Cross Country Ski Instruction by Andy Keller and Charlie Dee
CD: When we wrote about the V2 skating technique last year (SS, March, 2016), Andy, we promised that we’d explore its half-sibling, V2 Alternate (V2A), in the future. The coach who first taught me V2A – Dan Clausen of Minocqua Winter Park – called it “the overdrive gear.”
AK: That’s a good description because it’s the most efficient skating gear we have. The easiest way to think of it is as V2, but with every other double-pole skipped.
CD: So it’s like V2, but instead of double-poling on each skate-off, both right and left, we only plant our poles on one side, hence the “alternate” in the name.
AK: Well, it uses the V2 double-pole, but the rhythm is entirely different. Let’s get the terminology straight: when we’re double-poling on the right skate-off, we’ll call the right the “poling” side and the left the “off” side. And for all our examples, let’s use the right side as the poling side.
CD: Fine. I learned V2A after I got comfortable, though hardly proficient, in V2. Is that the normal progression?
AK: Yes. Typically skaters begin with V1 because it’s necessary for climbing hills, and it doesn’t take as much balance as other techniques given that you’re continually moving. So, we coach V1 first, then work on V2 until skiers achieve weight transfer and balance, then go to V2A. When they have all three arrows in their quiver, and thus display much better balance than they started with, we’ll go back to refine V1.
CD: Well, let’s talk about how to learn V2A and then discuss when to use it.
The shoulders are square to the trail for V2A double pole (top), resulting in strong double-pole (center), which allows for complete weight transfer and effective glide on off ski (bottom). Notice low hands on left ski glide in C that will now thrust up, leading hips and chest into dynamic weight shift to right ski and next poling motion. Andy Keller photos
Finding Rhythm Is Key
AK: Sounds good. After warming up with some no-pole skating, then double-pole only, work on a relaxed, slow V2 on a flat or slight uphill grade.
Once you feel relaxed in the V2, stop poling on one side; for the sake of visualization, let’s say the left side. After double-poling on your right skate-off, simply let your arms relax on the follow-through. Instead of swinging your arms up quickly for the double-pole on the left skate-off as you would with V2, allow your arms to move more slowly, so they’re actually at your side when you load the left skate.
CD: I remember how confusing this rhythm was when I first tried it: I had worked so hard to get the V2 rhythm into my muscle-memory that I felt really awkward not planting poles on each skate-off.
AK: Learning V2A is an exercise in patience. You need to concentrate on a relaxed glide on the left, or “off,” side before swinging your arms up to load for poling on the right skate-off.
CD: Patience has never been my strong suit. Any suggestions for what to do if the rhythm just isn’t coming?
AK: Several. First, the learning curve will always be flatter if you practice under the guidance of a coach. And whether you’re learning on your own, with a more experienced skier or with a professional coach, keep in mind that learning a new technique never comes in one bite.
CD: Ain’t that the truth. I’ve taken many lessons the past 20 years, and everything I’ve been able to put into practice has actually come two or three sessions after the lesson when, skiing by myself, suddenly I’ll feel something click and exclaim out loud, “Wow, that’s what he was trying to get me to do!”
AK: Another suggestion if the V2A rhythm is coming slowly: remove poles and try to find it by mimicking the V2A motion with your arms and hands. Start with a relaxed free skate, extending each glide. Then begin swinging your arms as if you were double-poling on your right side.
CD: In this drill, the arms go from high (at moment of poling and skate-off from right) to low. They stay low as I glide on the left ski, but then they go dynamically high again as I skate off from the left and start transferring my weight back to the right.
AK: The no-pole approach allows skiers to take one thing at a time and, possibly, discover the rhythm. Of course, another approach is to ask somebody who already has a nice V2A to ski slowly in front of you so you can concentrate on what she or he is doing and forget about yourself. If you have a high capacity for empathy, you may just fall into the rhythm unconsciously.
A common error with V2A is twisting the upper body to the poling side, resulting in a less-effective double pole as well as weak glide on off-ski because twist to right prevents full weight transfer to left ski.
Arms and Hips Generate Forward Momentum
CD: Two years ago when you were looking at my V2A, you mentioned that I could generate a lot more power with my arms.
AK: With V2, most of your upper-body power comes from ab crunch just before the poles impact the snow and the lats continuing to power the poles. But with V2A, since you’re only double-poling on alternate skates, you can generate a lot of momentum that translates into both upper and lower body power.
Your hands are at your side as you begin the skate-off from your “off” side, left in our example. As they swing forward and up to load for your double pole, they lead your hips coming forward, your abs expanding, your chest rising and moving forward. All of this movement upward and forward translates into two things: 1. longer glide on your right ski due to the forward momentum your arms and core have produced, and 2. a powerful double-pole when you skate-off from the right ski.
CD: Emphasizing that dynamic swing forward to load for the poling side really makes my V2A faster and more powerful. And it’s enhanced even more when I concentrate on a powerful skate from the “off“ side.
