We’ve had wonderfully warm weather lately, at least for February in Whitehorse. And with warm weather comes wonderful glide on the ski trails.

If you’ve been out skiing in these glorious conditions (shame on anyone who hasn’t been outside!), you will have noticed all the skaters out on the trails, gliding elegantly along. Tempting, isn’t it?

So, what is all this skating stuff about, and how does the average recreational skier get into it?

The Gear

Skating equipment is a little different from the classic or touring equipment. The skis are shorter (usually about 10 cm shorter than your classic skis), with a stiffer camber.

Poles are longer, reaching to somewhere between chin and nose, rather than the armpit length we are used to. And boots are higher, with more ankle support and a stiff sole.

Just like buying classic gear, getting the right fit for your skate gear is crucial. Poor fit equates to no fun and equipment that will ultimately end up in your closet, covered in dust.

Ill-fitting boots, skis with the wrong camber and poles the wrong length add up to misery.

The Technique

Skating is all about glide, so there is no grip wax involved, just glide wax. It is the ultimate solution to those days (albeit rare in Whitehorse), when you can’t quite find the right grip wax for your classic skis.

And, just like classic ski technique, glide is all about weight transfer. So, if you can’t balance well on one ski when you are into classic technique, forget about trying to skate. It just won’t work. Instead, work on developing that balance.

Skating can be a tricky skill to learn, but a joy to practise once you start getting the basics down.

It’s also not an easy thing to learn on your own; watch others and mimic what they do and you will spend the next 20 years trying to unlearn the bad habits you’ve picked up (I know from experience).

Find yourself an instructor and take a lesson or two (or better, a series of lessons) and your investment will be paid off many-fold in great memories and loss of frustration.

When to Skate

Since skating is all about glide, forget about trying it in those cold conditions with fresh snow that’s more akin to sandpaper than frozen water.

If glide isn’t good, get those classic skis out instead. Ditto for fresh, soft snow; hard pack, although not ice, is the best for skating.

And since there is more side-to-side gliding, you need more trail width than usual, especially on the uphills.

Progressions

Just like learning to ski using classic technique, the best way to start skating is on a flat surface without poles to complicate things. Here you learn to get that weight over the ski and focus on your glide.

Forget about climbing hills or using your poles until you are comfortable on the flats. See how long you can glide on each ski, and perfect that balance (there is that word again).

Only then come the poles and a chance to learn the various skating techniques you will use in different conditions.

You will quickly learn the difference between one-skate, two-skate, offset and diagonal skate. The principles are the same for each style, but timing and coordination differ.

When you are out on the trails, the various techniques will soon come naturally and you won’t have to think about it any more.

There seem to be plateaus involved when learning to skate. Sometimes you feel as if you’ll never get it, but suddenly the coordination and timing kick in and you are moving along effortlessly and gracefully.

The perseverance is worth it and your friends will be in awe!

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 ed@xcskiwhitehorse.ca

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 ed@xcskiwhitehorse.ca