- - good bet to learn ski skating if . . .
- - bad bet for ski skating if . . .
- - "walking" on skate skis?
[ under construction ]
Skating is not for everybody. There are two main styles of
cross-country skiing: Skating and "Classic" striding.
Ski Skating motions are much like ice skating or
inline skating ("Rollerblades") -- except most people usually also
use poles to help them push. Ski Skating is sometimes called
"freestyle", especially in cross-country ski races.
Classic striding is more like walking or jogging.
It is sometimes called "diagonal stride" or "kick and glide".
It's called "Classic" style because it's older than ski skating.
Classic style also includes other motions: "shuffling", "double
Most people learn Classic style first, and many non-athletic skiers
stay with Classic only and never learn Skating.
Classic style uses their walking skills and can
usually be done at an easy walking pace -- but it's difficult to
Skate slowly enough to make the effort as low as normal walking.
Athletic skiers typically also want to learn Skating for the speed
and smooth glide. Some skiers come to like skating so much that
they stop doing classic.
But I've never heard of an experienced
cross-country skier who had never learned Classic striding sometime.
If you're not sure, start with Classic style.
Skating is best for:
- athletic skiers
- speed and glide
- convenience in a variety of conditions on groomed trails
Not usually good for soft ungroomed snow --
worse if it's both soft and deep.
But: with the addition of "kicker
skins", skating-style skis can also be used for walking slow, or for
a wide variety of ungroomed or backcountry terrain.
Classic is best for:
- skiers who want to just enjoy being out there
- pace as slow as you choose
- convenience in a variety of ungroomed or backcountry terrain
Not usually good for thawed-and-refrozen
But: With kicker skins (or sticky
klister goo), classic striding can be performed conveniently on a
wide variety of groomed trails -- even thawed-and-refrozen tracks.
It is possible also to skate on classic-style skis. Anyway, a
few skiers savor their glide more when it is set off against the
alternating "punctuation" of an explosive leg-push "kick".
- are already experienced with ice skating or inline skating
- are athletic, especially with sports that emphasize legs:
bicycling or rowing
- are confident or interested to learn new motions
- are confident to learn new balance -- e.g. downhill skiing
- enjoy playing with speed
- have lots of ski trails conveniently available which are wide
and gentle and well-groomed
Bad bet for learning ski Skating if you . . .
- are not confident or interested to learn new motions and new
- want it to be simple like walking on snow
- are a bit afraid of speed
- do not consider yourself very athletic
- mostly have ski terrain which is ungroomed, narrow, or hilly
Actually it is possible to "walk" effectively on skating skis
-- if you get "kicker skins". They allow you to use your skating
skis like classic striding skis -- except with much less glide.
"Kicker skins" take only a couple of minutes to put on or take off your
[ see more
about kicker skins on the
Choosing your start
If you think you want to try both Skating and Classic, then start
with learning Classic style.
If you know you mainly want to Skate, and you've found a good learning
location with good snow conditions currently for Skating, then it makes
sense to start
directly with Skating.
If you're experienced with inline or ice skating, and you've found a
reasonable location for skating, you can start directly into ski
If you're not sure, start with Classic style.
The basic strategy is to start by
- taking lessons from an instructor
- at a ski center with good skating terrain
- on days with good snow conditions for skating
- using skate-specific skis and boots that fit you
- keeping your risk level low and managable
- first get
comfortable with the basic skills of cross-country skiing --
list of topics.
Lessons from an Instructor
The reason for having an instructor is that there are so many
variations in snow conditions and terrain, so many possible
coordinations of motions of skis and poles, and so many unexpected
feelings and muscles -- that nobody could figure it out enough for it to
be effective and fun soon enough -- unless they were very determined or
Location and Terrain
In order to learn well, most people need to feel safe. You need
room to experiment and room to fail. For skating, that means open
fields with nothing anywhere in range to hit when your fail, and wide
trails with little that's close nearby. Many ski centers have
narrow trails in between trees -- not much margin for failure.
Hills are nice to challenge your strength. But for learning you
want to focus on technique and new feelings -- well within your
strength capabilities. Try to find an unusual ski center:
one with a big flat open field for practice.
