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Teaching Kids Cross Country Skiing

Cross-Country Skiing Drills for Kids

Fall is here in Alaska and that means snow and skiing is coming soon!  If you are an adult who is wanting to learn to ski this winter, or would like to teach kids cross country skiing, I hope the following drills and ideas will help in your quest to have some fun sliding on snow this winter!

preschool kids cross country skiing and happy to ski

How to get started cross-country skiing

I always tell other parents that if your kiddo can walk, they can ski. This may mean that they learn to walk in the summer and skiing on grass or carpet is a great place to learn! Of course, this is mostly for flat terrain learning as there isn’t too much glide offered on the grassy hill in your yard AND from experience you may have to deter them from wanting to try the stairs!

You also don’t need set ski tracks at a resort to learn to ski. A local park or your backyard if you have one, are sufficient places to learn! Keeping it short and fun and including snacks and hot drinks is key in kids wanting to keep skiing through the season and beyond.

Cross-Country Ski Gear for Kids

First things first: the appropriate gear.  Check out the Tales of a Mountain Mama Ski Gear link here for tips on what to buy and where to get it.

Kids don’t need much. If they are toddler age, the skis that strap on a regular snow boot are fine until age 3-4. 

Once they reach an age or ability where they are gliding more and shuffling less, than skis with ski boots that fit in a free-heel binding system is best. It is not recommended to incorporate ski poles in the early ages.

happy girl skier skiing without poles

Don’t use poles when learning to cross-country ski

Figuring out the timing and placement of the feet is plenty to worry about! I have delayed using poles with my own kids and the kids I have taught until 6 years old. A longer pole does come in handy for you as the adult, for pulling the kid up a hill that is too challenging for them or for them to hang on to as you pull them back to the car once they have reached their activity limit😉.

If your child is just learning to ski and you are also a beginner, it can work better for you to be on foot and your child to be on skis. Then you have less gear to get tangled when you are helping them through this learning process.

Once you have found an ideal setting to begin (mostly flat with an option of a slight hill nearby), put the skis on and shuffle around a little bit.  Think about soft in the knees (slightly bent knees) and arms swinging front and back.  Once you begin shuffling, be mindful of having the opposite ski forward as arm is forward. 

Beginner Cross Country Skiing Drills

The following are drills to help make skiing more fun and efficient! They are fun to do anywhere you can find snow, and will help beginners get the hang of it faster.

Dead bug drill- getting up from a fall

It is inevitable that there will be lots of falling, but to ease frustration, teaching a kid early on how to get up will build confidence quickly.

When they fall (hopefully injury free!), have them lay on their back with their legs and skis in the air.  Many kids find this funny and yell out “DEAD BUG!”  Next have them place their feet together, then bring them down to one side and place the skis on the snow (skis still parallel to each other).

Placing their hands in front, out by the ski tips, have them push up onto one knee, again keeping their skis parallel to each other and not crossing the tips.  Next, they should be able to push up with their hand onto both feet and stand up.  And celebrating the completion of getting up from a fall is positive and fun!

young skier practicing the dead bug getting up from a fall drill

Scooter Drill – aids in proper timing, placement of feet when kicking off, and balance

One ski drill

Have skier take off one ski.  Find a flat or very slight downhill area to practice.  Think about and share with the skier that this is much like riding a scooter in the summer. Think about the foot with the ski on as your scooter and the foot without the ski as the foot on the ground that will push off. 

When the skier begins, the “scoots” might be small, but as they get comfortable, they will be placing the foot on the ground further forward and therefore experiencing much larger glide phases.  After a few minutes, you can move the ski to the other foot and repeat. Much like other sports, you will find most everyone has a better side.

kids practicing the one ski scooter drill

Advanced one-ski drill

You can have fun with this drill by seeing how long they can glide on one ski and finding a slight downhill to experience more glide and more speed.  This drill not only teaches where to place your “kicking” foot but also is an incredible drill to help with balance and weight transfer.

Keep your kicking foot off the ground, glide further and further, and you’ll be learning a complete weight transfer. Once you have both skis on, you want to do this exact kicking foot placement and timing with two skis.

middle school skier feeling successful doing the scooter drill

Games on skis

If you are skiing with a group, skiing with one ski is a fun variation for many games as well. Games like Red Light/Green Light or Simon Says are two examples. In Red Light/Green Light, we also like to add Yellow light for slow down and Purple light is DANCE!!!!  Another way to make the scooter drill fun is to set up two cones (or any object at a distance you choose apart from each other) and see how few scoots it takes to get to the other cone. 

We know many kids love to challenge themselves with games like this and try and try again to see if they can master it in fewer scoots! Another level of this drill is for those kids who are competitive to see how fast they can scoot between the two cones as well. Playing around on one ski is also helpful if you don’t have enough gear for everyone, as you only need half the sets of skis for all to be able to participate!

Stopping on Skis- Making pizza!

skier practicing how to stop on skis with the pizza drill

How to stop on skis

Needing to stop quickly is a must in skiing! In Alaska, we share the trails with lots of wildlife and need to stop on a dime often!

