Classic ski better
Engage your hips, compress your stride
Saturday, March 01, 2014 8:40 PM
Editor’s note: On January 24, CXC Head Coach Igor Badamshin suffered a fatal heart attack while skiing on the Birkie Trail near Hayward. He was 47.
Compressed and efficient classic technique: Body mass is largely kept over the gliding (left) ski while the right ski has finished the kick barely off the snow and the right hip is firing to thrust the right ski forward. The Left ski will then be able to kick off with full body mass over it. PHOTO BY CHARLIE DEE
The following dialogue between Coach Badamshin and life-long student Charlie Dee concentrates on classic ski technique. Dee says he has one more conversation to share in which Badamshin offers skate skiing tips. By April, many of us will have put our skis in storage, so will include that piece in the magazine next fall as a coda, our tribute to the man’s life-long contribution to a sport we love.
The previously published Q&As between Badamshin and Dee can be found excerpted here and here.
Charlie Dee: Some skiers hang up their skis after the Birkie. But in many years, Igor, March in the upper Midwest can provide the best skiing of the season.
Igor Badamshin: Skiing is always fun, no matter what the month. This is a great time to summarize the improvements you’ve made in your skiing this season and to lock in those improvements with relaxed but conscious skiing.
CD: My biggest improvement this year is to learn, finally, how to classic ski. This probably shouldn’t have taken 38 years, but I guess it’s the Law of Uneven Development at work.
Forget the huge kick
IB: Now that you transfer weight pretty well from one ski to another, let’s make you more efficient by getting you to use your hips more.
CD: With the Winter Olympics going on, I’ve seen several pictures of Bill Koch winning his silver medal at the Innsbruck Olympics. He really used his hips with a huge classic kick. His entire ski is off the snow, and his foot must be two feet above the ground!
IB: Yeah, but I guarantee if Bill Koch were racing with the vastly improved equipment, waxes and shorter kick zones that we have today, his technique would be very, very different. So erase the picture from you mind’s hard drive. You need to use your hips much differently.
Your skis never need to leave the snow to stride efficiently. With the equipment we have now, we’re teaching a much more compressed motion that is more efficient and relaxed. We avoid that “scissors look” where the glide ski is way in front of the body mass while the ski that has just kicked hangs way behind the body.
CD: Well, I never had a chance of looking like Koch anyway.
IB: I used to have a big kick, too. But when I was on the Russian Junior National team training in Kamchatka, there was a guy in his 60s who used to train with us sometimes, Vasilliy Handobin. He was a meteorologist, living there in the woods, and he would hunt for his meat on skis. We could never beat him up a mountain trail even though we were much younger and international racers.
When we asked him how he beat us, he said we kicked way too high and our body weight was too far away from our gliding ski. He had learned to ski quietly in order to sneak up on game, and he’d ski into town and back from his cabin, 120 kilometers round-trip. He’s the one I learned this more compressed style from. Our coach then adopted this technique.
CD: Should we call this the “Handobin Adjustment” or “Vasilliy Variation?”
IB: Let’s just call it “good striding.” The goal of efficient, and thus faster, skiing is to maximize the body mass you have over the ski at the moment you kick, and then transfer that body mass over to the ski you’re gliding on.
Drive hip forward
The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is to concentrate on driving your hip forward after your kick-off with the other ski.
So if you’ve kicked with your left ski, immediately concentrate on your right hip. Drive that hip forward on the snow. By the time your right foot has swung forward even with your hip, your full body weight should be on that right ski. Now you’re gliding.
Then you rock your right foot forward and roll off your toes – the kick-off – and immediately concentrate on driving your left hip forward.
CD: So both skis are always on the snow? I thought the kicking ski had to kick off the snow, up into the air, to insure weight transfer?
IB: Lifting the ski off the snow is just wasted energy in my opinion. You can have both skis on the snow with your body weight only on one. Just stand still in classic tracks with all your weight on your left ski. Now activate your right hip and swing your right ski back and forth on the snow, in the track, without ever weighting it. A little bit of the ski might be off the snow in the rear, but most of the ski stays, unweighted, in the track.
More compressed, more efficient
CD: When I try to ski this way, it seems like my legs are moving a shorter distance in the tracks for each left/right kick cycle. Is that what you want?
IB: Yes. This is a more compressed style, but it’s more efficient. Your skis never get very far away from your body mass, either forward or back, but you actually glide more with less effort.
Here’s how to think about it: Your full body is moving forward over the snow, not just your feet and skis. So when you kick-off with your left and activate your right hip to bring your right ski forward, think of your right hip bringing your torso, lower core and thigh forward with it. When you weight that right ski, you don’t have to pound it into the snow because your body weight, your mass, is right there, on top of the ski.
CD: Concentrating on the hip bringing the chest and gut forward really works for me. But this feels like a different rhythm: I’m not gliding so long on one ski. The motion is more constant.
IB: I often see striders almost springing on their skis because they’re setting the wax so hard, pounding down into the snow, that the only way they can recover is with a kind of spring-up with their upper body in a delayed glide.
This rhythm I want for you is more continuous. Keep your skis moving all the time! You actually glide more for each kick because you’re not leaving your unweighted leg back behind you. You’re firing your hip muscles to bring the ski back quickly, so you have more body weight over your glide.
While this technique doesn’t produce great, dramatic pictures like Bill Koch in ’76, it’s much more efficient.
CD: Let’s try some steep hills to see if I can stay in the tracks with this new rhythm.
Slight crease for steep climbs
IB: I guarantee it will work, but we have to make sure on steep climbs that you crease your hip. Imagine that you’re starting to sit down on a chair. You hinge between your waist and pelvis – a little crease. This allows you to keep your body weight moving forward on the tough hills.
CD: Wait a minute, Igor. Last month I wrote about how you taught me to keep my upper body tall and not stick my butt out the back. When I crease at the hips, my butt goes back.
IB: This is a minor adjustment, not a major one. You’re correct, Charlie, that if you crease too much, you end up sticking your butt way out and bending too much at the waist. I’m talking instead about a slight crease, a subtle crease. This will keep your body weight over the skis as you’re climbing.
In addition, if you stay rounded at the shoulders, this movement will bring your shoulders a little further forward so you can pole with your shoulders and not just with your arms.
Here’s an exercise that will help give you the hip awareness you need for this adjustment. Lean on your poles for balance, keeping a good athletic position, then gradually take weight off the poles and onto your feet without moving your body. The poles are now just security to help you if you feel unbalanced. Now fire you hips and pelvis to move skis back and forth, just six inches or so.
CD: That isn’t easy, but I’ll keep working on it. Since you’ve been emphasizing using my hips more with skating also, we’ll have to deal with that in a future conversation.
Igor Badamshin was the head coach for CXC and a former Olympic and World Championship medal winner with the Russian National Ski Team. He lived in Wausau, Wisconsin. Charlie Dee is a retired professor from Milwaukee who, as a CXC Master Ski Team member, makes an annual donation to CXC supporting ski development throughout the Midwest and in return gets year-round, complimentary ski technique training and access to the CXC Academy.