How To Become a More Efficient Cross-Country Skate Skier

Photo: Paul Hamill/Tandemstock

Up your Nordic skills by honing your skate technique

Cross-country skiers are divided into two camps. There are classic skiers, who use a parallel kick-and-glide motion, and there are skate skiers. Those in the latter group, who utilize a splayed-out, rhythmic skating motion on wide, groomed trails, know one simple truth: It’s hard. The full-body motion taxes every muscle in your body and makes your lungs burn almost instantly—an inherent physicality that draws in most all committed skate skiers.

Still, the dual challenge of coordination and exertion doesn’t mean that skate skiing is all suffering. Simple improvements to your technique can allow you to ski farther and faster. Like other highly technical sports—swimming and rowing, for instance—it’s best to work on one or two cues at a time. Thinking about too many things at once can have you tangling up your poles and skis. Instead of getting tripped up and hitting the snow, isolate your focus on a certain movement, or body part, to help you put it all together.   

Legs First

Many beginning skate skiers try to muscle their way along the snow with their poles. Avoid the urge. Learning how to properly push off and glide with your legs is what will make you a good skier. 

To initiate the proper motion with your legs, envision pushing off with the inside of your foot to weight the inside edge of the ski. Your push-off leg will extend to the side and slightly behind you. This movement mimics ice skating or roller skating, but it’s not a direct correlation (you’ll need to utilize even more of the inside of your foot). 

The other critical learning element for proper leg use: committing to weighting one ski at a time. Hovering your weight between the two skis creates imbalance and slow skiing. Commit to a full transfer of weight on one ski, and then the opposite ski, to increase the glide you’ll get out of each ski.

To work on these two important factors, leave your poles behind. Learning to skate ski without poles on both flat terrain, and up hills, will force you to improve how you use your legs and make you a better skier.

Three Gears

There are three different techniques utilized in skate skiing. The one that you use depends on the terrain, your comfort level with each technique, and sometimes, the snow conditions. The V1, or “off-set” technique is usually the first learned, and is likened to a low gear on a bike. The V2 is considered a medium gear used on flats and slight uphills (by good skiers), but it can feel like a super-high gear because of the increased frequency of poling. And the V2 Alternate looks similar to a V1, but is used as a high gear that can be maintained on slight downhills, flats, and maybe slight uphills.

Women cross country skier in Sierra Nevada Mountains Photo: Paul Hamill/TandemStock

Mastering V1/Off-Set Skating

To propel yourself forward in the V1 technique, you still want to initiate power with your legs, but you’re planting your poles at the same time that you’re weighting the same one ski. Your poles will be off-set, with the pole planted on the side of the (right or left) ski that you’re weighting—and planted slightly in front of the pole on the opposite side, with the unweighted ski. As you plant the pole and weight the ski, your body should be compressed. As you glide, your body should open up while you glide on the opposite ski. As your gliding momentum ebbs, compress again to plant your pole and weight of the original ski. Once you get really good, you’ll only use V1 for climbing hills.

This is the first technique you should practice. Get comfortable poling in time with one side (right ski or left ski) before practicing poling and weighting both sides. 

Mastering V2

The V2 stride is the fastest stride, best used on flat to moderately uphill terrain. With V2, you’re poling—placing both your poles in the snow—every time you weight a ski. The pole timing happens differently in V2 than it does in V1. In V1, you’re poling as you simultaneously weight a ski. In V2, you pole before you place a ski on the snow, and you’re doing so every single time you place a ski on the snow. (Think: Pole, ski, pole, ski.) In V2, you’re placing your poles inline with each other, instead of offset, and your power comes from your arms.

Imperative to successful V2 technique is fully committing to the transfer of weight from ski to ski. The glide on each ski is held longer during V2 than it is during V1.

To practice this, double-pole with both skis together for a few arms swings, then commit to skiing 10 V2 strides at a time when on flat terrain before switching back to the easier V1.

Mastering V2 Alternate

V2 Alternate looks a lot like V1 because both techniques have you planting your poles with every two ski steps. The difference here is that the poles should be planted inline with each other, instead of off-set, and you should plant your poles right before you weight your ski (like you do when using the V2 technique). With V2 alternate, you compress your body when you step onto the ski on the side that you’re planting your poles, then stand tall to glide on the opposite ski before compressing, shifting weight, and poling again. This technique is used to maintain high speeds.

To practice this, picture your arms working as a pendulum swinging back and forth. This will help with your forward momentum, and your timing.

Even the best skate skiers out there are constantly working to improve their technique. Getting better at V1, V2, and V2 Alternate, and knowing when to utilize each movement, will increase your efficiency, your speed, and your fun. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.