The joy of classic skiing comes from its rhythmic, gliding, flowing motion.
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One of the most important ways to achieve this sensation is to use balance.
A key to smooth classic skiing is the ability to balance on one ski. If you can achieve that balance for a brief second each time your ski glides forward, you can make lots of good things happen with your classic stride.
Here are some tips on how to improve your balance on classic skis:
WHAT DOES BALANCE MEAN?
It's easy enough to imagine standing on flat ground and raising one ski a few inches off the snow. But now think about balancing on one ski when both skis are in the snow and you are moving down the track. Do you find it harder to imagine being in the track and weighting only one ski at a time? On a groomed, set track, our skis are only about six inches apart so we tend to distribute our weight between the two skis as we move along. To ski well, however, we must get our weight on one ski at a time and maintain our balance long enough to enjoy the glide.
FIND YOUR CENTER
One simple thing you can do to improve your balance on one ski is to consciously move your center of gravity back and forth between the two skis as you stride along.
When you stride forward with one ski, move your hip a few inches to that particular side, so it is over that ski.
Moving your hip to the side will shift your body weight over the ski. The shifting should be subtle and smooth, and needs to be only a few inches to be effective.
KNOW YOUR NAVEL
To ensure you are getting your hip over the ski, contemplate your naval. As you stride forward, shift your naval so it's aligned over the foot of your gliding ski.
Now, with your weight on the ski, gliding along, bring the back ski forward and as your back foot passes the front foot, shift your naval to the other side.
This is easier to do than I am making it sound - just step forward and shift your naval over the new gliding ski.
This side-to-side shifting as you glide along will help get your weight over the gliding ski, which makes balancing on that ski possible.
As you subtly shift your weight from side to side, your upper body should be shifting as well. Think about moving your nose over as well as your naval. As you ski along, you should get the feeling that your nose is moving sideways to a point directly above the inside edge of your gliding ski, then shifting so it's over the inside edge of the other ski as you stride forward.
ENJOY THE GLIDE
Once you've got that subtle but important shifting going on you will be able to glide longer on each ski.
To further develop this, simply try to stay over that one ski as long as possible before striding forward on the other. This is called "extending the glide," and is best practiced without using poles.
Set your poles aside, get some glide going, swing your arms in a relaxed, natural fashion, focus on your skiing and feel the glide.
Pick a point 50 yards down the trail and get there in as few strides as possible.
As long as you've abandoned your poles, you might as well take off one ski as well.
This last drill will really test your ability to balance on one ski. Place your one remaining ski in the track, then start skiing. To do this gracefully, you really have to get your body over that ski or they'll be naming a new break-dance step after you.
Glide on one ski, step forward with the non-skiing foot to supply the kick and then glide again. For safety's sake, try small strides first before getting more aggressive and do this on flat terrain only.
MASTERING MEANS MORE GLIDE
You've mastered this drill when you can glide along with a quiet upper body and your non-ski foot touches down lightly before pushing off. It's a challenging drill but it will really help develop your balance.
What's the payoff for being able to balance on one ski? You'll glide longer, thereby getting more distance for each stride. Balanced on one ski, you can keep the other ski off the snow a little longer, reducing drag. Shifting nimbly from one ski to the other, you'll get more kick out of your kick. Your stride will open up, your gait will smooth out. You'll ski faster with less effort.
Finally, let me leave you with my recommended solution to all of life's little problems: Kick, glide, repeat as necessary. See you on the trail.
Greg Patz skis and teaches Nordic skiing at Eaglecrest Snowsports School.