1. CLASSIC SKIING WITH FISH SCALES (AKA WAXLESS SKIS)
If you’re new to skiing, cross-country is a great way to start. Begin by classically skiing (i.e. moving your feet diagonally), as that will help you to get used to the movements; and try to find skis with ‘fish scales’ on the bottom. They have their own built-in grip so you won’t have to worry about putting wax on the bottom and can concentrate on walking down the snow. That’s a great way to get started – you’ll fall over less, be able to move more and it will really build your confidence quickly. By the end of the day you’ll be running on the snow, going downhill faster and having a good time. Most people enjoy hiking so by performing a similar motion the movements will feel more familiar and less intimidating.
2. LEAVE YOUR EGO AT HOME & DON’T BE AFRAID TO FALL
Whether you’re a beginner or experienced skier, don’t be afraid to fall. Adults are especially afraid to fall but the faster you travel, the less the impact will be and the less injury you’ll experience if you do fall, compared to if you’re hesitant. Plus, even if you do fall, it’s unlikely that you’ll hurt yourself so, to improve, you have to find your inner child and adventurer. Don’t be afraid to have fun and leave your ego a home– that’s important! - because cross-country skiing is more challenging than it looks. I can’t guarantee you won’t fall down when you ski for the first time but you just need to embrace it and laugh.
3. BUILD CORE STRENGTH & GOOD POSTURE.
It sounds simple but they help a lot. For most people, the most challenging component of learning to ski is balance. As soon as somebody is off balance, they tend to bend at the hips and ankles, often becoming hunched as a ‘protective mechanism’ but this doesn’t work. It makes things worse.
Stand tall and keep that core strong. The more balanced you are, the better posture you’ll have on the snow. Keep that athletic position (i.e. your shoulders, hips and knees stacked over each other, and bend slightly but not too pronounced). Do this and you’ll enjoy the experience far more, feel more confident and find yourself skiing faster too.
4. MOVE YOUR ARMS
So many people think you need to keep your arms out from your body when skiing but, actually, it’s important to keep your biceps tight to your body and make lots of smaller, direct movements, particularly with your forearms. The arms are built from lots of robust, dynamic muscles that will give you the strength and power to help you move down the track with speed and control. Don’t let your legs, core and physics do all of the work; take control. Use your arms to push, drive and experiment with your skiing. That way, you’ll be able to turn corners and explore different terrains of your choice, rather than letting nature take its course, so to speak.
It’s also where stability comes in. The better your stability, the better you’ll be able to use your arms and poles to your advantage because you won’t need to use them for balance anymore. The closer you can keep your arms to your body, the better.
5. TRAIN WITH ROLLER SKIS
Roller skis are a brilliant tool to train with, especially in the summer or if you’re located far from snow. They resemble long roller blades and you can use the same poles and boots you ski with. We use them a lot and often have roller ski races – they’re a lot of fun but a bit dangerous because, with the wheels and the smooth pavement, you can go really fast. It’s absolutely crazy but if you love adrenalin sports, you’ll have a blast. Intermediate – Advanced
6. TRAIN WITH SKI SKATES
Most ski stores sell ski skates (i.e. special ice-skates that you can strap your ski boots into and use to travel long distances quickly aided by ski poles). They’re a cross between skis and ice-skates but with longer, wider blades than an ice skate has so that they facilitate long distance travel. They’re a really cool, effective way to train and are very popular in countries like Finland, Sweden and the mid-west of the USA where there’s a lot of natural ice. Both skiing and ice-skating are incredibly popular in those countries so it’s quite interesting to see the two sports combined.
‘I love waiting until the ice is nice and smooth on the great lakes and then cross-country skiing with the poles and skates across them. It’s stunning and the smooth ice provides a different challenge to the snow, enabling much faster, more slippery movements to navigate.’
7. ISOLATED BODY PART DRILLS
Ski drills designed to isolate different body parts help to create a balanced body when skiing and ensure that all parts are working well together and improving, rather than relying on an area that is already strong. By isolating the muscle groups, you ensure that every component has the physical and technical strength required to race with power, strength, control and ease, and over time you’ll notice big improvements.
Skiing without poles is great for strengthening the legs, getting them into a strong and powerful position for racing. Whereas, keeping your legs completely still and using the poles to push with your arms is a great way to build core strength and powerful arms and shoulders.
8. LEARN HOW TO CRASH
Forewarned is forearmed. Cross-country skiing is much safer than alpine skiing or snowboarding because you don’t travel as fast but you can still injure your shoulders if you fall on them the wrong way. By learning how to crash safely before you’re in that scenario, it means that, if ever you are about to crash, you won’t panic. Instead, you’ll know how to position your body to limit the impact and limit injury.
If you’re about to crash, NEVER put your hands above your head. If you’re falling backwards and your shoulder rises above your head, it can lead to painful shoulder injuries, including torn ligaments and dislocation – typical injuries for winter sports involving snow sliding. Rotator cuff injuries are also common, mainly due to over-use, so try to strengthen the surrounding muscles with gym exercises and physiotherapy.
‘That’s great advice. It’s the same with figure skating. At level 2, they teach you how to bunny hop – that’s where you trip yourself up with the toe pick at the front of the figure skate, fly into the air with loss of balance, and learn how to land nicely on the same/other foot and continue skating seamlessly. Preparation is always key and, as an added bonus, it will prepare you for other skills such as spins and jumps where you need to take off and land in the same way. There are lots of transferable skills but the main thing is that, by doing so, it takes away the fear factor, which can only be an advantage.’
Andy Newell an American cross-country skier and active campaigner against climate change. Follow his journey to the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics on Twitter