Sunday, December 26, 2004

From the shuffle to the shift

Beginners move forward on cross-country skis by shuffling.

After a while, the shuffle slides a little farther and the skier often thinks this is how it works. Those pictures of the people with one ski lifted behind seem like just artistic fiction. You can slide along just fine without any ballet stuff. This is true. Up ahead, the trail will descend and you’ll have to deal with a whole different range of challenges.

Many skiers are content to shuffle and survive. Shuffle on the flats and climbs and survive on the downhills. If you like where you ski and you arrive happy and unbroken you have succeeded. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just don’t dismiss the idea that someone else may take skiing a little further and that one day you may find yourself doing it too.

Beyond the shuffle is the shift. You can slide a long way with two-thirds of your weight on one ski and one third on the other, but you really get into top gear when you shift your weight completely from one ski to the other. The shift is the key to every advanced technique to move you forward in classical or skating. In fact you can’t skate without it.

Groomed or naturally firm surfaces give you the best place to practice. Put your poles aside and try your stride.

Kick forcefully downward as your foot passes under you. At this instant step completely onto the other ski and follow through with the kicking foot. It will rise behind you naturally, just like the pictures.

Your arms are vital to success. To counterbalance your leg following through behind you, swing the arm forward on that side, straight down the track. Your legs and arms must swing in line with the track, not crossing your body. The opposite arm will swing back behind you.

Think of your arms and legs as pendulums swinging across each other on each side of your body. Their momentum moves you forward. Their cycle times your stride.

You may find it helpful to think more about what’s happening behind you than in front of you. Think about timing the follow-through of leg and arm. They’re very important to balance and timing, both of which you need to perfect the weight shift.

In skating, the weight shift happens more automatically. You can’t shuffle on skate skis. Your legs just get farther and farther apart while you curse the whole concept. You may find that a period of skating improves your classical skiing by forcing you to shift weight. The pole timing is very different, though. In skating you use the poles together, double-poling most of the time.

One skate form uses opposite arm and leg movement. The diagonal V is great for climbing hills. It’s like a herringbone with glide. Instead of just planting your ski, skate it, but use the poles singly, as in classical, instead of the more tiring double-pole.

Once you master the weight shift you will ski faster and more easily. Experiment with the stride. Slow it down to see how it may help you at slower speeds. And don’t turn your back on the shuffle. You can always drop back to that to rest and regroup.

If you use higher-performance classical skis, their stiffer camber makes shuffling less of an option. Carry kick wax with you to add grip if you get really tired and want to gear down significantly.

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