This is part of a series for bike dorks who are nordi-curious.
Alright! So you've got skis, boots, poles, you know where you can ski locally or not-that-locally, and you're ready to rock. Of course you don't know anything about how to do it, but that's ok, I'm sure you'll rip it up.
Part 3: Moving On Skis
Holy crap, after all this anticipation, you should definitely put all your equipment on and go skiing. I'm gonna give you a bunch of advice about how to ski, but it won't mean anything until you've tried an failed. First... you must know what you do not know. Put your gear on and go "skate" for ten minutes. I'll wait.
So you only made it 100 yards? Nice.
Ok, look me in the eye. You should take a lesson. This sport is not like running. Your body does not intuitively know how to locomote (not a real word) on skis, and it won't figure it out very fast without some guidance. You can read thousands of words here about ski technique, and it is nothing compared to what a semi-competent coach could teach you in person. You don't think it's silly to pay for a 'cross clinic, right? It's silly not to pay for a ski lesson if you've never done it.
That being said, you're not going to have a coach/instructor following you around for the rest of your life, so let's talk about how to ski. I'm expecting that the nordies who read this blog will nitpick whatever technique advice I give you, but just remember, that's like chastising someone for the tire selection when they can't even ride a bike without training wheels. Don't let them bring you down! I can be trusted!
The foundation of everything is balance. Propelling yourself anywhere relies on the right movements in sync with weight transfer; you don't just need to balance while you're standing in place, you need to balance from to pushing off a ski, to gliding on the other ski, to transitioning that ski back to its edge, to pushing off it. There's a lot of stuff going on.
So, step 1, throw away your poles. Not "in the trash" away, but get those suckers out of your hands. They are only confusing the issue. How can you figure out your balance when you're trying to get all four of your limbs to move in sync?
Let's go for a ski on the flattest, easiest piece of trail you can find without poles.
Remember, you have effectively ZERO traction. You cannot walk forward, you can't push off a flat ski. The only way to move is to put one ski on edge, and then push off perpendicular to that ski. You're going make a series of pushes like this:
I know, you're looking at that diagram and saying, "does he think I'm an idiot?"
Don't take it personally. It's not your fault your brain is screaming "GO FORWARD" and your feet start pushing backward instead of sideways. If they don't, awesome, your brain has a beneficial mutation!
For the rest of you, focus on that diagram and weight transfer. Push back and forth from ski to ski, trying to get comfortable with having your weight entire on one ski for a moment. You will probably fall over at some point.
If you've ever ice skated or roller skated, you probably have some bad habits, because you're used to having a "pick" on the front of your skate, so you could just dig your toe and go places. Focus on pushing laterally with the ball of your foot, not backwards from the toe.
After the push-off, your foot does *not* pick up and swing behind you (like you might on ice skates). There's a giant ski on it, remember? As soon as your push-off foot leaves the snow, it comes back in a straight line until it's next to the foot your gliding on, where it waits, to become the next glide foot.
Another common beginner problem is "slippery edges," where you go to push off the ski and it goes sliding across the snow. There's two reasons for this -- either you aren't putting enough edge pressure on the ski with the ball of your foot, or you're not pushing perpendicular to the ski (backwards a bit, maybe?), so the edge isn't preventing movement.
Yes, I might be a little obsessed with getting you not to push your ski backward.
So I've been pretending your arms didn't exist. In reality, they're probably flying around wildly as you try to correct your balance and rotation with every "stride." Don't worry about it, that's why we got rid of your poles, remember? Don't be shy about swinging them back and forth with each stride, they're heavy (cuz you've lifting, right?) and they help transfer weight. And that's the foundation of everything.
Confused yet? Overwhelmed? Hell, I'm barely hanging on, and I know exactly what I'm trying to describe. And guess what, I bet this has already been explain better... somewhere else... on the internet!
This video is really good. It's like, everything I was going to say, plus some other stuff that never occurred to me, and since it's a video you can actually see what's being discussed!
One thing he does in that video is swing his arms alternately across this body; I'm not actually down with that in the long term (for now, you just do what you gotta do, though) because it promotes hip and shoulder rotation. Ideally, your hips and shoulder point straight ahead during the entire motion.
Is there a market for bikers-on-skis ski clinic in Boston? Would you show up for an afternoon of me bossing you around and trying to get you to haul slightly more ass on skis? Drop me an email or a comment if you're interested, if there's enough demand, I'll put something together.
Tune in tomorrow, where we talk about how your spindly little biker arms can be used to move you forward.