By Charlie Dee and Andy Keller
CD: When I get out of the car for my first taste of snow each year, I’m ecstatic. But no matter how, ahem, experienced I get or how often I roller ski in the fall, I’m always shocked by feeling uncomfortable my first few times on the white stuff.
AK: Ecstasy and expectations aside, Charlie, there are material reasons for that. Snow is different than asphalt. You have less glide than on similar terrain on asphalt, you need to push-off or kick harder on snow, and until you get comfortable with that, your balance is probably off.
Also, nobody skis without falling, and anybody who has fallen on asphalt knows how much more painful it is than snow, so it makes sense that people would protect themselves on roller skis by not fully transferring weight.
CD: Igor Badamshin used to say, “Just feel the snow early in the season.”
Keep Ecstasy, Dump High Expectations
AK: That’s great advice. Try to maintain your ecstasy, while lowering your expectations. Concentrate on simply sensing the snow.
CD: Once I’ve calmed down and just skied slowly and happily for several times out, what kind of training should I progress to?
AK: Let’s start with classic. On roller skis you have a ratchet; you’re able to kick because the ratchet prevents the wheels from moving backwards. This means you get 100% kick all the time, so it’s easy to get into the habit of just pulling back your foot on snow, expecting the same kick.
CD: So that would explain being in West Yellowstone last November and slipping on every kick the first three days.
AK: You were rediscovering that you actually need to set wax to get kick on snow. The solution is to put your poles down and find a hill that increases in steepness as you go up. Then break the hill into three sections. We set up cones to mark the sections at our camps, but you can use identifiable trees or mark lines on the snow.
Classic: Shuffle, Run & Stride
CD: Why three sections?
AK: It’s for the shuffle, run, stride progression. As you start up the hill, just shuffle your feet in very small movements. All you’re trying to do is roll up on the toes of your right foot, then shift and roll up on the toes of your left, with no attempt to go fast.
CD: Then I suppose I break into a “run” on my classic skis for the middle section, but what’s the point of all this?
AK: By shuffling and then running, you’re trying to keep your foot and wax beneath your body mass, setting it underneath you, getting rid of the “ratchet-effect” from your roller skiing. For the final third of the hill, move into your classic stride.
CD: When I try this, the running forces me to shift weight from ski to ski because, after all, that’s what running is. And the stride progression keeps me transferring weight, because now I’m on the steepest portion of the hill, and I’ll stall out unless I roll up on my toes and shift weight.
AK: Good. After several repetitions of these, you can concentrate on extending the glide on each stride.
CD: For the kick, should I focus my attention on setting my foot down on snow as hard as possible to insure I’m setting the wax?
Concentrate on Powerful Swing-Back
AK: No, Charlie, but that’s a mistake many people make. If you’re rolling up on your toes, that’s all you need to think about with the kick leg. Your concentration should be on the hip of the leg that’s off the snow: drive that leg forward powerfully. Remember, all your power comes from the swing back forward.
CD: When can I add poles?
AK: That’s a rhetorical question. You know full well to leave the polls aside until you get comfortable without them and demonstrate a consistent, balanced stride.
CD: Busted. Let’s move to skating.
AK: Just like with classic, because of the differences between roller skis and snow skis, once you’re relaxed on snow, you’ll need to address bad habits most people develop to one extent or another on rollers.
CD: When I first get on snow, I can hear my skis clacking behind me, and you mentioned that means I’m not transferring weight effectively. What’s the cause of that?
AK: Skis are much longer than roller skis, and the tails of your skis stick out much further than you’re used to. When you don’t fully transfer weight from one ski to another, your ski tails hit against each other causing that clacking.
CD: I’ve worked with you long enough, Andy, to know that when I’m not shifting weight, I need no-pole skating.
AK: Glad you’ve been listening. Two months ago (Silent Sports, Oct., 2016), we talked about no-pole skating as a way to develop equal push-off from each leg. Review that drill, but focus now on a complete weight transfer from ski to ski by extending the glide on each ski.
Skating: Extend Glide
CD: Another drill I throw into all of my long-steady and technique workouts is to force myself on downhill glides to spend at least three seconds on each ski, trying to get comfortable on each side without rushing to move to the other ski.
AK: How’s that going?
CD: Well, I’m uneven. Sometimes I can stay for a three-second count, but most of the time I shift over to the other ski after two. It’s quite frustrating because I suspect my hesitance to stay on one ski is mental rather than physical, but I don’t know how to address it.
AK: Maybe the problem is that you’re starting on hills rather than progressing to hills.
Try this: work on your glide in an open, fairly flat area, maybe at a trailhead. Work on gliding on the flat surface as long as you can. After you feel comfortable for three seconds without cheating by speeding up your counting, progress to a very slight downhill. Only after you can consistently glide for a three-count on a gradual hill should you start doing this on steeper grades.
CD: That makes sense. What’s the body position for this glide drill?
AK: Your basic good athletic position: knees slightly bent, weight on balls of feet, “tall” upper body with rounded shoulders but not bent at the waist.
Keep your hands forward. If you need them a bit out to your side in order to counter balance any unevenness, that’s fine to start with. But I want you to progress here, as well. By the fifth or sixth time you’ve practiced this, try holding your hands in a high V2 pole position and mimicking your V2 double-pole. You should have your shoulders square, facing straight down the trail.
CD: Ahh. That answers another self-diagnosed flaw. I get frustrated when I’m doing V2 in a race on a flat or gradual down, and I get too fast for my confidence and have to break out of it into a V2 Alternate or double-pole.
AK: That’s a failure of balance confidence. Practicing gliding while holding your hands at the high point of your V2 poling will train you to be more balanced at speed.
CD: Or at least my version of speed!
Deep Snow and Hips-Forward Drills
AK: Extended gliding and weight transfer are so dependent on one another that they’re almost synonymous. There are a couple of other drills to develop your comfort with these.
CD: Last year we talked about using the “Deep Snow Drill” on roller skis (Silent Sports, Nov., 2015). That’s a fine drill for early snow, also.
AK: Right. Another is the Hips Forward Drill. With your poles off, skate on a relatively flat trail in a good “tall position” with your chest forward. Keeping that position, place your hands behind you, just below your waist, with your palms against your lower back.
Every time you push off one ski to another, put pressure with your hands on the upper part of your butt.
CD: I get it: I’m essentially pushing my hips forward to extend the glide, making sure I’m not leaving the core of my body suspended between the skis.
AK: Right. Think of whatever image works for you – your hips, your crotch, your belly button – and use the pressure of your hands to remind your body to get forward, over the ski, without bending at the waist.
CD: This drill forces me to lean forward using my lower body rather than bending at the waist and sticking my butt out. It also compels me to fire my abs, which feels like it’s adding stability.
AK: Also, keep in mind that getting your hips forward starts with flexing forward at your ankles, and that requires you to be on the balls of your feet.
CD: That sounds like something to go into detail about in the future. I think you’ve given us plenty to work on the first few times on snow, Andy. Now I’m going to sacrifice a sheep to the god Thor in hopes of getting snow early and often.