"secrets" for cross county ski stridng on "classic" skis -- with focus on groomed set tracks -- by Ken Roberts

what's here

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"Secrets" of advanced striding 

  • If my skis are fit wrong for my body and my skiing style, it can be tough.  [ more on this

The most frequent bothersome equipment problem for Classic striding is buying skis that are too stiff.

So with waxable skis, when I want better grip, I find there is usually no harm in applying the grip wax over larger portions of the base of my ski -- not just the "wax pocket".

  • If I'm putting any of my weight on something other than the single ski I'm pushing on, I get less grip.  [ more on this

A typical problem is touching the non-pushing ski to the ground for balance while still pushing with the other.  Another is leaning on a near-vertical pole during the leg-push. 

  • The "wax pocket" is centered around the toe of the foot, not the center of the foot or the heel.  [ more on this ] 

So I can get a little better grip any time just by pressing my toe. And better glide by pressing my heel. 

  • I can deliver more forward push and get better grip by initiating my pole-push during the glide phase, not the leg-push phase.  [ more on this ] 

This "offset" timing lets me use my pole for balance-recovery and for longer stronger push -- without hindering grip friction needed for my leg-push.  Improves my glide, too. 

  • If I lift my back and shoulders (and arm) during my leg-push, I get extra grip.  [ more on this ]

Then I drop them forward onto my poles for stronger push -- but only if I'm using the "offset" timing of my pole-push.

  • Longer leg-push with smoother force can deliver more total push for less cost.  [ more on this

It's tempting for athletic skiers like me to get more leg-push by emphasizing the explosiveness.  This feels powerful, but it has undesirable side effects.  It's more energy-efficient and better for muscle stress and endurance to try to lengthen and smooth the "kick". 

  • Climbing up a steep hill is completely different.  [ more on this ] 

Key differences from striding on gentle terrain: (a) extra down-force beyond body-weight is good; (b) focus on maximum effectiveness of the strong leg muscles; (c) pole-push is simultaneous with leg-push. 

  • Pole-push power -- and tricks -- can solve lots of technique puzzles. [ more on this

Serious racers work lots on poling in the off-season, and can go amazingly fast, even go up hills just using their poles. Poling gets past the grip versus glide compromise of classic leg-push.

Poling offers a surprising number of opportunities for smart tricks to increase power and speed.

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About these "Secrets"

OK -- I know that nobody is deliberately keeping any secrets about Classic striding.  But when I was trying to learn effective striding technique on groomed set tracks, I read some books and websites, looked at videos, asked questions to experienced skiers, and I didn't get these ideas right away. 

Then I slowly discovered them one by one -- from unexpected tips from other skiers, from analyzing videos of elite racers, from trying out nice-sounding concepts and finding that they didn't work for me. 

Each idea seemed simple once I learned it.  Each one helped me.  And each time I felt like, "How come somebody didn't just write that down in plain English someplace where I could read it?" 

So they felt like buried secrets. 

I guess sometimes the experts have been doing these things right for so long, they forget they ever had to learn them once.  I decided I should write them down (mostly in the first half of 2002) while I'm still freshly learning them myself. 

These are not all the most important things about classic striding: To get more of those, take some lessons, watch an instructional video or two -- see our Resources for Learning page

I learned these while practicing on groomed set tracks, most of them also apply to ungroomed snow -- but the last three ideas are less relevant to soft snow where the poles just sink in, and resists each attempted step and glide. 

If a couple of these "secrets" fill in some gaps for you, great. Or if they help you ask some new questions, great. If you've got some other "secrets", or some improvements for one in this list, great -- please send us mail. 

What is "advanced"?

Learning and practicing these "secrets" assumes that you already understand and execute the "basic" techniques of Classic cross country skiing, including things like:

  • how to stand and walk on skis 

  • how to turn on flat terrain 

  • how to fall safely and then get up 

  • how to handle downhill slopes 

  • how to handle curves 

  • how to manage the risks and dangers of skiing

If you do not have these basic capabilities down solid already, then do not try to practice or learn these "secrets".  Instead first take some lessons at a cross country ski center, and dig into some of the Resources for Learning.  

How do I know if they're right? 

Not because I am some expert authority or technique guru. 

What I've tried to do is to present 

  • my story of how I stumbled across each "secret". 

  • experiments you can try with your skiing and your equipment, to see if each secret works for you.  

  • analysis from basic physics and biomechanics, which you can decide if you agree with.  

  • observations from videos of expert skiers and elite racers, which you can view in slow motion and find if you see the key observations I did.  

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What is "Classic Striding"? 

Classic striding is the usual motion technique used by competent cross country skiers when skiing in narrow set tracks, using both legs and arms, keeping both skis always lined up straight with the skier's motion.  

It is also called "kick-and-glide" or "diagonal stride". 

Classic striding is very different from ski skating, where the skis are angled out to the side from the direction of the skier's forward motion (and thus a much wider groomed trail is required). 

Classic striding is also different from the popular technique of "shuffling" on skis in the narrow set tracks.  Shuffling is basically just walking on skis with some help from the ski poles.  The key difference is that in Classic striding there is an emphasis on pushing off on one ski and then gliding on the other ski. 

For more on how striding compares with other techniques, see What are the different forward motion techniques on Classic skis? 

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concept words: ski skiing cross country cross-country xc snow skier skiers skis nordic roberts

classic: stride striding diagonal kick glide

technique: techniques technical theory theories theoretical physics physical biomechanics biomechanical mechanics mechanical model models concept concepts idea ideas