Demystifying the key technical elements of Nordic skiing

Nordic TechniqueIf you would like to ski rather than walk on your skis, then you need to make your skis glide. To achieve glide, you must incorporate the technical elements of skiing: balance, initiating movements with the body core, co-ordination and timing, forward knee drive, and poling action.

Balance is critical to both skate and classic skiing. If you’re not confident when you put all of your weight over the gliding ski, you’ll hinder your glide. Practice without poles, alternating your weight over each ski, gradually increasing the length of your glide as you develop confidence.

The second element is initiating movement from the core. The leg movement begins from the hip. In skating, the hip additionally must rotate toward the glide ski. The abdominals and upper back muscles are key in initiating the poling action; perform a “crunch” before the arms begin their work.

With correct co-ordination and timing, the muscle groups, from larger to smaller, provide efficient forward propulsion. For example, the poling action is initiated with a contraction of the abs, followed by the shoulders, then elbow, and then finally the wrist extends. To practise this, keep your skis in the track, and practise double poling without any leg action. The leg push is initiated by the hips, followed by the glutes, before the knee and ankle are extended. For optimal performance, the upper and lower body must be timed together.

Forward knee drive increases the force applied during the push phase. Driving your knee forward ensures that the ankle and knee are bent over the glide ski. This will help with balance and allow for greater extension of the pushing leg.

Arm action should provide additional propulsion and set the tempo. If done incorrectly, the arms can work against you. The forward moving pole tip should land evenly with the opposite foot. Planting the pole further forward is a common error, resulting in a “braking” action. At pole plant, the elbow is bent 90 to 120 degrees, and the hand is in front of the shoulder. The elbow remains bent until the hand reaches the hip, then the forearm extends past the hip and relaxes the grip before swinging forward. Pole straps should be adjusted tightly enough that the pole grip will come back into the hand when it’s brought forward.

There’s more to Nordic skiing than heading out for a walk on your skis. It’s inspiring to see skiers glide by without apparent effort. Don’t be fooled — they’ve put in significant mileage and focus on technique to achieve that relaxed and fluid motion.

If you want to improve your glide, choose just one element to work on each time you ski. It’s always helpful to be watched and corrected, even videotaped and analyzed, by a qualified instructor. It’s exhilarating to put all of the elements together and to feel your skis glide easily over the snow.