BY ANNIE POKORNY
The first time I ever skate skied on ice, I was a freshman on the Middlebury Ski Team and had recently graduated from a childhood of skiing on the hard packed, dry snow of the Rocky Mountains. Clipping into my bindings and stepping onto the course, I “advanced” across the wind blown stadium at Stowe.
“Advanced” is a gross exaggeration of my movement because, in truth, I only made it about two strides before I pushed my ski into the icy floor to gain no response other than the terrifying realization that I had no control over my skis and that when I hit the ground, which I would, I would hit hard.
The day proceeded in a similar fashion: me gaining the courage to take another step, only to be punished for my naivety with a frozen burn. I’ll spare you the details on the down hills, but those weren’t pretty, either. By the end of the day I was in tears, trying to hide it from my coach while simultaneously apologizing for the massive disappointment I would be as an Eastern skier. It would be my retirement, the ice, and I saw no way around that.
That day was three years ago and to this day the first icy outing of the season brings back too-real images of its struggles, but, despite their downfalls (literally), icy conditions have broken through, so to speak, to find a place in my heart. If you can navigate it, an icy course will give you the swiftest, smoothest, most exhilarating ride you can find, and you won’t even need edges.
The most important, and most counterintuitive, part of skate skiing on icy conditions is committing to your ski. In the name of self-preservation, our instincts tell us to shorten our stride and not shift weight too far to either side, for fear of tipping over. Unfortunately, all that instinct does is keep your skis from flattening out across the ice, making them more squirrely and harder to control.
Rather than sitting in the middle and using your (nonexistent) edges to navigate the ice, try to shift all of your weight onto each ski, so that you’re entire base touches the ice, giving you more stability and glide (because more glide means that you’ll get past the icy spots with fewer strides!)
A good visual cue to help you get your weight all the way shifted is seeing that your nose, hip, (bent) knee and toe line up in the same vertical plane. When all of those are stacked, you’ll be in a strong, athletic position over the ski — whether or not it feels that way.
“Well,” you say, incredulous of my analysis, “if my ski is flat on the snow so I’m not using my edges, how do I push off of it to get across to the ice onto the other ski?”
You don’t use those edges.
Cross-country skis don’t have edges because edges are heavy. Although they would be nice for carving icy down hills, their weight would drastically slow you down getting up (the hill). They also don’t have edges because you simply don’t need them. Skate skiing is not all that different from classic skiing in that it involves a kick and a glide.
People mistake skating skis to be more like ice skates, and try to kick from the inside of their knee laterally, but if you’re fully committed to your weight shift, you’ll get a stronger, more efficient motion if you drop your hips and push down and back, rather than trying to use your edges as start blocks.
You’re already moving, you don’t need to crash your momentum and collapse your stability by digging in sideways. For that same reason, if you’re going to scrub (reduce) speed on the downhills, slide sideways rather than going into full, knee knocked pizza.
“Sounds good in theory,” you say, “but what about practice?”
That’s the caveat.
Skiing well on ice takes a lot of practice. Go out and ski without poles, feeling what it’s like to get over your skis. Balance as long as you can, keeping your knees and ankles bent with strong legs. And, if you fall, get back up and try again; it’s worth figuring it out and gliding with confidence over the ice.