FIVE steps to become a better NORDIC SKIER
After three decades of skate-skiing the same ‘ol North Valley trails, you’d think I’d be bored out of mind by now. But the truth is, I still feel like a kid in a candy store every time my carbon-fiber banana peels catch a ride southbound on the Harriman Express A-train. In myriad ways, trails are like people: they have their ups and downs, sunshine and storms, unmarked hazards and slippery slopes…And they don’t change much over time! Like any meaningful long-term-relationship, to keep your skate-skiing romance with the same trails alive and well, you need to be creative and change it up. Here are 6 of my favorite ways to put some pizzaz in your skate-ski Fun-Outs :)
1. Espresso shots—
Thankfully it’s not a crime, because we’re all so guilty of skiing the same trails, at the same pace, with the same technique. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a redundant adaptation stimulus, the body and brain thrive on FUNctional mutations. To facilitate your evolution as a skate-skier, try occasionally infusing 10-30 very short duration (5-15 seconds) “pickups” into your fun-outs. For best results, once you’ve completed the requisite 10-20 minute progressive warmup, gradually throttle-up your 37 trillion celled organism into the “espresso-shot” accelerations. The goal here is to stimulate—not annihilate-- the neuromuscular system to “find” and briefly sustain, efficient and relaxed speed. If you do these right they’re super fast and fun, because they’re too short to be “hard."
You can’t output an efficient whole (V1 & V2 skate techniques) if you input two inefficient halves (legs skating & upper-body poling). Skate-skiing is ridiculously complicated, which is why it’s a good idea to spend some quality time working on the better half/each half of the power producing couple. Depending on the terrain and snow conditions—and fitness/strength—the relative contributions of the upper and lower body will vary, but should hover somewhere around 50/50. To insure each half fully understands—and commits to-- its complex role in proficiently corkscrewing the Center of Mass down the trail, try practicing 20-60 minutes of no-poles skiing and/or double-poling every week. Over time, you will discover increased power and efficiency from each half, resulting in a significantly improved and happier “whole.”
3. Dirty thirty—
To effectively combat physiological ennui-- the arch nemesis of improvement-- try adding a 30 minute fast and “comfortably hard” effort to your time on snow. As always, make sure you are sufficiently warmed up before knocking on the front door of the NPC (Nordic Pain Cave). And word to the wise: rather than barge in and get berated with a beat-down of lactic acid, mindfully forgo the first few minutes of writing metabolic checks your body can’t cash, and opt instead to stealth-fully tip-toe down the hallowed halls of the NPC into the venerated endorphin-rich back chambers. I like to focus on going fast and having fun, rather than simply going “hard.” As all of us Nordic 12-steppers know too well:
it’s real easy to ski hard and slow, and real hard to ski easy and fast!
4. Get good grades—
One of my favorite ways to spice up the Harriman Trail is to start at Easley Hot Springs and ski north—usually up & around the Galena perimeter trails—with easy/low HR V2-only technique. To keep it interesting, I try to go fast and relaxed on the latter half of every uphill-graded section. On the way back, I try to ski—with whatever technique is optimal-- everything with a downhill gradient FAST like a Formula One race-car. This usually ends up being a fairly long duration session so be sure and meter your efforts so you don’t blow an engine and end up skangry/ski-angry :)
5. Throw the DICE—
We're all lucky enough to have inherited a superbly designed Dynamic Intelligent Core Engine TM from our gritty homo-erectus ancestors roughly 1.8 million years ago. Back in the early days of bipedalism, survival was largely based on the ability to intelligently employ the Core-Engine (all muscles and fascia connected to the pelvis)) to throw, chop, and hammer. I would bet my Billy Goat Loppet winning Fischer SpeedMax skis, that not one of our cave-dwelling relatives was trying to “minimize twisting/rotation”--by bracing and maintaining a stiff/stable core platform--while they hammered rocks into weapons, and threw spears at protein-rich animals. Back in the day, if you moved like a turtle and didn’t master certain multi-dimensional movement patterns, you didn’t eat, and probably wound up in the belly of a beast. So rather than trying to ski like a turtle—widely lauded for their “stable” cores, but not so much for land-speed—try allowing your body to throw, chop, and hammer while you skate, pole, and dance your way through the snowy k-markers of our Heaven on Earth :)
6. Do your Home-work/fun—
Abraham Lincoln had it right when he said “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening my axe.”
Trying to skate-ski without a cornucopia of dynamic and multi-dimensional strength, coordination, and balance is like trying to cut open a coconut with a butter knife. Most weeks I’m lucky to fit in six hours (3 x 2 hours) of skate-skiing…But every week I discipline myself to spend at least two hours sharpening my physiological axe with tri-planar strength, balance and Core Engine TM training. Like most "mostly normal” humans, I would happily skip the inside/off-snow training if it didn’t have such a profound impact on my skate-skiing. But the reality is—especially for older/35+ bodies—the more multi-dimensional Core Engine fitness you have, the more fun you’re going to have on snow; day after day; week after week; year after year; decade after decade...
Feel free to reach out if you need some personalized help spicing up your skate-ski fun-outs, and/or training your Core Engine to fire on all cylinders so you can maximize the size of your SMILE on SNOW :) See you on the trails!
BY BILL NURGE
M.A EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY, HEAD COACH
HARDCORE TRAINING CENTER
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.