Monday, February 07, 2005

Skate Touring

Skate skis offer some fast touring on groomed trails when classical waxing might be frustrating.
If the temperature changes over a wide range and you don’t feel like messing with kick wax changes, or the snow is very abrasive, skating lets you concentrate on glide without worrying about how to grip.

Skating seems like a racer’s technique, but there’s a big difference between as fast as you can go and just fast enough.

Study racers to learn some of their techniques, but don’t copy everything they do. It may be the most efficient way to go fast, but not the best for someone who wants to have a little breath to spare.

Racers use a fast poling tempo. You might do that when skate touring, but not as much of the time.

In V2, where you pole while balancing on one ski, then step onto the other ski, practice staying centered over your ski, solidly over the binding, so you can ride the gliding ski for longer. A racer won’t ride a gliding ski too long, because it slows down too much. But on a leisurely tour you can afford to lose a little speed.

In V2 you use the poles over each ski, so you pole every stride, pole-step, pole-step. To maintain maximum speed, increase the cadence. You will feel yourself start to run short of breath, your muscles and lungs burning as you pour out the energy. To race, you need to play that edge of exhaustion. A racer who goes too far has “blown up.” You can recover, but you will have to slow down.

Slower V2 has a tempo kind of like rowing. Pole-glide, pole-glide. Draw out the glide.
Real rowing, of course, is some of the most anaerobically demanding misery ever devised. But it looks very flowing and relaxed because of the smooth movement of the boat through the water.

Many people start skating with the V1. In V1, your poles and one ski hit the snow together. This gives you a dominant side, the one on which you pole, and a non-dominant, or off side. V1 is used at slower speeds such as on climbs. Racers will use V1 up some pretty steep, long grades. Some even manage to stay in V2. If you’re not trying to keep up with people like that, why torture yourself? We’ll get to leisurely hill climbing in a moment.

The problem with V1 is that dominant side. You work one side too hard unless you remember to change dominant sides.

You can change dominance by switching your poling side early or late. To switch early, rush the one-two, one-two timing by going one-one, poling as one ski hits the snow and immediately poling again on the other side. That works well to maintain momentum on a climb. It helps you “fall up the hill.” Your aggressive weight shift forward keeps you moving, and you simply move your feet faster to keep them underneath you.

Switching dominance late leads to a one-two-three tempo. This is often referred to as the Waltz V1. You can do long stretches in Waltz V1 to go a little faster in smoothly rolling terrain when you don’t feel up to the balance and tempo of V2.

V2 frustrates new skaters because it calls for balance and timing. But because it demands these skills you should pursue it so you don’t get stuck in a slow, gimpy V1, forever in second gear.

Use Waltz V1 to sneak up on V2. Waltz goes pole-skate-skate, as you take two strides before poling again, but V1 calls for your poles and dominant ski hitting the snow together. Okay, but try poling slightly before you slap that dominant ski down. Then try poling even earlier. Eventually you will be doing V2 Alternate, with a tempo like pole-skate-skate-skate. The strides on which you don’t use poles give you a chance to check your balance and position before poling again.

Racing involves balancing a number of demands on your energy. The current trend of falling up hills calls for a lot of aerobic fitness and fast-moving, coordinated muscles to keep up the tempo. What happens when you burn out?

We who do not train like racers find that out.

Diagonal V skating uses the poles alternately, as in classical skiing. It has been called a herringbone with glide. That makes it a great low gear for long climbs when you don’t have the aerobic engine to maintain a high tempo in V1, or the sheer power to muscle your way up with long drags at a lower tempo.

At all times when skating, stay centered over your binding, putting pressure evenly into the ski. You notice this when doing diagonal V. Lean too far into the hill and you lose power because you lean too much on your arms. Sit too far back and you don’t maintain the little bit of glide that makes diagonal V so much smoother than a regular herringbone. Shift your weight over the tip of each ski and you lose your edge. The ski slips back.

All these weight shifts will eat your energy in other phases of skating, but you can really analyze them when you’re plastered to the side of a steep hill. Mastering efficient diagonal V may help you extend your V1 to steeper, longer hills as your balance improves.

Mushy snow makes skating a chore, so don’t try to skate hard when we get those warm, slushy days. A little soft stuff on top of a hard base provides a wonderful skating surface, but a couple of inches or more of wet glop is just torture. Then it’s time to get out the wide waxless skis and have a picnic, or pursue klister experiments.

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