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How to Skate Ski

How to Skate Ski: Tips for Adults and Kids

Skate Skiing for Beginners: Where to Start

Are you wanting to learn or improve on your skate skiing and don’t know where to start?

I hope the following drills and tips help you find yourself gliding across the snow with more efficiency, less effort and more speed (when you want it😉). Skiing with more efficiency means you can cover more distance with less effort. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?!

girl skate skiing with a smile

What is Skate Skiing?

Cross-country skiing on skate skis is a super fun way to enjoy your area trails in the winter.  Skate skiing was a technique first used in the 1980s.  Skate skiing is different than Classic or Traditional Skiing in that Skate skiing is similar to Ice skating. 

One of the main differences is how many different skate techniques you can use for greater efficiency on varying terrain. No only is it fun, but skate skiing is a fantastic winter workout.

Skate Ski Techniques

Follow along as I explain how to learn the basic Skate skiing techniques of V1, V2 and V2 alternate in addition to ways to get safely down the hill and around any corners.  Get ready to smile and move across the snow more efficiently this winter!

Work on one skate skiing skill at a time

My recommendation is to take one of these tips or techniques and work on one each time you ski. Taking all of this advice out on the trail during one outing will be overwhelming and cause confusion!

Proper Equipment for Skate Skiing

Two young girls with all their ski gear at their school in rural Alaska

Skate Skis

Ski Flex

Skate skiing requires skis that are shorter than classic skis. They are also lighter, narrower, stiffer and have a longer camber (the area of the ski that is arched) than classic skis.

The flex of the ski is determined by your weight. A local ski shop will be able to properly fit you. 

If your skis are too soft, your weight will be mostly on the middle of the ski and you will feel like your ski is swiveling. You will feel very squirrely on a too soft of a ski! Too stiff of skis, you will always be skiing on the tips and tails of the ski and not be able to edge properly and therefore feel out of control! A properly fit ski makes the experience of skiing much less frustrating and way more fun!

Skate Skiing Poles and Boots

Skate poles are longer than classic poles (approx. 90% of your height in cm.) and boots are higher and have a solid cuff around the ankle for more support.

Where to learn to skate ski

Best location to begin

The following drills are to be practiced out on your ski trail.  When just learning, find a flat area that has a gentle slope to practice.  The stadium of a local ski area or a wide part of a straight trail can be the perfect place to begin.

Youth in Western Alaska out practicing skate skiing without poles around their village

Skate Skiing Body Position

To get a feel for how skate skiing should feel, you can practice in place. Standing equally on each ski and upright you will find that you maintain a standstill position. As soon as you bend your ankles and knees and move your hips forward, you will see your skis move on their own!  This is the basic body position you want- skis moving on their own power JUST by how you position your body! Less work equals more fun! 

Once you have found the body position where your skis glide on their own, try moving from side to side, transferring as much of your body weight to the other ski. Don’t worry about your poles right now. You can either have them off or keep them on, but up and off the snow for this drill.

Keep repeating this from side to side, trying to maintain square shoulders and hips to the direction of travel.

For all skating positions, remember to keep your shoulders and hips square to the direction of travel. Your shoulders and waist should not twist or turn. If this happens, there is no way you can use your strong core muscles while skiing and your body will fatigue much sooner.

Additionally, be mindful of where you initiate the glide phase. Your foot should come back underneath your hip before placing the ski down.

Watch the video below for a demo of proper skate skiing body position

Group of kids working on no pole skating near their school

No Pole Skating

Skating without poles is a great way to get comfortable on skate skis. Use the general body position and weight transfer tips from above. As you get more comfortable gliding on each ski, progress by swinging the opposite hand towards the tip of the opposite ski. You should feel the momentum of the forward arm swing help you in gliding further.  If this becomes easy on a flat, find a gradual downhill to practice as this allows you to glide even further and faster due to the downhill gravity.

Watch this video for a demonstration of no pole skating

Ski Placement

Each time you land on the gliding ski, you want to land on a flat ski. When you begin to push off, your foot will be traveling away from you causing the final push off to come from the inner edge of the ski. A flat ski is a fast ski but you can’t make a strong push if you’re not on your edge!  This allows you to go faster, just by where you land on your ski.

