while uphills differentiate cross country skiers from their alpine cousins, the downhills are what keeps everyone in same family.
Skiing down hills on cross country skis can often be intimidating for the novice, even for those with some alpine ski experience. But if you think of it as your reward after conquering the uphills, you’ll even come to enjoy it.
There is quite a difference in equipment between the two ski disciplines
Instead of those big, clunky downhill skis and boots, we nordic skiers get sleek, elegant skis and boots you can actually walk across the parking lot in without looking like Frankenstein’s monster.
But it’s that sleek, responsive feeling that can intimidate the novice skier.
For an average cross country skier, there are three basic downhill techniques to master – pretty much the same skills that a novice alpine skier needs to master before venturing onto an intermediate run.
First, learn to ski straight down a hill (turns come later).
Here, your focus should be on staying in a proper stance. Flex your ankles (this in turn gives you a bent knee), keep your weight evenly distributed from side to side and from front to back.
Feet are hip width apart, and your hands should be slightly in front of you, your poles pointing back.
Use your knees to soak up the bumps as you run over them. Easy? Of course. And this stance is the basis of all downhill turning technique as well.
Feeling a bit unstable? Flex more, lowering your centre of gravity. And widen your stance just a bit (not too wide or you won’t keep control of the skis) to add even more stability.
It is important to relax; remember that the snow is nice and soft and if you do fall, you are very unlikely to hurt yourself. Broken bones are extremely rare on the cross country trails.
Now comes turning technique.
The easiest to learn, and most useful, is the snowplow turn. Yes, this is the same snowplow you use to slow you down when coming to a stop or when the going gets too fast on a downhill.
Start in the same easy downhill stance discussed above. Now flex your ankles and push the tails of your skis out – you are now in a basic snowplow.
To turn left, bend your right knee a bit more, pushing more of your weight onto that ski, edging the ski at the same time. You are now turning.
To turn harder, put more pressure on the right ski, digging that edge in more. Reverse this to turn the other way.
Find a nice hill and practise turning left, then right, then practise linking the turns. Sound easy? It is.
The next technique that all skiers should know is the basic step turn.
Say you are skiing politely behind your friend who, not being as good a skier as you are, falls in front of you. This is where you need a step turn.
With a step turn, you literally step around corners. Turning left – put all of your weight on your right ski, take a step to your left, transfer your weight, bring your right ski parallel.
Repeat until you are pointing where you want to go. Steps should be small and quick. Practise on the flats, then on hills, with and without tracks.
This is the technique the racers use to move around race courses – done correctly, you will come out of a corner with all of your speed intact.
Of course, as with all things, these techniques take practice.
Try taking a lesson or two if you aren’t confident (or even if you are – we can all improve). But the important thing is to get on your skis.
See you on the trails.
Claude Chabot is executive director of the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club. If you have questions about the club or its extensive network of trails, you can reach Claude at [email protected]