Showing posts with label Skating skis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skating skis. Show all posts

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pilot vs 666

Friday we tested skating skis equipped with the two competing systems, Salomon Pilot and Rottefella NNN. It was not the NNN triumph our Fischer rep had hoped to achieve.

We put the boots on at least four people. Only one thought they had potential to become comfortable on his foot. He also liked the ride on the skis with NNN, but has not skated extensively on any technique-specific equipment. Anything would feel more precise than pushing himself around on 200+ cm classic skis with low-topped, soft racing classic boots.

In the rigid-soled boots, on that strange, flared binding plate, I felt isolated from the ski and the snow. The boot didn't hurt as much as I thought it might. It would have hurt if I'd skied a long time, but we wanted to compare the two systems back-to-back to get the sharpest impression.

NNN suffers from the inherent handicap of any single-bar binding for skating. The boot is rigid and the binding has those wings on it to make up for the tenuous connection provided by only a single bar. If they have to stick to a single bar, perhaps they could place it farther back under the foot to limit lift and maintain sole contact to increase lateral control. It would not have to be more than a couple of centimeters to achieve this effect. On the down side, the strain on that bar would be considerably greater than on anything currently in use. But hey: that's what engineers are for. Figure it out. Helpful hint to start you off: the boot sole would have to be a bit springy to enhance the spring of the binding itself. This flex would also increase the comfort of the boot.

To the laboratory! Quickly!

Skiing the Salomon felt as supple and sweet as ever. Until the Rotten Fellas get a better act together I know where I'll be. Unless I'm somewhere else entirely.

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.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Myth of Combi

The skating technique of cross-country skiing has led to the development of skis designed just to skate well. But many skiers who have little or no experience skating feel intimidated by a ski that will force them to skate.

“Can’t I have a ski that will let me do both techniques?” they ask.

The quick answer is yes. The complete answer is that the resulting ski will do both techniques badly. The poor performance might even discourage a skier who blames himself (or herself) when the equipment bears a large part of the blame.

I hesitate to let anyone blame their equipment when the operator provides 90 percent of the performance in human-powered activities. But the equipment at least needs to give you a decent chance.

You truly can skate on any ski. It’s even appropriate and helpful to skate through turns or skate because the skis aren’t gripping properly for the traditional stride. That is, in fact, how skating began. But in its current form, with snow groomed expressly for it and races dedicated entirely to it, skating has become a well-developed art all its own. The skis make it easier, and easier is good, when you’re the motor.

So what about this combi thing?

If a ski can flatten out to let you get a grip in the traditional stride, it will drag a lot when skating. You might think a slow ski is okay because you’re not a racer, but a skate ski that drags will tire you out and make you think skating is harder than it actually is.

Skating is really easier than classical cross-country skiing. The better your ski glides, the easier skating gets. So drag is one strike against the mythical combi ski.

Skate skis are a little shorter than traditional skis. They’re not as tiny as some mutant skis were in the 1990s, but they’re definitely shorter than classical length, even though classical skis are a hair shorter than they used to be. So our mythical combi ski is either going to be very short for classical or somewhat awkwardly long for skating.

If a combi ski is short enough for skating, but soft enough to let you flatten it for classical, it will not only be slow but will handle badly downhill.

Are you picking up a pattern here?

There are plenty of con men in the ski business who will smile at you and tell you combi skis will be just fine. In the sense that they won’t cause you instant bodily harm, yes. In the sense that any skiing is better than no skiing at all, yes. But you must realize that the limitations of the ski will affect how you feel about skiing. If you don’t know the limitations exist, you might mistakenly blame cross-country skiing in general, or yourself. You might get discouraged and quit. And that’s the last thing anyone wants you to do unless they’re just short-sighted boobs looking for a quick sale.

If you can only afford one ski and want to try skating in addition to the classical skiing you might already know how to do, just buy a nice classical ski. Try a few skate strides on it if you like, but rent real skating gear, and maybe take a skate lesson, to feel what a difference the right ski makes. You may decide to have specific skis for each technique.

You can get away with combination boots if you choose them carefully. The Salomon Pro Combi is an adequate little skater on a budget. It has some of the vital lateral stiffness you need for skating, and the supportive ankle cuff you want. Look out for combi boots with an impressive cuff but a soft sole. They twist easily, making the cuff irrelevant. Later, if you commit to skating you will enjoy a more specific boot. Remember that the more classical skiing you do in your combi boot, the less stiffness it will retain for skating.

The more expensive, better-performing boot is the Salomon Carbon Pro Skiathlon, which allows for the use of Pilot bindings on the skate ski.

Even the binding you choose will make a difference. Skate bindings need a really snappy return. Classical bindings need to allow a nice, full flex, so they tend to have softer springs and a slower return. Combination bindings use a flexor that splits the difference. That in itself isn’t so bad, but some retailers will sell the inexpensive step-in touring binding to combi skiers, because the flex is technically the same as the more expensive manually-operated combi binding, but the mechanism is a bit sloppier, which makes the skis harder to control. It’s a very minor thing, but adds to the fatigue and can be avoided. At the very least, the sales person should tell you that you may feel a difference.

Skate poles should be long enough to come up somewhere between your chin and lower lip when you’re standing up straight. Classical poles come to the collar bone for high-performance skiing, somewhat shorter for recreational touring. If you skate with short poles you will be forced to lean down further. A short pole can also drop in front of you when you’re skating. You might then run over the pole and crash, or at least break your pole. Long poles are awkward for classical, but not as awkward as short poles are for skating.

Try it all in cross-country skiing. Just don’t look for it all in one place. Ski early and often, and have fun.