experience several possibilities and learn what they feel like. 

Then sometimes later your muscles will figure out for themselves better ways to blend moves and positions than your mind could tell them.  And anyway, it's interesting and fun. 

Here's some to play around with: 

  • more knee bend or less?  more ankle bend or less? 
  • swing the arms gently or vigorously? 
  • many quick short steps or fewer long strides? 
  • guide your tempo with your legs or your arms? or your mind? 
  • stand up straight, or bend over? 
  • etc. -- others that you and your instructor can suggest. 

That's a lot of possibilities.  One thing a good instructor or coach can do is help you choose the ones that are best for your muscles and mind to experience first.  

Knee and ankle bend are usually on the high-priority list. 

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Try without using poles 

Sounds pretty radical.  

But first, it does not have to all be without poles. 

It's OK during this stage if sometimes you use your poles to help.  Or if sometimes you use them for fun, or to go faster. 

It's even OK to use your poles when you first try for your new technique objectives of stronger leg push, and weight transfer, and glide. 

Just recognize that the weight transfer and glide with poles is only dabbling and getting acquainted -- not your real practice for your long-term effective striding. 

If you want your arms to get some exercise too, spend some time trying this action:  all poling with no leg push -- see our page on double poling

Do dare to try some skiing without using poles. 

Some instructors might say that you should set your poles off to the side for this. 

For me it's always worked well to still hold one pole in each hand -- but not with my hand on the handle, and definitely not with my hand through the strap.  I started by grasping each pole around the shaft just below the handle.  And soon I advanced to grasping each pole around the middle of its shaft, about half-way between the handle and the tip. 

For now, stay on flat or pretty gentle terrain for your no-pole practice -- and far away from any harmful obstacles or terrain you might slide or fall into. 

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