One of the instructors at Jackson Ski Touring used metaphors masterfully to convey the basics of classical technique. He would talk about kicking a ball down the track or sliding in socks on a hardwood floor to describe kicking and gliding in a way that would actually make the student's muscles start to engage in the way they should, rather than using abstract theory and anatomical terminology.
He instructed students when poling to think of pulling a little puppy forward with a leash rather than stabbing forcefully downward at the snow with the vicious metal spikes on the ends of their poles. "Pull the puppy, don't stab the puppy," he would say. Emphasizing the hand coming forward rather than the pole jabbing down helps create a fluid stride that relies on timing rather than force.
The snow hasn't been so good this winter, so I haven't put any time in on the trails. Yesterday I got out for my first quasi-groomed skiing on the Super Loop section of Sewall Woods. Three inches of fresh on top of the pocked and trampled remnants on which the die-hards had been subsisting allowed for a semi-refined slither over the irregular surface.
I noticed right away that I was doing a lot of puppy stabbing. Because the snow did not provide consistent support I was only able to connect two or three fluid strides before some jolt would break the rhythm. I would spear the snow abruptly as I put the the kickstand down on one side and the other. It occurred to me that puppy stabbing is the norm in bushwhacking and trudging along hiking trails and logging roads. Wherever conditions don't favor the beauty stride the rhythmic plant, plant, plant of puppy stabbing suits the abbreviated glide and lateral surprises found in that kind of terrain.
Another thing I noticed after I got home. My house was the temperature it always is at the end of a work day in winter: mid 50s. The fires had burned down. The gas heater maintains a baseline so the pipes don't freeze, but I need to get the woodstoves going to get back up into the 60s. Usually the house feels chilly when I come in after eight or nine hours of incarceration at the shop with a half-hour drive on either end. But after a mere half hour of puppy stabbing and determined trudging I felt warm when I walked in and was warm for the rest of the evening. I lit the fires, but without the usual sense of urgency.
A bigger storm seems to be on its way to open up the rest of the trails to a depth that will permit more technically precise skiing. In cross-country skiing, a little bit does a lot. Smoother trails just mean you cover more ground for your effort. It becomes more like flying than walking. Kick the ball. Pull the puppy. Slide.