Notice how the ski and leg you are pushing off of goes from bent to straight. Pushing off of a bent leg, allows you to push longer than if you would land on a straight leg and you also engage large muscle groups helping delay fatigue.

young girl working on V1 timing and good weight transfer to one ski

Weight Transfer

You can also take the weight transfer drill a little further. If there is a classic track, place your right ski in the track nearest the skate lane.  Keep that ski moving straight forward and your left ski in a skating motion. This drill forces you to weight transfer to the ski moving straight forward before moving to the glide ski again.

Notice how your body is transferring weight from ski to ski in this drill. This weight transfer is the same idea when both skis are outside of the track. Notice how when you initiate the push of the ski, that your foot returns underneath your hip.  If you set the ski down shoulder width apart or even further, your ski doesn’t glide as far and you are less strong than you are when initiating the push from underneath your hip. 

Watch this video for a demonstration on weight transfer

Complete Weight Transfer

Work on trying to glide on one ski, with all your body balanced above. Notice when you begin with knees and ankles bent, you can glide a lot further with each glide than if you would do the same drill with straight legs.  You are also stronger in this position. 

The important part about complete weight transfer is that the non-gliding leg is resting.  Even though these are mere seconds that it is resting, that time adds up over the course of a long ski and in turn allows you to delay fatigue. If you maintain your weight in the center, both legs are always working.

Two students skiing on the river ice and practicing good weight transfer while they play a game

1-1-Thousand…

Practice this drill on a flat area.  Try counting 1-1-thousand on each gliding ski. If you have good balance, try counting 1-1-thousand, 2-1-thousand.  You may find that you have one side stronger than the other which is very typical in those learning to ski. 

Skate Skiing Technique Types

author enjoying skate skiing in the Alaska backcountry by using V1 hill climbing technique

V1- Hill Climbing Technique

This is the technique used to climb hills. Most skiers find they have a naturally stronger side and with work can be strong on both sides. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on one side.  The timing of V1 is placing both poles down and one ski down at the same time.

The pole placement in the snow is just in forward of your toes. Lean the planted poles forward and plant them closer to middle of the boot if on a steep incline.  The hand is close to the level of your ear and your elbows are slightly bent.  (see video below for visual example)

Watch the video below for a V1 demonstration

V1 Timing

The first progression of V1 timing is to practice without poles. Imagine your poles are in your hands when performing this drill. For working on timing, we will use the Tick Tock drill. Imaginary poles hitting the ground at the same time as the first ski, while saying Tick followed by core staying compressed and moving to the non-poling side glide ski and saying Tock. Don’t forget your basic body position of bent ankles and knees!

We do the same timing and drill with poles.

The timing of V1 technique has both poles and one ski hitting the ground at the same time as the core compresses (think doing a small crunch with your core to help push the poles backward).  When the hands reach the hips, you transfer to the non-poling side, releasing the hands from the poles past the hips. Once the ski is declining in speed or your balance requires you to change position, you begin this sequence again.

Young girl practicing V1 timing technique

Full Pole phase

In all skiing techniques, completing a full poling phase allows you to use your core muscles, your lat muscles and your triceps! The release of the poles beyond the hips gives the hands and arms time to rest before beginning the next poling phase.  Releasing the poles past the hips also means an even greater pendulum swing forward to initiate the next poling motion.

Work on your weak side V1 as well

Once you improve in V1 it is important to try your “weaker side.” This requires switching the “tick’ phase (pole plant timed with ski set) to the other ski. The reason you want to be able to V1 on both sides, is that there are many hills out there that are side angled and its useful to pole on the higher side of the hill.

Steep Climbs

The steeper the climb, the shorter your poling and glide phase is.  At first, you may find it really hard to maintain V1 technique up a very steep climb.  Over time you will progress and with practice and gained strength you are certain to master V1 up what were once challenging hills! And don’t forget to celebrate the progress!

