How Cross Country Ski Techniques Work

credit: Fischer Sports GmbH

If you are new to the sport of cross country skiing you probably have questions about the various skate and classic ski techniques.

The majority of the skiers you see on the trails are self-taught or may have taken a lesson or two.

They’ll shuffle their classic skis in a walking style. On skate skis, they’ll use the same homemade technique on all terrain.

Hopefully you will also encounter skiers who obviously have more technical skill. They move very quickly and make it look effortless. They'll transition between different techniques as the hills go up and down.

The expressions “recreational” and “race” are sometimes used as shorthand to distinguish these types of skiers.

That's misleading. You don't need to race to enjoy high performance skiing. The techniques used in competition are more efficient and enjoyable than the techniques used by self-taught skiers.

Our mission at Nordic Ski Lab is entirely focussed on making these high performance or competition style techniques more accessible to a wider range of skiers. That's exactly what our videos teach.

So, what are the cross country ski techniques used by the experts and how do they work?

The 5 Classic Skiing Techniques

The Classic Ski Techniques are:

  1. Herringbone
  2. Running Diagonal Stride
  3. Diagonal Stride
  4. Kick Double Pole
  5. Double Pole

The 5 Skate Skiing Techniques

The Skate Ski Techniques are:

  1. Diagonal Skate
  2. Offset (V1 Skate)
  3. One Skate (V2 Skate)
  4. Two Skate (V2 Alternate)
  5. Free Skate

Cross country ski techniques have different names in different countries.

I blend the Canadian and American names for the skate ski techniques because the majority of Nordic Ski Lab members come from these countries. (I am English-Canadian.)

There are a number of downhill, cornering and auxiliary techniques to learn as well. Each technique coordinates the timing and movement of the skis and poles differently.

The techniques are arranged on a power-speed continuum, somewhat analogous to the gears on a bike.

Did you know we have ski technique videos?

For skiers just getting started:

For Skate Skiers: The One Skate Dance Drill

For Classic Skiers: Learn Diagonal Stride - this will benefit you even if you've been skiing for years as this teaches competition technique.

Nordic Ski Videos >>>

Power-Speed Continuum

Power Techniques

The power techniques are good for overcoming resistance and can be used to climb hills, get started from a standstill, or put on a burst of speed.

The power techniques are coordinated so that most (if not all) of the time you are pushing with the poles and/or the skis. There’s little to no free gliding time in the power techniques.

Classic Skiing Power Techniques:

  1. Herringbone
  2. Running Diagonal Stride
  3. Diagonal Stride

Skate Power Techniques:

  1. Diagonal Skate (rarely used in competition)
  2. Offset (V1 Skate)
  3. One Skate (V2 Skate) - only used for climbing by more advanced skiers

Speed Techniques

The speed techniques feature longer glide times and are good for when you’re travelling more quickly.

Learning the range of techniques is important because ski trails feature a variety of terrain and the surface of the snow has variable friction depending on temperature and moisture.

Sometimes you need a to use a lot of force to move forward, other times you move effortlessly at high speed.

Classic Speed Techniques:

  1. Kick Double Pole
  2. Double Pole*

*Double pole is an interesting exception. For a variety of reasons, double pole is no longer simply a high speed technique, but is used across a wide range of conditions and terrain.

Skate Speed Techniques:

  1. One Skate (V2 Skate)  (yes, it's both powerful and speedy)
  2. Two Skate (V2 Alternate)
  3. Free Skate

Both skate and classic skiing share the same downhill techniques, which are:

  1. Snowplow
  2. Skid Turns
  3. Step Turns

Gearing the Gears

As I said, ski techniques are somewhat analogous to the gears on a bike. You can gear up or down as needed by transitioning to a different technique.

The bike gear analogy is not exactly accurate because there's a large scope for adjusting techniques to suit different situations without having to switch to a different technique.

So, in effect you can “gear” any technique by making smaller adjustments to the technique, rather than transitioning to a new technique.

You might speed up the tempo or adjust the range of motion to make a technique better suited to the terrain you're skiing.

The better you are at adapting your technique, the better skier you’ll be. Developing your skill to this level is part of what makes cross-country ski technique endlessly interesting and fun to work on.

Learning the various techniques and how to skillfully and subtly adjust them is part of what makes cross country skiing so enjoyable and fascinating to so many people.

If this topic interests you and you enjoy watching ski videos, you will love being a member of Nordic Ski Lab.

We have loads of excellent videos about ski technique, including demos by expert skiers, high quality and original drills, video analysis etc.

The cost of a membership is nominal. Check it out!

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