Tyson and I attended a two day cross country ski class at Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. The class, run by PSIA, covered both teaching skills and personal skiing skills. Hal Westwood instructed. There were eight participants total. In addition to the class, we got to watch the NCAA ski racers warming up for their race at Trapp next weekend. They were fast.
Tyson earned his level 1
Going into the class, he wasn’t sure he knew how to teach classic, and he wasn’t sure he knew how to skate himself. It turned out the requirements for teaching aren’t that stringent (like the Telemark level 1). As for skating, between my coaching last weekend, and Hal’s excellent teaching this weekend, Tyson had all the techniques nailed by the end of the weekend.
I was frustrated with my teaching skills last weekend when Tyson could only tenuously ski a V1 and didn’t figure out a V2. But, Tyson said the practice was very good preparation. Hal repeated many of the same drills as I had. It only took two more for Tyson to have an “aha” moment. He needed to move his weight fully over the gliding ski.
Now, Tyson says he likes skating and wants a pair of skate skis.
I already had my level 1 certification, so there was no big milestone for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the class. Hal made the different skill levels work together. It was a proper PSIA class where we romped up and down until our bodies were exhausted and our brains turned to mush.
Saturday towards the end of the day, there was a moment when Hal demo’d something, intending us to follow after. He turned around midway down the field to see us all propped up on our poles staring numbly after him.
For the first time at a cross country ski class, I knew most of the drills. I picked up subtleties I hadn’t known before. My classic technique is actually worse than my skating technique. I started skating with top notch lessons, but my diagonal stride has thirty years of back country habits. I’m not sure if I made much progress fixing them. At least I have some ideas to keep working on.
I seem to keep running into the same people, so, for my reference, here are the participants.
- Kevin from New Paltz NY. Self taught, but teaching skiing at his local ski area. His background is in speed skating. He came to get his level 1 and learn what he didn’t know. He and Tyson were the only two at the event who didn’t already have their level 1 cross country certification.
- Heather actively teaches classic skiing at a Vermont ski area. She backcountry skis in the woods across from Trapp. She was weaker on skating.
- Gail also actively teaches classic. I didn’t catch where. Similar aversion to uphill skating as Heather.
- Gene used to own Ole’s cross country ski center but is now retired.
- Terry used to work at Ole’s but now retired. Both he and Gene came for a refresher. They appeared to have many years of experience teaching and skiing at a recreational level.
- Mark came to test for his level 2. He organizes the ski instruction program at the Weston Ski Track where I taught briefly in 2016. On his time off, he too backcountry skis and Telemarks.
I used to have a lovely pair of bamboo poles. I still have them, but one of them bends when I push on it so much that I’m afraid to keep using them. I’ve been debating a replacement pole since 2014. The adjustable length poles have poor swing weight. The track poles with good grips and shafts, but ineffective baskets. The aluminum poles are cold. I finally decided to buy an aluminum Swix single length backcountry pole. It arrived shortly before class. The first exercise in class convinced me they were too short. Tyson lent me his adjustable carbon poles (set to 145cm), and Tyson used his second hand skate poles that turned out to be just the right length for classic (155cm).
Any suggestions for a good, lightweight, bamboo, backcountry pole replacement?
Gail had a new type of track ski that has a skin built into the kick region instead of scales. They seemed to work well, but were still slightly slower than the waxable skis.
I specifically asked to work on movement analysis, and Hal delivered. He used the coach’s eye app and a monitor to break down each of our technique.
If you haven’t used coach’s eye, the most useful tools in the freebie version are:
- slow motion video
- easy controls for moving backward and forward in the video and stopping on frames
- various drawing tools — lines, circles, etc — for annotating the video frame
For diagonal stride, he videoed from the side. The key points were:
- Does the rear foot leave the ground, aka full weight transfer to the other foot
- Where does weight start to transfer back onto that foot
- What’s the timing between the leg push off and the pole plant
- When the two feet are passing, where are the hands, are the ankles bent, and is the shin angle and the back angle the same.
- Do the hips come forward with the leg drive, or does the ankle open up.
For skating, Hal videoed from the front. The key points were:
- pole timing vs foot timing. If this is off, he didn’t continue analyzing anything else
- Does the body fully line up over the gliding ski
- Are the poles A-framed
We also reviewed some double polling video, but I forget the pointers.
The biggest thing I learned is to break techniques into narrowly focused drills. Demo each drill without talking. Explain each in a short sentence or less.
Hal was good at figuring out whether a student was a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner. I think I need the teaching analysis equivalent of coach’s eye to progress to that level.
Hal taught each of his drills in a different ways, presumably to target different types of learners. Some of the approaches I remember were:
- explain the mechanics of what a drill is supposed to teach, then describe the steps in the drill
- demonstrate the drill first, then explain what to do (but don’t explain why)
- stand in front of us demonstrating a drill while simultaneously walking us through it
- progressively add pieces to a drill (e.g “rock back and forth”, “ok now pole when you rock to the right”)
- give a short, non technical description and a demonstration (aka “The genie is tall and proud”)
- coaching during regular skiing. (aka “Focus on keeping your head still”)
This is a brain dump of things I remember.