AK: Let’s take one thing at a time. Assuming we’ve dialed in the dynamic swing forward, and you feel comfortable with that, let’s talk about the skate-off. Most skiers learning V2A, get a much more powerful push-off from their poling than their off side. That’s normal because you’re getting power from both the poling and the skating.
CD: I’ve found that I can get power from my off side, but it’s not yet in muscle memory, so if I don’t concentrate on it, I get lazy and just sort of fall off that side rather than powering off.
AK: In a marathon, that may not be such a bad thing. Look, if a citizen skier is in a 10-25K race, especially one with a lot of gradual terrain, you can certainly get more speed powering from your “off” side in V2A. But in an extremely hilly race like the Birkie, when you finally get more gradual terrain around the 25K mark, you can use V2A as a recovery gear to carry speed while allowing your heart rate to come down, saving some energy for the climbs to come.
CD: That makes sense. Also, by the time I hit Lake Hayward, there’s not much dynamism coming out of my legs anyway, so if I can find somebody to draft and dial-in a relaxed V2A, that may be the most efficient tactic.
AK: Draft or get a rare easterly wind! Remember, V2A is the only gear that gives you a glide phase. Your arms and hands are constantly moving in both V1 and V2, but with V2A they relax while you’re riding the “off” ski, so this gear both holds speed and helps you revive from climbs.
Best on Run-Outs
CD: So we use V2A for gradual downhills exclusively?
AK: It’s most efficient to carry speed on run-outs at the bottom of hills, whether they’re flat, gradual ups or downs. We’ve talked in previous articles about both free-skating and double-poling-only to maintain speed after a downhill. But at some point, each will become ineffective, so breaking into V2A, even if just for three or four strokes, will carry your momentum efficiently.
CD: When you teach V2A, what’s the most common flaw you see, Andy?
AK: As usual, it has to do with balance. A lot of people initially twist their upper bodies at the waist towards their poling sides.
CD: Been there: because of the twist, my chest wasn’t facing down the trail, but rather to the side, so my double-pole wasn’t very effective.
AK: That’s one problem. The bigger one is that when you twist your body to the right to pole, you’ve made it impossible to get a complete weight transfer back to the left side, which means your body weight stays in the middle, so you can’t take advantage of V2A’s greatest benefit: longer glide.
CD: Once a V2A newbie recognizes that flaw, what can be done to fix it?
AK: Put down your off-side pole. Work V2A with just the strong side pole and mimic the double-pole motion with your off-side arm.
CD: That feels weird. What are we trying to accomplish?
AK: Now you’re only applying power on one side of your body, in our example, the right side pole, so there’s an asymmetrical load on your upper body. You’ll discover that your core muscles fire automatically to balance the right side so you don’t bend to the right with the pole plant.
CD: And if my mental focus is on poling straight down the trail, I can dial this in.
AK: The slower one-pole drill encourages exactly that: concentration on how and where power is applied. Once you’re comfortable with the drill, try again using both poles, but keep the same focus on not rushing and double-poling straight down the trail.
CD: I find that when I’m rushing V2A, I can get back in rhythm by concentrating on bringing my hands up a bit higher as I’m loading for the double-pole. That results in a slight hesitation that keeps me gliding on the poling-side ski a little longer prior to my double-pole, thus ensuring that I’m facing straight down the trail when I power the poles.
AK: That’s a fine correction as long as your hesitation at the loading point is a very slight one. If you hesitate for too long in that “high” position, your body becomes a sail, rather than a force, and you decelerate.
Eventually Dial-In Both Sides
CD: For simplicity of explanation here, we’ve always used the right side as the poling side, but shouldn’t skiers practice V2A with the poling side on both right and left?
AK: You bet. That’s essential for long races. Also, achieving coordination and comfort on both sides will help in all other techniques.
Almost everybody has a dominant side that they’ll feel more comfortable with. But just as we encourage every skier to learn V1 with the poling on both the right and left sides, the same is true with V2A. But it’s fine to stick with one’s dominant side at first; don’t work on the other side until you feel comfortable with your dominant.
CD: What’s the practical advantage of being able to V2A on both sides?
AK: Well, if you’re only comfortable using V2A on your right side, I dare you to use it making a right-hand turn at speed. In a winding course, you want to accelerate into and around gradual turns, poling in the direction your going. So you’ll need V2A on your left to get around that turn to your right.
CD: Now that I think about it, I used V2A around turns like that before I even knew it was a gear.
AK: It’s common for people who consciously only use V1 to spontaneously develop V2A as the most efficient stroke around corners. So if all else fails in finding the V2A rhythm, head to your favorite winding trail on a moderate downhill, and drill it in there.
V1: The most basic stroke, essential for climbing hills. Both poles are planted on every other skate with one pole planted straight in the direction of travel and the other angled slightly in front of the body.
V2: Fastest gear. Double-pole with each skate-off, both poles facing straight down trail. Requires good weight transfer.
V2 Alternate (V2A): Most efficient gear, used on moderate terrain to maintain speed and extend glide. Uses V2 poling technique, but only planted on alternate skate-offs.