A 'new' classic skiing technique
When is the last time classic skiing got a fresh technique? When skating started.
I'm excited to show you a technique that is good for beginners and experts, whether you tour, classic or skate ski. How can one technique do all that? Let's find out.
First, what is it? It's the striding doublepole, CAT 1, CAT 1A, or the military two step. Yes, it has many names and variations. And it's not mentioned in any standard instructional material. You might already be doing it since it's so intuitive. But since it's not taught, you might think it's a mistake. Or you might have tried it and it didn't work. Well, new techniques take practice, exploration and instruction. I first recognized it as something interesting when I was on a group tour and a friend started doing it.
"Oh, this is probably all wrong, but I like it," she said. "It's fun and easy."
She was right. We were skiing in fresh snow that wasn't fast enough for kick-doublepole. Her striding doublepole, however was a nice change from simply striding, so we all started doing it.
To do the striding doublepole (SDP), you just take a stride, doublepole, then stride off your other leg as your hands pass your hips. Don't throw your weight out when you stride, and when you pole don't drop your torso. That's it.
Stride twice for each poling cycle, as per regular diagonal, but use both poles on one side. (For more help, I have videos at OutYourBackdoor.com and on YouTube; username JeffOYB.)
CAT Ski approach
Amazingly, while I was promoting this new technique, I saw that Dale Niggemann, a recent World Masters champ, coach and Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based developer of the CAT Ski (classic all terrain trainer), had written about it on his blog. Niggemann declared he found a way to do V1 and V1A on classic skis in diagonal tracks. He called his moves the CAT 1 and CAT 1A.
"I love creativity in skiing," he said. "I love to play on skis and I encourage our high school team to do it, too. It doesn't take much to get them going. They love jibskate moves, doing 180s and 360s down the trail. Having them add the CAT moves just gives them more variety. It helps them be more mobile in their skiing. And it's sneaking skate training into their classic. We won the state champs last year so I know it works."
Niggemann developed the CAT moves to let him doublepole on his classic-only CAT Ski trainers. Dale was inspired to do a year of training with just CAT moves. He won a classic race using them and won a skate race the next day.
In racing, the CAT 1A is used as a moderate uphill gear. It climbs better than kick-doublepole, so it fits between that and striding. The CAT 1 is used on steep grades instead of striding. They are, really, the only doublepole moves for steeper uphills.
Now the jury is undecided on CAT skiing for racing, but the moves seem to offer an edge in soft conditions. Mostly, Niggemann says, the techniques are additional tools for ski racers. Also, they let you use skating poles when classic skiing.
"That's the best thing I've learned from them," he said. "The CAT moves are easier to learn than skating with splayed skis, which is great for beginners as all the body motions are the same. They're also great for teaching sharp kick, fast cadence and poling. They develop muscle memory for going straight down the trail." (Niggemann also has videos of these moves at www.catskier.com and on YouTube.)
Not everyone has ready access to groomed trails, yet classic skiing can be practiced anywhere there's snow. And Niggemann reminds us, "CAT Skis can be used anywhere. Also, roller skis aren't always safe, especially for groups of kids."
A skier who read an earlier SDP promotion I'd written informed me the technique is taught - by the U.S. and Canadian militaries and it is included in their winter manuals. They call it the "two step." Adding another stride (to change the side poled on) makes it the "three step." And winter soldiers know ungroomed skiing. ("Mountain Skiing 1941," a vintage military video on YouTube, shows SDP.)
I've heard 1970s-era ski racers call it the "change up." And I discovered an Australian manual that seems to teach it, plus a couple other versions not taught over here.
So it's not really new (skating wasn't either), but I bet it will be new to many skiers. Remember, technique isn't set in stone and there's no limit for those who innovate.
You might ask, if it's so cool, why doesn't the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) teach it? I recently asked PSIA Nordic Director Mike Casey, a retired school teacher from Two Rivers, Wisconsin, about that and he said he's interested. He said he recalled alternative timings from back when he started skiing in the '70s, but said it hadn't snowed enough yet for him to test it.
When I told my friends in southeast Michigan about it, they said, "Hey, we know that move!" They call it the "Potto Shuffle" because they use it after they're too tired to do anything else on their beloved, hilly 17-mile Potawatomi Trail.
Regular doublepoling requires throwing your center of gravity forward, crunching the torso and committing to gliding with your feet together. As such, it requires a fast, firm trail and a fitness mindset. But many skiers - especially those who ski on homemade trails - carry a pack or have other goals. They simply don't doublepole much. SDP gives them back their doublepoling.
SDP can inspire us to ski outside the box in other ways, too. It's a fresh dance step to help us play with our rhythm and spice up our flow. Remember, too, that speed is relative and situational and isn't always immediate (a rest move can pay off later), nor is speed always important. Consider dancing: How many dancers compete? Yet there's a whole lot of dancing to do and more to develop. Other snowsports celebrate creativity and variety. Cross country can, too.
All sorts of alternative timings were taught until recently. For instance, another fun old technique that's still useful (especially in mixed-pace group outings, which we should all do more of) is pendulum poling. It fits in with the three step. But we'll save that for later. Or maybe you're already doing that too.
Jeff Potter hosts OutYourBackdoor.com, a resource for indie outdoor culture.
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