V2- Flat and gradual climbs

 V2 is a technique used for flats and very gradual climbs. It is also used when reaching the top of a hill and used to gain more speed before going downhill (for those seeking ultimate speed😊)

V2 Three steps drill

The three part drill in the following video is a progression drill to help master the V2 technique.

Step 1:  Goal of this drill is to work in a zig-zag direction. Angled to the trail at 45-degrees, shoulders and hips included in this angle, skis together and poles ready to double pole. Double pole followed by moving skis one by one to the opposite 45-degree direction.  Repeat this for 50 yards or so.

Step 2: Still focused on the zig zag pattern, double pole and step with the inner ski to the opposite 45 degree direction and maintain balance on just that ski. Repeat this for 50 yards or so.

Step 3: Is actual V2 technique!  Your hips and shoulders are now square to the direction of travel. You still maintain the same timing from the previous step. Double pole step with one ski (other ski comes off the snow), double pole, step onto the next ski. Poles are hitting the ground before the glide ski. When the hands reach at/about the hips, it is time to glide and finish the poling phase past your hips.

Watch this video demo of the V2 progression for skate skiing

V2 Body Position

The body position of V2 is square shoulders and hips to the trail in front of you. The timing of V2 Is double pole, glide, double pole, glide.  You begin with both poles high, compressing the core muscles in what would be a mini crunch if you were on the ground, followed by the poles hitting the snow in front of the ski boots.

Once your hands reach your hips, you are in a deeper crunch position and transferring your weight to the other ski and repeating on the other ski/side. The ski/leg that is not in the gliding phase, is relaxing and straight.

V2 Alternate for sustained flat terrain

V2 alternate is used on flat terrain.  It really is half of the V2 and can be done on either side. The timing of V2 alternate is glide, pole (on same side initial glide), compress core and transfer weight over to non poling glide ski and glide! Repeat.  This can be done on either side. 

One benefit of V2 alternate is since half the poling of V2, the upper body is getting more rest and therefore you can sustain energy for long distance skiing or racing.

Watch this video for a demo of V2 alternate skate skiing

Going Downhill

Much of the same techniques are needed in going downhill on skate skis as with classic skiing. If you missed the last post about learning to ski, check it out HERE.  As you get more comfortable, many hills can be skied down with parallel skis.  When approaching a corner, skate skis are shorter and are easier to maneuver for the average skier and use step turns. This can be practiced in a wide-open space. 

When step turning, you should be in a strong low position- bent knees and ankles and hands forward.  Lots of small steps and staying light on your feet will aid in getting around the corner a bit easier.

When you are descending a small hill, and you’ve gained more ability to balance and a stronger desire for speed, you can also “free skate” down the hill much like the first skate drill that was mentioned first. Hands pointing towards the opposite ski tip.  

Speed, if desired is fun to experience! Take your time and with confidence will come more willingness to increase your speed with skiing.

As with any activity, learning takes time. As mentioned in the beginning, take one of these techniques or drills each time you ski and focus on it solely.  Over time and as you have mastered one drill, move on to the next.  With practice will come improvement for all ages! If you are a visual learner, having someone take a video of your technique for you to look at can help in seeing where you can focus on technique tweaks the next time you head out.

It is never too late to learn to ski and it is a fun lifelong activity for the whole family!

author and her three daughters out on skis for the first time this season

About the author, Calisa, and her experience with nordic skiing

Calisa Kastning is the Executive Director of Skiku Inc. Skiku takes volunteers and gear to the rural villages of Alaska to teach the youth to ski. Prior to her work at Skiku, Calisa coached collegiately for many years in addition to coaching community programs in Anchorage, Alaska.

She is also the mother to three young daughters who enjoy skiing most when there are hills, costumes and hot chocolate involved in the adventure 😊

Calisa finds so much joy watching others experience gliding across the snow! She personally enjoys skiing with her husband and/or girls, but also feels incredibly rejuvenated when getting out to ski solo or with girlfriends.

Photos are courtesy of Skiku Inc. and Calisa Kastning.

Learning to Cross-Country Ski Resources:

Skate Skiing VIDEO tutorials

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