If you think "nordic skiing" is Swedish for "go slow," you haven't tried skate skiing. It's related to classic cross–country, but only in the sense that both require snow. Skate skiing is faster—pros reach speeds of more than 20 miles per hour on flat terrain—and it's more fun, too, as a growing number of athletes are discovering. Equipment sales of this category now dominate the high–performance nordic market, and at some races officials have had to turn away excess skaters. Get in on winter's best cardio–and–strength workout with our guide to technique, training, races, gear, and more.
Skate This Way
Like chess, skate skiing is easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master. To oversimplify: Imagine ice–skating on skis while simultaneously propelling yourself forward with poles and you have the basic concept of skate skiing. But to get the most from the sport—and go really fast—you'll want to perfect the following movements, or strokes. Practice on flat, well–groomed tracks before graduating to hills and rougher snow.
V1: This stroke is simple to grasp and, once you're proficient in the faster strokes, is typically used for climbing hills or battling a headwind. Think of it as a car's second gear. (1) Push off with both poles while pressing out against the inside edge of the left ski and gliding on the right ski. (Your left arm and pole should be slightly ahead of the right.) (2) Bring your body over the gliding ski, keeping your knees and toes aligned. (3) Before the glide slows, bring poles forward (the recovery). (4) Push off the inside edge of the right ski and glide on the left. (5) Repeat the original plant/push/glide motion. (The V1 uses offset poling, which means you plant poles when pushing off with either your left or right ski, but not both. Experiment with each side to find which gives you better balance and power.)
V2: Use this quick–tempo stroke to reach high speed (like fourth gear). The key here is that you use double poling—planting your sticks on every skate/glide motion. (1) Press out against the inside of the left ski while pushing off with both poles. (2) Move your weight over the right ski and glide; recover poles for another push. (3) Before speed decreases, double–pole again, pushing off with the right ski and gliding on the left. (4) Repeat Step 1.
V2 ALTERNATE: With a longer glide and more reliance on skating power, the V2 alternate is best used for covering long distances at a fast pace (fifth gear). The plant/push/glide movement is similar to the V2, but the motion is quicker, with arms pumping between poling and body driving forward, core muscles engaged. At the fastest speeds, this becomes no–pole skating—you simply use arm swing, since your pole plants can't keep up with the skating action.
Body and pole position are fundamentally the same for all strokes.
(A) Poles are always angled back.
(B) Maintain a bend at the elbows.
(C) Initiate each stroke by bending at the ankles and pushing hips forward.
(D) Drive poles into the snow on a line with the gliding foot.
(E) Lead with the core of the body, not the head and shoulders.
(F) Use your whole foot to push and straighten the leg.
(G) Recover the nongliding ski close to the snow.
Speed up the learning curve with these tips from Dan Clausen, 15-year veteran of the Professional Ski Instructors of America National Nordic Team and ski pro at Wisconsin's Minocqua Winter Park.
IMPROVE BALANCE: Skate downhill on easy terrain. Maintain an inverted V with your skis, weighting one then the other, while keeping your upper body stable. Skate without poles, with your arms behind your back, or one arm back and one swinging, speed–skater style.
SKATE EFFICIENTLY: You should snap or pop from ski to ski between glides. After pushing off, relax your leg and let it swing away before returning to center. Actively bring the leg back under you to prepare for the next stroke.
CONQUER THE CLIMBS: Use this trick to learn V1 timing for uphills. With skis in a slight V, count out a 3–1–3–1 rhythm, landing two poles and one ski on the snow (three points of contact) for every 3, and one ski on the snow by itself (one point of contact) for every 1.
Train Like a Pro
From weekday training trails to vacation-worthy nordic centers, you'll find skate courses nationwide
SKI LOCAL: Find skating tracks near you at xcski.org, which lists nordic areas by state. Among them: Metro Boston's Weston Ski Track, with post-work skating until 9 p.m. MondayThursday (skiboston.com); and Colorado's Eldora Mountain Resort, with 25 miles of trails located in Nederland, an hour's drive from Denver (eldora.com).
GET FIT ON VACATION: Grooming is world-class, as is the New England scenery, at Jackson Ski Touring Center's 97 miles of trails through the White Mountain National Forest...
