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Not getting anywhere effectively

I'm making what feels like skating motions, but they don't seem to be getting me to anywhere effectively -- not even on smooth friendly snow on wide flat land.

Answer

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

There are several possible reasons why you don't feel like your skating actions feel like they're not getting you to anywhere.  The quickest way to sort them out is with an instructor right there watching you -- who can also easily diagnose if the problem is more with the snow conditions or terrain or equipment, than with your own capabilities or learning approach.

If your problem is not mainly something with the snow or terrain or your equipment, then often it's related to one or more of these facts:

Basic skating is really not much like basic walking:

  • Instincts and concepts from walking often get in the way of learning to skate.
  • Balance skills from walking and running do not help much with balancing in skating.
  • Methods of pushing forward from walking and running do not help much with moving forward in skating.  (Like in walking we push the foot back in order to move our body forward -- but that doesn't work much with skating skis.)

You really can fall down (will fall?) while learning to skate:

  • The most effective ways to move forward in skating actually increase the risk of falling while trying to learn them. 
  • So your body's built-in safety warning systems want to avoid them and instinctively try to make you feel like you cannot do them.
  • Adults over the age of 17 years have further to fall before hitting the ground than a child age of 8 years.
  • Intelligent adults over the age of 25 must deal consciously with the knowledge that falling could have consequences.  To their own body, actually and personally.

Therefore, unless you've already got a solid feel for the basics of skating from years of experience on ice skates or inline skates (like "Rollerblades"), it really really helps to have some guidance from an experienced professional ski instructor.

Trouble with anything other than the friendliest snow and terrain

I feel OK skating on smooth friendly snow on wide flat land, but almost anything trickier throws my skating for a loop.

Answer

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

Maybe the situation that's giving you trouble is not "almost anything".  Maybe it's some specific thing that really is difficult (even though it doesn't look that way to you). 

Or maybe it's a combination of two tricky things.

Without an experienced instructor, how could you really know how hard the situation really is?

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Falling over sideways

I've heard I should commit all my weight to one ski on each side, and glide out toward each side.  But when I try to do that, lots of times I fall over out to the side.

Answer:

That's right.  That's what can happen when you start on the path to real skating -- when you strongly commit your body over one ski and glide out toward one side on it.

As usual . . .

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

Things to watch our for and to work on:

  • Make sure you are practicing in a space with lots of room so you're in no danger of hitting other objects (or skiers) that might cause bodily damage -- or at least make you afraid and hold back from trying out more new moves that could be key for your learning process.
     
  • Do not practice on hard or icy snow where you might bruise or even break a bone it you fall down onto it.  Even if you do not suffer bodily damage or pain, the fear of it could hold you back from trying out new moves that could be key for your learning process.
     
  • Falling in toward your center is usually not a big problem:  You can learn to put your other ski down on the snow when you feel that happening.

Falling out over on one side is trickier to handle. 

  • It's tempting to use your ski pole to try to keep from falling over toward the outside.  But in the long run your ski pole has more important uses than this.  And in the short run you can hurt yourself from the sudden jolt when your pole tip instantly stops when it catches in the snow -- and the handle end suddenly twists some of your joints, or pokes into some soft body parts.
     
  • A better recovery move to practice and learn is what I like to call the "emergency chasse" (pronounced "shah-SAY") -- or for those who don't like French words, we can just call it the "duh-DAH" recovery move.

Emergency quick-step (or duh-DAH): 

  • (0) When gliding out toward left side with all your weight over your left ski, you feel yourself starting to fall over even further to out toward the left.  You notice you have some open space available further out to the left in front of you, so you're in no danger of colliding with anything. 
  • (1) So you quickly touch your right ski down onto the snow alongside your left ski and roughly parallel to it.  Then quickly transfer all your weight to the right ski, and simultaneously lift your left ski up off the snow. 
  • (2) Then put your left ski back down aimed even further out toward your left side -- out where your body was about to fall into. 
  • (3) Finally lift up your right ski and put all your body weight on your left ski -- which is now underneath you where it belongs.
  • (4) If you do not want to continue going in this new direction, make a quick turn or stop.

Practice:  A good way to practice for the "emergency quick-step" move is to make deliberate quick-step moves going around a curve in a wide smooth ski trail.  Usually called "step-turns" or "skate-turns".  Start practicing them at slow speeds on easy snow and terrain.  As skill improves, can try higher speeds and quicker variations in direction.

So I guess it would be more accurate just to call it the "emergency quick step-turn" move.

Tripping over my Poles

Sometimes I catch my ski around the tip of one of my poles, and fall over or almost.

Answer:

That's right.  That's what can happen when you start on the path to real skating.

There's no magical solution. 

But it's usually a straightforward problem -- of trying to put two different physical objects into the same space at the same time.  With the usual solutions: 

  • (a) Don't try it.
  • (b) Get better at keeping the ski and the pole tip far enough apart so can almost never happen.
  • (c) Get better at detecting when it's about to happen and pull away the pole tip or the ski very quickly.

