XC Skiing

Many competent and downright excellent classic and skating skiers still struggle on the downhills, especially with turns. They are comfortable with speed, have excellent balance, and know how to move from ski to ski. So what’s missing? Essential to mastering downhills is learning to adjust your technique for different terrain. Steve Hindman, author of Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness, offers a few pointers on downhill maneuvers for all snow conditions.

Riding the Rails

Even on downhills with good tracks you will sometimes feel like your skis are going to stray out of the tracks as you turn. To stay in control as you “ride the rails,” envision where you would go if you did blow out.

To balance your weight over the outside ski and ensure that you stay in the tracks, turn at the waist and face your hips, chest, arms, and head in that direction as you roll your skis onto their edges, riding against the sides of the track. If you do come out, you will be balanced over the outside ski as it slides forward and sideways on edge. Step off this outside edge and continue to step turn through the corner to complete the turn.

On Fresh, Firm Snow

When edged, narrow skis that lack sidecut may resist sideslipping and want to go straight. Avoid this problem by moving into the sideslip before you get to the turn. Lighten your skis by making an upward movement (extend at the ankles, knees, and waist). Then roll your ankles to lift the down hill edges slightly as you twist your feet to turn the skis sideways. With your skis slightly edged and sliding sideways as you enter the turn, you’ll be able to guide your skis by turning your feet and adjusting the edge as needed.

Balance over your outside ski by bending sideways at the waist. Make sure your outside leg is flexed to avoid falling backward.

On Ice

Don’t try to edge more to get a grip on ice—instead, keep your speed low and make small and rapid step turns. Avoid any move that forces you to rely on one ski or one edge. If you need to bring your skis sideways for additional speed control, use more of a sideslip than a turn, with your skis turned well across the trail but delicately tipped on edge.

If you have to edge more, drive both hands downhill and across your skis on either side of your feet, with your chest facing directly downhill as much as possible as you bend both sideways and forward at the waist. If you slide out of this position, stay collected over your feet with your skis below you. Press the sides of your feet and skis into the snow to stop.

Practice falling and stopping on icy trails before you face an urgent need to do so or stay off hills when it is icy.

On Refreezing Snow

Use many small step turns on frozen snow to negotiate the corners and move quickly from foot to foot as if running in place even when going straight. This will prevent your skis from getting stuck and force you to keep moving your core forward to stay over your feet.

On Grabby Snow

To make parallel or wedge turns on lightweight gear in grabby snow, start your turn before you pick up too much speed. You come quickly to a stop when you fall in thick snow, so keep your speed down or know when and where to bail out. Sit down sooner rather than later. Practice step turns in advance by making hundreds of tiny, frenetic step turns back and forth as you go down a steeper groomed trail in decent snow conditions.

-- Adapted from Cross-Country Skiing: Building Skills for Fun and Fitness by Steve Hindman, The Mountaineers Books, 2005

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