Choose a day with firm (but not icy) well-groomed snow. On a
day with lots of new snow, it's a struggle just to keep moving on
skating skis. It often takes at least a day to get it rolled and
packed and groomed firm enough for fun skating and learning. With
very light fluffy snow, it might take even longer. Only strong
skiers who already know how to skate well are having much fun skating in
new soft snow.
Snow that has thawed or partly melted and then re-frozen can get very
icy and slippery -- difficult to handle without metal edges on your skis
(or even with) -- can even be dangerous without the best skills and the
right equipment. (But sometimes if you can get on that snow when
it's getting warmed again and the surface is melting again, the skating
can be wonderful. But timing is critical, since it's not fun any
more when it melts further into deep slush).
Be very careful after a warm day of melting followed by a cold hard
The simplest way is to start learning at a ski center with a good
program of rental skis. That way if the first set you get is not
appropriate for you or the conditions, you can take it back and exchange
it for something else.
Risks and Hazards
Get advice and help from the ski center and your instructor as needed
to keep your level of risk very low.
I don't see why learning the "cross country" variety of skiing needs
to expose you to any more than a very low level of risk.
[ more to be added ]
Get Comfortable with the Basic Skills
Most people will learn the basics while learning Classic-style
skiing. For some ideas about this, see
on Skis -- the
topics on that page could be a good start for your own list of key
things to learn early.
If you decide to start directly with skating, that same list of
topics will still be a helpful start for your own list of key things to
learn early -- if you substitute "making basic skating strokes" wherever
you see the words "shuffling" or "striding".
more . . .
[ more to be added ]
Best for skating is specialized skating boots -- and the most
important factor to look for is good fit -- but without being so tight
that they might limit the flow of blood to your toes (which could make
them very cold).
If you want to use one pair of boots for both skating and classic
striding, "combi" boots are usually a good choice. If they fit
your foot well, they usually offer good-enough support for helping you
press the edge of your ski for skating. They're a little heavier
than specialized racing classic boots, but most people feel more
downhill control in the "combi" boots.
For many skiers, "combi" boots are a better choice for Classic
striding than most "classic" boots -- even if they never use them for
Warning: Each model of boots is incompatible with some
kinds of ski bindings . . .
The binding is the mechanism that connects the boot to the ski.
Kinds and Compatibility
There are three main kinds of binding for skating (as of 2003):
- SNS Pilot -- works only with SNS Pilot boots (not with other SNS
- SNS Profil -- usually works with SNS Pilot or other SNS boots
(Skate or Combi or Classic)
- NNN -- usually works with NNN boots (Skate or Combi or Classic)
SNS Pilot boots work with non-Pilot SNS bindings. But non-Pilot
SNS boots do not work with SNS Pilot bindings.
How to Choose Kind
Usually the first priority and the main consideration is to find the
boot that fits you best, then go with whatever binding is
compatible with that boot.
- SNS Pilot has an extra spring-loaded lever that helps keep the
ski closer to the skier's heel. It is reasonable to think that
this improves control in some situations -- and perhaps more like
inline skates, if you do that in the off-snow-season. It also
adds weight. Some people think it might increase the chance of
leg injury in some strange falls or collision situations.
- Backcountry skate tours -- I've heard a report that the SNS
Pilot could be difficult to get in and out of in some backcountry
snow and weather conditions.
- NNN binding is more often seen on rental skis in the western
U.S. (so if you sometimes fly to western U.S. destinations and
want to bring your own boots but rent skis, you might want to favor
NNN). Though some U.S. ski centers that mainly rent NNN, also
have some SNS Pilot binding skis for skating.
- SNS binding is more often seen on rental skis in Europe.
(so if you sometimes fly to Europe and want to bring your own boots
but rent skis, you might want to favor SNS Pilot for skating-only,
or SNS Combi boots if also doing some classic striding).
Skis -- style
Skis that are specialized for skating are the way to go. Rent them at first,
if you're not sure you're going to like skating enough. Skating
skis are designed for the most fun in the widest variety of snow and
terrain. With skis dedicated for skating, you (or the rental shop)
can maintain them ready for maximum fun skating.
