Monday, February 26, 2007

Meanwhile, Out on the Snow

The big storm arrived a couple of days ahead of the start of the Massachusetts vacation week, so the touring center had time to groom the trails several times before the crowds needed them. Deep snow meant it was time to use good skis.

Fast classical skiing requires a lot more finesse than a slow shuffle on touring skis. Fast skis have a stiffer camber, requiring better timing and balance in order to get any grip. It can be very frustrating, and drives many skiers to wax further forward or give up altogether.

Acting on a couple of tips from Peter the Great, I shortened up the wax and went out to practice.

Tip number one: when you kick forward with one ski, imagine kicking a tennis ball straight down the track in front of you. You have to keep your weight fully on one foot to kick with the other one. Imagining the ball keeps you pushing your foot forward, rather than kicking down and back with the weighted leg.

The first tip wasn't a new one for me, but when I combined it with the second one the results were remarkable. It was a new way to get to a precision I had felt before, but could not always produce on demand.

Tip number two: throw your hand forward as you throw your opposite foot forward. Arms and legs swing on alternate sides, just as they do when you walk or run, but the timing and direction matter more when you are balancing on a long, skinny stick sliding down a slippery track. Make sure the arm swings straight forward. Follow a natural arc almost like bowling, with your pole trailing. The arm swings up with a slight bend. The pole stays angled with the tip back. Peter tells students to imagine tossing a horseshoe.

Throwing the hand seems to make the leading foot come forward automatically. The foot touches down slightly forward of the knee. It's a long step. It even works on climbs. Because the foot leads, the body following it plants the wax firmly on the way over the top. In the dynamic process of skiing, one stride flows into the next. For fast touring, it's a relaxed, easy lope. Let the racers gasp and puke. Just doing the stride correctly, over and over, you'll cover a lot of ground faster than you thought you could. You can also make a colder wax work, making your glide even better. It does not take more effort, more strength. It just takes timing.

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