|Going up a steep hill is completely different from the technique for
Key ways that steep hill technique is different are:
- extra down-force beyond body-weight is good
- focus on maximum effectiveness of the strong leg muscles
- the pole-push is nearly simultaneous with the opposite
And there are several other differences -- see below.
My thought is that the technique for going up a steep hill is so
different from Classic striding on flat and gentle terrain that it
should have its own separate name: "hill bound".
- - Why is steep uphill different?
- - Switch from stride to bound at
what slope grade?
- - more
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I thought I knew that the only way to hold my grip up a
steep hill was with aggressive hops to stomp the ski into the snow each
time one of my feet landed -- or else walk up with herringbone.
Then I got to see myself on video on snow at the Silver Star camp in
British Columbia, Canada. It looked so much more aggressive than
any of the other amateur racers -- but clearly my aggression was not more
effective. So I started looking for the "secret" of
holding grip up a steep hill.
To really focus on that, I spent a lot of time skiing up long hills
without using any pole-push: legs only. I found that once I took
away the ability to "fudge" with help from the poles, there
was no way to hide from what was not working.
I tried a variety of "tricks": complete weight
transfer side-to-side, more ankle bend, bending forward at the waist,
different cadences (and along the way discovered one of the other
"secrets", about pressing the toe on
the center of the "wax pocket"). I watched
slow-motion videos of elite racers.
And I did my usual thing of posting a question to the
rec.skiing.nordic discussion group. It was Scott Elliott who
patiently clarified to me that the best technique was to bend forward
from the hips. A subtle point, but I think it gets me a
little further over the new ski than bending from the waist.
One idea I saw several people try to apply was that technique for
steep uphill should try to be as much as possible like classic striding
on gentle terrain. But after I spent a lot of time looking at
elite racers in slow motion -- and thinking about the physics -- my
analysis led me to the conclusion that the technique for steep hills is
completely different -- for the reasons given below.
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Major ways that steep hill technique is different from striding on
- I must focus on maximum effectiveness of the strong leg
Because the energy demand of maintaining momentum
when climbing a steep hill is much higher than on gentle
The more times per minute the strongest muscles push
with effective leverage in the strongest sub-range of their motion,
the more power is delivered. Therefore . . .
- I increase the cadence of my leg-pushes
Because the alternative of lengthening the range of
motion of my big leg muscles would: (a) put more stress on my leg
muscles and joints; (b) use the muscles in ranges where they deliver
less effective power, which would reduce my power output averaged over
my whole stroke cycle.
Increasing cadence in turn requires that I must (a)
shorten the pole-push duration to match the leg-push phase; (b) reduce
the time of the glide phase.
- extra down-force beyond body-weight is OK, even required
Extra down-force beyond body-weight is often
required on a steep slope, in order to provide enough total down-force
on the grip zone to avoid slipping back.
It is OK to apply this extra down-force, because the
minimization of glide makes it possible to get most of the double
benefit of extra down-force ("landing" down-force as
well as "launch" down-force) from the
double cost of extra down-force.
If a large enough extra down-force is applied, then
the reactive force can launch my body up into the air. But this is not necessary for this
technique -- see more on this.
- I make no attempt to maintain glide
Because glide is no longer necessary now that
the speed is slower (see Is More Glide
Because a longer glide phase interferes with higher leg-push
cadence, and it interferes with getting the double benefit from the double cost of extra
- my pole-push is nearly simultaneous with the opposite
Because the pole-push must be shortened to fit into
the time of the leg-push, so it does not prevent higher leg-push
Because the pole must be in position to instantly
resist slipping back at any time during the leg-push phase -- critical because loss of momentum occurs so quickly on a steep
uphill, and the muscles are already so near their limit that the
impact of the additional energy needed to regain momentum adds major
Because this way the pole timing for the hill bound
is the same as for the herringbone -- so I can switch between the two
motions smoothly as needed.
Some elite racers start the pole-push just an
instant before the new ski lands. In any case, a key function of
the pole-push is to solve the problem of the upper body falling behind
the grip wax zone of the new ski -- by pushing it up and
This simultaneous timing of pole-push with leg-push
has a cost: The down-force component of the pole-push has a
reactive up-force on the skier's body, which interferes with the
down-force needed for best grip. Fortunately the double benefit
of extra down-force is now available (due to the minimization of
glide). And the forward-force component of the pole-push itself
reduces the level of leg-push forward-force needed -- so there is less
need for so much grip and down-force to support it against slipping
- I reach my new kick leg to land way up the hill, and start pushing
with it as soon as it lands.
This "fills in" the time that would
otherwise increase the glide phase. It effectively utilizes the
"landing" down-force from the up-and-down motion of the
upper body -- so it helps get the "double benefit" from the
This technique mainly uses the hamstring muscles in a good
motion sub-range for them, so it does not add stress to the big
quadriceps or gluteus muscles. I've got lots of pole-push
strength to assist the momentum of my upper body to help it
"catch up" with foot up there.
Skiers with less leg and arm strength reach
their leg less far up the hill -- take smaller bounds, perhaps more
like bouncy steps. Or they just use herringbone.
To avoid slipping during this sub-phase of the
leg-push, I find it helps to use the press the
- Bending forward strongly from the
hips sets me up to quickly get my weight up over the grip zone of my
If I get caught with my weight back on my heel, the new ski slips back.
Basic physics says that I can temporarily "fool" the
ski into feeling my weight on the grip wax zone by pressing my
toe. But to sustain the focus of force through the center
of the grip wax zone, I need to get my body's center-of-mass centered
Elite racers in the videos I've seen maintain a
steady, quiet, and large forward lean all the way up a steep
hill. They reach way up the hill with their new ski (so that
their ankle is definitely not flexed) -- which leaves their hips and legs
behind the new grip zone temporarily. (This is another way to
lengthen the leg-push time -- see the "secret" of Smooth
But this forward lean at
least keeps their upper body near the new ski, and down-force into the
new grip zone from the impact of their landing helps hold the grip
temporarily. Then they use their momentum and the help of the
pole-push to quickly get their whole body weight centered over the
grip zone of the new ski.
But some coaches say just the opposite: Straighten
up more as the hill gets steeper. This may actually be helpful
for some skiers -- see more analysis
of this question.
- Bending forward a lot can strain your back.
So you're asking for trouble if on one day you
greatly increase the amount of time you lean forward, the number of
times you lean forward, and/or how far you lean forward.
Leaning forward works, but you have to train your
back carefully for it, build it up slowly over several weeks and even
- I plant my pole tip further back: behind the heel of my
Because planting it further forward would apply more
up-force to the skier's body, which would counteract the necessary
down-force to achieve sufficient grip to prevent slipping back.
Because planting it further back focuses on the
low-gear, higher-force sub-range of the poling motion [ see
Pole-push Gearing ]
Because angling the pole further back ensures that it is already in
position to instantly resist slipping back -- in case the grip of the
Because I need to use a shorter pole-stroke length to
allow higher cadence for maximum effectiveness of the powerful leg
see lots more on Climbing Up a Steep Hill
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