World Cup racer and two–time Olympian Patrick Weaver shares his plan for achieving top fitness on a sane schedule. The 37–year–old is off the pro circuit, newly married, and running a business—in other words, he has to squeeze in his workouts just like you. Still, he won four ski marathons last winter using the following weekly regimen. Experts can jump on the complete plan right away; beginners should ease into the routine by starting with the modifications noted and building gradually as skills improve.
Day 1: Distance workout. Skate–ski one and a half to two and a half hours at a consistent pace on mixed terrain. Ski as fast as you can while still being able to maintain a conversation. Modification: Ski 45 minutes at a pace that allows you to maintain good form.
Day 2: Interval workout. Ski 15 minutes at a warm–up pace, finishing at the base of a hill. For four minutes, ski hard uphill at a race pace. Return downhill, recovering for four minutes. Repeat hill–climb intervals five times. Finish with a 15–minute cooldownski. Modification: Skip this day.
Day 3: Strength workout. Head to the gym for one hour of strength training. Weaver favors a routine heavy on core work, plus squats, pull–ups, and dips. Modification: None—skiing ability doesn't affect sit–ups.
Day 4: Repeat interval workout.Modification: Do two or three intervalson a gentle slope.
Day 5: Repeat distance workout.Modification: Skip this day.
Day 6: Repeat intervals during raceseason, strength workout before and after. Modification: Repeat distance workout.
Advances in skate-specific equipment match the sport's surging popularity. Here are two of the year's top systems for advanced and intermediate skiers (forget entry-level gear; you'll outgrow it fast).
Fischer RCS Carbonlite Skating: This Olympic–level ski has an exceptionally low swing weight, for quick recovery (bringing the ski back after pushing off). The base, with a high graphite content and an aggressive diamond–ground structure, is best for humid conditions. Get the RCS Skating Cold for the Rockies and other dry–snow regions. $600; fischerski.com
Salomon S–Lab 3D Carbon Skate (pictured): For the ultimate in energy transfer, this heat–moldable boot has a carbon chassis that envelops your heel and sole. The upper's seamless construction means no pressure points or leaks. $450; salomonnordic.com
Exel Black Feather: Carbon–fiber shafts make the Black Feathers light and strong. The grips are angled backwards ten degrees, which provides more power and a quicker recovery. $300; exelsports.net
Atomic FX: Skate: This stable ski is softer and wider than racing models, letting you focus on stride rather than balance. But you won't need an upgrade next season: Power transfer and responsiveness are top–notch. $216; atomicsnow.com
Alpina SP40: Just a few years ago, the technology in this boot was the World Cup standard. It has the same asymmetric cuff design and heel–retention strap found in Alpina's RS racing boot. $199; alpinasports.com
One Way DS920: A shaft made with 20 percent carbon fiber reduces weight and keeps price down. And there's nothing low–end about the poles' trim racing baskets and biting tungsten tips. $59; alpinasports.com
Get perfect comfort from start to finish—whatever your experience or gear—with these layers: Patagonia Wind Tracker Top (pictured, $145; patagonia.com); Craft Flow Pants ($110; craft-usa.com); Ibex Pico Zip T ($95; ibexwear.com); Salomon Smart Windstopper Vest ($115; salomon-sports.com); Swix Race Hat ($26; swixsport.com); Pearl Izumi Gavia Gloves ($45; pearlizumi.com).
Start training now for the season's top nordic competitions
THE DOWNHILL Boulder Mountain Tour, Sun Valley, Idaho (February 3)
This gently rolling 32K course loses 1,100 feet between start and finish. bouldermountaintour.com
THE TEST Lake Placid Loppet, Lake Placid, New York (February 10)
Showcase your hill-climbing chops on the 50K Olympic course, which gains 1,120 feet. orda.org
THE EVERYMAN Keskinada, Gatineau, Quebec (February 1518)
There's something for everyone at this four-day nordicfest, with 5K, 10K, 16K, 29K, and 53K races. It, like the Birkebeiner (below), is part of the 14-country Worldloppet circuit. keskinada.com
THE CLASSIC American Birkebeiner, Hayward, Wisconsin (February 2224)
Ski 51K point-to-point at this world-famous event, which attracts more than 7,000 skiers from the U.S. and abroad. There's also a 23K option, but you don't get the same bragging rights. birkie.com
THE PARTY! The Great Ski Race, Lake Tahoe, California (March 4)
Some fans come for the outdoor beer-and-band finish-line celebration alone, but the 30K course, which ascends Starratt Pass before dropping down Sawtooth Ridge, is also legendary. thegreatskirace.com