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Walking -- sorta like walking on skating skis

Somebody said I look like I'm sorta walking, instead of really skating.

Answer

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

The usual reason that someone is still sorta walking is that they've found out that it still sorta works -- and for them it works consistently and predictably -- even if not speedily or elegantly.  And when they tried some different moves, those often got them into trouble -- unpredictably.  Or at least those moves felt rather scary.

An established history of fear and unpredictability is not likely to go away just from reading something on a web page like this. 

Much better bet to take a live face-to-face lesson from a professional instructor with lots of previous experience in helping people work through similar problems.

Classic -- sorta like semi-kick-and-glide on skating skis

Somebody said I look like I'm still sorta doing classic striding or trying to kick-and-glide.  Instead of really skating.

Answer:

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

The usual reason that someone is still sorta striding is that they've found out that it still sorta works -- and for them it works consistently and predictably -- even if not speedily or elegantly.  And when someone has gotten very good at making their current approach work for years and years, it can be very difficult to "make the leap" out into something totally new.

Things to watch our for and to work on:

  • Use true skating skis that are designed only for gliding.  It is definitely possible to skate on classic skis, but at this point you probably need a complete break from anything like that.
     
  • Make sure your skis have a good glide wax job which is well-suited for the current snow conditions.  So they provide no help at all for any attempt you might make to get them to grip the snow a little.  The skis should feel ridiculously amazingly slippery on the snow.

You might need to rent "demo" skate skis in order to get this level of glide.

Watch out especially when the snow is wet, since to handle that the ski bases need a non-flat "structure" pattern rolled or etched into their surface -- not just good wax.  Otherwise the base tends to "suck" on the snow by what is called "surface tension".

Also watch out for using skis that are too stiff for you when the snow is soft, because then tip and tail will dig down into the snow no matter what special glide wax or "structure" you put onto or into the ski base.  Wait for a firm-snow day, or switch to a different pair of (rental?) skis.

  • The key exercise is to push the ski directly toward the side -- and feel that push magically move you forward.
     
  • Some people find this easier to feel when the put one ski into the outside groove of one of those Classic-track parallel-pair of grooves.  Then repeatedly push out to the side with the tail of the other ski -- and feel that move your forward.  (also called "marathon skate")
     
  • The final exam for feeling this "magic" of skating is to try to "slice" the ski slightly forward while pushing it directly out toward the side.

Best bet still is to take a live face-to-face lesson from a professional instructor with lots of previous experience in helping people from the "classic-striding rut" achieve this key break-through into the magic of true skating.

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Touching my pole tips to the snow lots of times

If I keep touching my pole tips down any time I feel any tendency toward falling -- and maybe sometimes even when I do not feel any -- then I feel that gives me the best odds on not actually falling.  So it sorta works for me.

But I don't see strong confident skaters doing lots of little pole-touches.  I don't feel like I'm moving very strongly when doing them.  And I have a feeling I don't look very confident doing them.

Answer:

Take some lessons from an official ski instructor at a good cross country ski center  with some very-wide safe-feeling learning trails.

It surely is tempting to use your ski poles to try to keep from falling over. 

But in the long run your ski poles have more important uses than this.  And in the short run you can hurt yourself from the sudden jolt when your pole tip instantly stops when it catches in the snow -- and the handle end suddenly twists some of your joints, or pokes into some soft body parts.

Most skiers can learn to keep their balance most of the time -- in some narrower or wider range of snow conditions and terrain situations -- without using their poles to keep them from falling.

The really best way for most people to learn this is not so easy to start trying:  Find a wide safe gentle environment with good snow and go "cold turkey" -- practice skating with no poles at all. Let your legs and body discover some new balance-perceptions and some new recovery moves.

Best bet is to take a live face-to-face lesson from a professional instructor with lots of previous experience in helping people work through similar problems -- and might be able to suggest some other tricks and exercises (perhaps easier than "cold turkey", or maybe harder).

Poles -- strange-looking moves with poles

There's so many possible ways to try to use ski poles with skating.  I'm afraid I might be doing something strange-looking with my poles.

Answer

The problem with strange-looking pole moves is that they're so easily visible to other people watching you -- even it they don't have much negative impact on the real effectiveness of your skating.

Swimming -- One popular poling move is "swimming" with the arms:  moving the hands in a curved path around out to the sides

If you're not sure what else to do with your poles, just tuck them under your arms, and focus on learning to skate with your legs.

Getting Passed

I get passed by lots of other skiers when I skate.

Answer:

Maybe they're former Olympic competitors or collegiate champions.  Or genetic mutants.  Or maybe they practice ski-skating 29 hours per week.  How can you know?

Or maybe they took lessons from a good instructor and practiced the recommended exercises -- and it worked.  And maybe they got lucky and hit the perfect ski fit and base structure and glide wax for today's snow.

Simplest approach I know when I sense them coming is to pull off to the side and stop and pretend to fiddle with my equipment.

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