How to make pizza on skis

To stop, the visual used is making a pizza slice, otherwise called the snowplow. You achieve a pizza slice by putting your ski tips together( but not crossed) and your ski tails further a part. Your weight is applied through your legs, knees and ankles onto the inside edge of the ski.  Knees are bent and with bent knees results bent ankles as well. The inside edges need to scrape (or plow) the snow to create the friction that will slow you down.

You can try this drill on flat ground and progress to steeper terrain when comfortable. Progressing the ability to stop quickly can also be achieved by playing start and stop games like Red Light/Green Light or another game like Tag.

Going Downhill- Learning to master downhills of all sizes!

skier going downhill without poles

How to go downhill

Start on a slight downhill so that it isn’t too intimidating. If there are groomed parallel tracks, begin descending outside of the tracks as it is easier to bust out a pizza pie stopping maneuver where you have room to plow the snow.

Proper Body Position for going downhill

A couple things to keep in mind when descending. Make sure knees are bent and hands are in front. Your body position is much stronger in this position, your center of gravity lower, and you’ll be much better prepared to adjust your balance.  To get started, shuffle the feet in a striding motion, until you begin sliding with gravity down the hill. Once moving, your skis can remain stationary and remember to keep those knees bent and hands in front.  Enjoy the ride!!

How to go around a downhill corner

If you come to a corner and have to change direction, I like to think of driving a car. When wanting to turn to the right, I have my hands out in front and I pretend I am turning my steering wheel to the right and my left ski tends to be slightly in front of the right (I also put more pressure on the outside turning ski). Do the opposite if turning to the left.

Go down hill with a friend!

Hills are so fun to do over and over again! And to add to the fun, grab a friend and link arms to head down together!

three skiers linked arms and trying the downhill together

How to go up a hill with more ease and less frustration

If your kid is old enough to go uphill on their own, the next drill will help in hill climbing. If they are super young, having them grab on to the strap side of the ski pole and you pull them up the hill seems to work well.  You will save your back by not having to bend over to push them up!

When learning to ski, there are two common ways to get up the hill. As a skier gets stronger, they will be able to master striding up lower incline hills but for the purpose of this post, we will focus on side stepping up and herring boning (named for the pattern the ski makes while climbing) up hills.

Side step

Side stepping up hills is the easiest way to go back up hill (if you don’t have a parent pulling or carrying kids up). This drill can first be mastered on flat ground by using objects like sticks to step over, before advancing to an uphill.

two skiers and a coach going through an obstacle course to work on side stepping

Once you have moved to an uphill to attempt this drill, have the skier place their skis perpendicular to fall line of the hill. This allows them to not slide backwards down the hill.

line of skiers side stepping up a hill

First have the skier move their uphill ski a few inches up and then move their ski that is lower on the hill closer to the uphill ski. Repeat this until they reach the top of the hill.  As they get better, they will be able to take bigger steps with higher frequency.  Once they reach the top of the hill, the skier can move using part of the star turn drill (see below) back to forward facing skis and begin striding again!

Herringbone

Herringbone is the next technique learned in hill climbing.  At the base of the hill, the skier should have their skis in a V shape. The tails of the skis are together, and the tips are apart (opposite of a pizza pie snowplow) Like the snowplow, have the skier roll their knees closer together, to put their weight on the inside edge.

This provides more grip/traction with the snow.  The skier should then move up the hill maintaining this V shape, alternating which ski moves uphill (like we do walking), and staying on your inside edges.

young skier working on the herringbone technique up a hill

Climb a hill like a duck

When my young kids were learning to herringbone, we pretended we were ducks, chirping “quack” as we went uphill.  Something to keep in mind is making sure most or all the skier’s weight is shifting to the ski that is moving uphill. Maintaining weight in the center will cause more slipping and more frustration.

Narrow versus Wide “V” for different hill steepness

Last thing to keep in mind when herringboning up a hill is the degree of the V is dependent on the steepness of the hill. You can climb a small uphill with a very narrow V but will need a much wider V for steeper hills.

Turning Around on Skis – Star Turn

skiers working on the step turn or star turn drill

This skill can come in handy when you get to a point where you want to turn around and head back the other direction.

Start by standing equally on both skis and if making a clockwise turn, step to the right at a slight angle with your right ski, then bring your left ski together with the right ski and repeat until you make a complete circle or “star” as I learned growing up.

Skiing should be fun!

As a reminder, skiing should be fun! When beginning to ski, the adventure does not have to be epic. If you live in a place where ski trails are far away, remember that a local park or a backyard is an easy place to practice, get comfortable on skis and a place to grow skiing abilities. 

Celebrate the accomplishments and show kids that even if you are an accomplished skier that you fall too! Kids seeing adults and peers learning new skills helps them understand that they may not be great at it from the start and that is perfectly fine!

authors kids skiing in costume

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.

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 😊

Photos are courtesy of Skiku Inc. and Calisa Kastning.

Teach Kids to Cross Country Ski Resources:

Kids Cross Country Skiing Drills

© 2021, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author. 

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