Skating - It's More Important in Skiing Than You Think
Posted Aug 07 2009 7:17pm
Typically, the last thing you want to do when first getting on your skis is skating. However, this is something that is severely underrated by all levels of skiers. Some of you may not even know what skating is (if so, go request a lesson on skating right away and tip your instructor lots of cash, preferably me). To this end, it is important to take a closer look at what exactly happens during our skating on skis.
So, what is skating? Basically, skating is exactly what is says, except on skis as opposed to ice skates. You push off of one ski, balance yourself on the other ski, and keep the cycle going. It is a great maneuver to propel yourself forward when you need to get somewhere on the snow that simply facing downhill and skiing will not allow.
Why is skating so important? Well, what's not important about it? Not only does it allow you to efficiently and less-energetically get yourself back to your skiing partner who fell (or further away from your skiing partner), it incorporates all of the basic skiing movements that you need to ski successfully anywhere else on the mountain. It is said that you can tell how good a skier is just by looking at him or her skate, because it is a test of how well you blend and execute your basic movements.
In summary, Martin Heckelman writes in The New Guide to Skiing that "While skating, the legs are taught how to 'flex' and 'extend'... the body is trained to shift weight from ski to ski and one learns how to change direction easily while moving. Skating also helps to improve a skier's body awareness and balance."
How to Skate on Skis
To push off of your ski, bend the knee of the ski you are pushing off of. Feel the power and potential energy in your bent knee, then extend and push that knee towards the new direction.
The most important principle in skating is to make sure you are pushing off of the inside EDGE of your ski rather than pushing off of a flat ski. Always, always, always make sure you are pushing from the ski's edge. This maximizes energy efficiency, and thus will not tire you out as quickly. After all, skating does require energy, so make it easier for yourself by using the edges. To do this, make sure you roll the ankle of your ski in contact with the snow inwards towards your big toe side of your ski.
After pushing off of the big toe, inside edge of your ski, glide your body out toward the direction you wish to propel towards. This should be in the same direction as the new ski in contact with the snow. You want to make sure that you do not look like a wobbling Tower of Pizza - that is, do not move your body side to side much. Focus on gliding all your momentum towards the direction you wish to go in. If you were driving a car and wanted to go straight, you would steer straight and not sideways, right? It's no different in skiing.
Also, when landing on your new ski, there is a quick feedback test to see if you are balanced. You should be landing on the entire ski evenly. If you notice the new contact ski hits the snow with the tip first, you are too far forward in your stance. If you see your tail hit the snow first (more common), you are too far back in your stance. See the Balance post to adjust this.
Skating is a skill that comes only with practice, so, go practice! As you get better at it, you will notice that you feel less tired after making the same dash to the chairlift. It is a great feeling to get there and realize you are not out of breath like you normally are, all due to technique improvements.
As you get better, you can also practice skating while gliding down a gentle slope (on a green circle trail) or on even more advanced terrain if you feel even more advanced. This will require practice, some athleticism, and more precise control and timing while pushing off of your edges. It will, however, allow you to pick up some speed. And if you don't like speed, go home. Or just practice a little more.