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Nordic skate skiing is taking Juneau by storm.
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This winter, more than 20 women completed a three-week, learn-to-skate-ski course at Eaglecrest Snowsports School and another 20 are about to begin a second session.
Because so many people are discovering this exhilarating sport, this is a good time to do a mid-season review of the basic skating technique.
While skate skiing involves skating with the legs plus vigorous poling with the upper body, this article will focus on the essential aspects of smooth skating. We'll review three essential components of smooth, efficient, and fun skating: Complete weight transfer, flexion and relaxed recovery.
Next time you go out skate skiing, set your poles aside and improve your skating.
Weight transfer for balance
Smooth skating requires balancing on the gliding ski, which can only be achieved by a complete transfer of weight from ski to ski. This process is challenging to learn because it requires the skier to entrust their contact with earth to a two-inch wide ski that is traveling over the snow at a good rate of speed. It is a skill that requires constant attention and practice - even for experienced skiers.
To check yourself on weight transfer while you skate, pay attention to what your non-gliding ski is doing. If you can lift the non-gliding ski off the snow and recover it under your body in a relaxed, slow fashion, that's a good indicator that you have fully transferred your weight and you are balanced on the gliding ski.
If the non-gliding ski slaps down onto the snow or touches down earlier than you would like, you may not have shifted fully to the gliding ski.
The best way to improve weight transfer is to practice rhythmic swaying from side to side while skating slowly.
Let your whole body sway over one ski, then over the other. Keep your ski tips pointed outward in a slight "V" to help the skating motion. Don't worry about stepping forward; keep your feet parallel and let the side-to side shifting of your weight be the force that moves your skis forward.
Take a quick look down at your gliding ski - with your weight fully transferred, your knee should be aligned directly over your ski and you hip should be over your knee.
Flex for power
Another key to smooth and powerful skating is flexion - the creation of angles at the ankle and knee.
Flexion is critical at the instant the ski touches down on the snow. In skate skiing, we flex at the ankle and knee, not the waist.
You can practice flexing while standing still. With your feet slightly apart, push your knees forward and down. When you feel you are about to fall forward, you've got the right amount of flexion.
Each skate motion should include a slight falling forward onto the new ski, created by that flex in the ankle. This provides forward momentum, helps you balance on the gliding ski and sets you up for a powerful skate-off.
With flexion, your bent leg is now ready to push off to provide skating power.
Relax for a second
The third element of smooth skating is the recovery - the path your ski takes after you extended your leg and skated off. The recovery ski is now off the snow and out to your side.
Balanced on your gliding ski, let the recovering ski drop naturally back under your body. You can actually rest your leg muscles for the brief second of the recovery phase (a welcome rest when you are repeating this motion hundreds of times). Smooth skaters have a natural, relaxed recovery.
To ensure you skate with a smooth recovery motion, practice bringing your recovering ski all the way back under your body to your gliding ski. Your ski should nearly brush the snow, and your heels should almost touch.
You are now perfectly positioned for your next skate.
Next time you go out skate skiing, check your weight transfer, flexion, and recovery. Ski smoothly and have fun. See you on the trail.
Greg Patz skis and teaches Nordic skiing at Eaglecrest Snowsports School.