If you’re of the mindset that “tough” and “fun” are two sides of the same coin,
Then Nordic skiing is a sport where you can cash in your change for some serious fitness currency. Recently, Outside Magazine set out to measure and determine— in part by querying a multitude of elite athletes from different disciplines—what was the “toughest sport in the world.”
As you may have guessed, Nordic skiing was voted the world’s toughest sport because “it requires the endurance of ultra running, the sprint speed of mountain biking, the mental toughness of open water swimming, and, at times, situations of real exposure.
To be successful, athletes must maintain unparalleled cardiovascular fitness in addition to muscular strength and coordination.” Roger that and kudos to all of the tough-as-nails Nordies out there!
Let’s not forget that the flip side of all this “toughness” is an equally formidable FUN FACTOR. Regardless of your age, aspirations, or ability, nordic skiing is inherently fun, playful, and all around good for your body. Perhaps Fritjof Nansen—Norwegian explorer, scientist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and first person to traverse Greenland on skis in 1888—said it best:
"You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning than most of us can ever comprehend.”
Copy that… Nordic skiing should come with a warning label: This sport is ridiculously fun, addictive, and will do wonders for your health IF you do the requisite training and technique work necessary to get to the fun and addictive.
TO MAXIMIZE FUN AND MANAGE YOUR TOUGHNESS HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO DO:
1 GET HARDCORE FIT
When it comes to Nordic skiing, there’s no sugar-coating the stark reality that the more fit you are, the more fun you are going to have.
Normal fitness training isn’t going to cut it when you're training for an abnormally tough, complicated, and multi-dimensional sport like Nordic skiing. First off, you’re going to need boatloads of balance—one foot, both feet, front to back, and side to side—in order to simply stay upright on your ski(s).
Once you can balance on one leg—sometimes traveling at speeds up to 20 mph—on a two-inch-wide, six-foot-long, polyethylene-based appendage, you'll need superior total-body muscular strength and power to accelerate your skis and poles. This type of distal mobility and extremity power production is not possible without a high level of proximal stability, i.e. a strong and stable core. You can’t shoot—at least not well—a cannon mounted on a marshmallow in a canoe.
All of the balance, power, and core-stability in the world won’t do you any good if you cannot effectively/synchronously/sequentially coordinate your movements.
Having power but lacking coordination is like having an orchestra without a conductor…
All the musicians/muscles are there performing their individual jobs but without an effective conductor—central nervous system—there is no music; only noise. The solution? Consistently perform total-body exercises that teach your body to effectively link movements together and make muscular music. When you watch elite Nordic skiers flying effortlessly down and up the trail you are witnessing the magic of muscles making music with perfectly synchronized powerful movements. Beautiful to behold, magnificent to master and perform!
Last but not least, if you want to ski for more than ten seconds at a time, you'll need a highly developed cardiovascular engine to aerobically—and anaerobically—sustain your balance, power-production, coordination, and core-stability. And because Nordic skiing involves going uphill and defying gravity, your efforts will be best translated into high-speed fun if your body is not overburdened by superfluous adiposity— i.e. leaner=less work, more speed, bigger smiles.
When training for sports that are complicated and multi-dimensional there’s always good news and bad news. The bad news is it's always challenging, never-ending, and sometimes impossible to see progress.
The good news is that only by doing the challenging, never-ending, HardCore Training that it takes to get better is it possible to have the top-shelf fun and happiness that you deserve from your sports and your life.
2 LEARN PROPER TECHNIQUE
Nordic skiing is complicated. Nordic skiing is not intuitive. Nordic skiing is inherently difficult.
Nordic skiing is incredibly FUN if you learn how to do it “properly” from the get-go.
Properly means knowing how to put your body (hands, arms, torso, legs, and feet) into a biomechanically favorable position to exert force—with poles and skis—that translates into forward motion/velocity. The more you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and how to best accomplish it, the more fun and less work Nordic skiing is going to be.
A great ski instructor is not only a great skier, but also someone who possesses a keen understanding of kinesiology and can effectively demonstrate and articulate how you can modify your body position and movements to ski with more power and less tension.
3 PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
If you’re interested in becoming better, faster, and having more fun, try to focus—even if it's only for 15 minutes— on some aspect of technique every time you ski. Elite skiers spend sizeable chunks of time working on fundamentals and isolating parts that contribute to the whole, e.g. legs only, arms only, single pole. The list of what you can practice and struggle to perfect is endless… In an effort to optimize force vectors and efficient power-production,
here are a handful of on-snow at speed questions you can ask yourself when you’re feeling obsessed with finding "effortless" speed:
where are your hands, where are your elbows, where is your head, where are your hips, where are your feet, where is your weight, what is your right/left leg doing, what is your right/left arm doing, what is your core doing, what are your feet doing, what are your joint angles—elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle—as you initiate a stroke??? Endless work but infinitely rewarding when it all comes together and you’re sliding speedily and effortlessly along a slippery sheet of crystallized corduroy with the biggest child-like grin your body and mind can muster.
4 SKI WITH BETTER SKIERS
In addition to HardCore Training, taking lessons, and practicing, it's always a good idea to ski behind athletes who have better technique.
Try to mimic their movements stroke for stroke; try to go at the same speed but with less effort; play around with different techniques and get a feel for what is more advantageous on a particular section of terrain.
The best Nordic skiers in the world train with—and surround themselves with—the best Nordic skiers in the world. Although there’s no substitute for solo technique time on your skinny skis, it's equally important to spend time shadowing skiers with more refined technique.
5 HAVE FUN
All work and no play will make you a very boring and stale skier. Always remember that you’re out there, I’m out there, we’re all out there—regardless of age, ability and aspirations—to have FUN. Yes it's work, yes it's hard, yes there’s always going to be someone better, faster, and stronger…
But yes, it's fun to just be out there doing your best and connecting with nature and your inner-athlete animal spirit.
Don’t let comparison, race results, or some expectation of how good you should be steal the joy from simply bringing out your best Nordic skiing on any given day and enjoying the process. Do the work, reap the rewards, and smile your way through winter while your skinny skis slide magically along the exquisite corduroy ribbons we are so lucky to have traversing our backyard wilderness.
Have a great winter and please don’t hesitate to reach out (208.720.1829) or visit HardCoreTrainingCenter.com if you need help finding new ways to have more fun on your skinny skis.
Bill Nurge was born and raised in New Jersey. He started nordic skiing at the age of 27 when he moved to Sun Valley and has since posted top 10 finishes at the ’91 North American Championships (Biathlon), ’92 Olympic Trials (Biathlon), ’97 and ’08 World Masters Nordic Championships, and Boulder Mountain Tour. Last year at the age of 53 he finished second overall—all athletes over the age of 30—at the U.S. Masters National Nordic Championships races (10k classic and 42k skate). He is currently training for the World Masters and Engadin Ski Marathon in Switzerland next March.