Classic skis? In hard snow on a flat trail, trying to skate on
classic-style skis can work OK. But in soft snow or up hills, the
fun vanishes quickly and you're just struggling on them.
"Combi" skis? "Combi skis" are supposed to be designed for both
skating and classic striding. The problem with this is that the
requirements for good classic striding are already pretty tricky --
because the same ski needs to both grip well and glide well.
Classic striding in imperfect snow can be difficult enough even on the
best pair of skis, so any compromise of the design focus on
classic-style performance is a bad idea for most of us.
My advice: If you really need to do all your
skiing on only a single pair of skis, and you intend to do a
significant number of days of classic striding (without kicker
skins) -- then choose a set of true Classic skis.
Combi boots are a great idea. Combi
skis are not.
Skis -- size + fit
For adults, the size and fit of Skating skis are determined primarily
- weight of the skier's body
Other factors for fit:
- length of the skier's leg (shorter skis for shorter legs)
- ability of the skier (shorter skis are easier to manage -- but
this is usually already taken care of in the manufacturer's fitting
guidelines for non-racing skis)
- kind of snow the skis will mostly be used in -- stiffer skis
for hard snow, versus softer flex and more surface area for soft
snow. (Serious racers often have two pairs: one for hard snow,
one for soft. Elite racers also worry about cold snow
temperature versus warm.)
- terrain (shorter skis are easier in the hills)
Even though "skier's height" is not on this list, many experts ask
you to give your height anyway -- mainly to help guess the skier's
weight (in case the skier does not give that critical number accurately)
-- and also to estimate the length of the skier's leg.
For most models of Skating skis you select your best length (and
sometimes flex) according to a table of guidelines supplied by
that model's manufacturer -- based on the ranges of the skier's body
weight. Usually there's some overlap in the weight ranges -- so
more than one length and/or flex could be suitable -- then the single
selection is based on the other factors given above.
How to test fit?
Unlike with Classic skis, there is no simple set of mechanical tests for Skating
skis (like standing on them and trying to slide something underneath).
Ski Skating is too dynamic. Skating skis are not designed to
"close" to the ground surface under the full weight of the skier.
Only a tiny number of ski shops is set up with the special
equipment to do their own ski flex measurements, and only serious racers are
willing to pay for that level of service. Even if you have some
measurements for a ski, like "kg of weight required to close ski to 0.1
mm residual camber" and "mm of camber height under half-weight load", it
takes expert knowledge and detailed manufacturers' guidelines and tables
in order to interpret the data usefully.
Local shop versus Phone-order versus Web
There are three good criteria for choosing where to buy skis:
- a local shop that gives you good advice and help in other ways
is worthy of your purchase.
- the more skis a store has available, the better chance they'll
have a pair that's a good fit for you and your skiing. Best
bet is early in the season -- or even before the snow falls.
- you also need a person knowledgeable enough to understand the
manufacturer's guidelines -- and interpret them to fit your special
needs -- and trustworthy to sell you their best fit for you, rather
than unloading whatever is laying around (again, best bet is early
in the season).
There's no reason why the best shop for your Skating skis could not
be in some other state or province (or other country?). But it's
hard for me to imagine purchasing a pair of skis through a pure
automated Web interface. I'd want to talk to an intelligent human
about the pros and cons of the specific model + length + flex of each
ski pair which they
currently have available -- including perhaps some of last year's
leftovers that are not on their website.
A rough guideline is that a pole for Skating should come up to your
chin. Racers might use a longer pole -- even up to their
nose -- especially for flat terrain.
There are also manufacturers' guidelines for pole length based on
a ratio to your height -- which seem to work reasonably well.
Skating poles are normally significantly longer than poles for
Classic. Serious skiers who do both styles of skiing, own two sets of poles.
But if you really need to use only one pair of poles for both, it's
better to select the length shorter for Classic.
Sometimes serious racers deliberately use shorter
poles in training, to improve their skating technique.
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