Initial familiarization with skis
- Star turns with tips out
- side step the whole group around
- Pair star turns: draw a small circle in the snow. Pair students two to a circle on opposite sides of the circle. They have to keep their tips in the circle and coordinate star turning all the way around the circle.
- falling down: kneel down and get back up. Then kneel down, sit on snow to side and get up. Then sit down from standing.
- “Stumble bum”: without skis, lean forward at the ankles until you have to take a step to catch yourself. Two variants: Do this inside before students have put their skis on. Mark your initial foot position, and first stumble distance. Then repeat but don’t let your foot go as far forward when catching yourself.
- “scooter drill”: didn’t learn anything new here.
- “shuffle, shuffle, glide”: also nothing new
- Start with no poles, then hold straps, then hold handle with thumb and middle of forefinger.
- For really timid people, can have one student push another across the flat to feel gliding.
That’s enough for 1/3 of an intro ski lesson. Expect to spend the other 2/3 on uphills and downhills.
Other things for intermediate skiers:
- hip rotation: Augment leg drive with hip rotation.
- To use core muscles for polling, rotate the shoulders downward during the push.
- back country skiers always have their rear foot land behind the gliding foot.
- (static) smear one ski out (whole ski, toe, heel)
- static demonstration of edging
- “breaking and gliding wedge”: on a modest slope, in a V position, increase and decrease the edge angle
- wedge to parallel and back: teach this after the edging exercise above. On a modest slope, start with skis parallel, slide out to wedge, then slide skis back to parallel. Repeat
- (static) pick up each ski in turn and press the tip sideways against a pole shaft. Feel the muscle action in your leg. “rotary”
- Turning wedge: emphasize steering the skis. Should feel the same muscles/pressures as above.
- wedge Christie: edge transition on inside ski to allow it to slide over to match outside ski
- Then parallel: edge transitions and skidding with both skis.
Double Pole (modern variant)
- power crunch: Plant poles with bent arms. Small crunch of upper body. Keep elbow angle and distance between elbow and ribs constant. It looks like a wooden cuckoo clock figuring bobbling
- full pole plant: the above, but then follow through with pole push to behind hips.
- throw a hay bale: start the maneuver with a forward arm action that moves the whole body ahead. May result in heels popping up.
Double pole single kick
- stumble-pole: with skis on, tip forward at the ankles until you have to catch yourself by putting a foot forward and poling. Repeat. (this teaches posture, but not timing)
- diagonal stride a few times, then instead of the next stride/single pole, do a double pole.
This is my weak spot. I didn’t understand the drills well enough to record them. From the videos, I gathered that the leg drive should land ahead of the gliding ski. Compare that to on the flat where the weight transition happens exactly as the feet pass. Faster tempo for steeper hills, slower tempo and longer glide for flatter. According to both Hal and Mark, better technique can compensate for worn out wax.
Hal did a quick demonstration of herringboning. Hal said students usually get that easily, as long as they don’t plant their poles in front of their skis.
Classic technique – putting it all together
This is for intermediate skiers and above. Practice transitioning between diagonal stride, double pole single kick, and double pole as appropriate for the terrain. The racer’s definition of terrain-technique match was slightly different than ours.
Describe each of the different skate techniques in terms of gears:
- first gear: diagonal skate
- second gear: V1
- third gear: V2
- fourth gear: V2 alternate
- fifth gear: no pole skate
- sixth gear: tuck
I don’t remember how Hal introduced diagonal skate. And I don’t remember if he said to do it before or after V1.
When using it on a hill, he had several suggestions.
- keep hands low
- small steps up the hill
- wide V so the skis can glide sideways easily
We used the slight slope in the field to do uphill type exercises one way, and more gliding, downhill exercises the other way.
- start teaching skating uphill. Less scary
- static V1 progression: step side to side from one ski to the other. Once students get the rocking motion, introduce pole plant at the same time as landing on one side.
- no pole skate first. Arms swinging across the body to help with weight transfer. Then carrying poles, hold them in the middle (stops side to side arm swing, but keep fore-aft swing). Then add V1 pole plant per timing above.
- uphill “low like a gorilla”. Demonstrate tunnel of power pose plus arms dangling low. Downhill “the genie is tall and proud”. Demonstrate fully erect posture with arms folded across chest. No side to side motion of upper body.
- hip rotation: rotate the hips to face the new gliding ski. This was Tyson’s big insight for skate skiing.
- V2 progression: step-step-double pole. Then step-hover-double pole.
- V1 transitions: explain why to change sides (fatigue, as dictated by terrain/turns). Quick transition or delayed transition. Some people learned by watching demo, others from counted foot actions.
- V2 Alternate: demonstration and individual practice once they had the V2
I had forgotten how fast the V2 alternate is. I ended the day flying across the snow. And so did Tyson.