Pert buttocks, endurance, elegance and a lot of lycra – An introduction to Cross Country Skiing

Posted in cross country skiing on February 21, 2013

Upmysport’s Alice Gartland takes her first official skating steps into the world of cross country skiing….

Two years ago I made my first attempt at cross country skiing. Back then it took me about 45 minutes to work out how to put the skis on. Thankfully in 2013 I had cross country skiing expert Tania Noakes by my side.  I got my skis on in seconds, propelled myself forward and we were off!

There are two styles to cross country: Classic or Skate.

Pippa Middleton does Classic…

Pippa Middleton and others doing Classic technique – it’s a bit like a walking motion

I do Skate …

Learning the V shaped Skate movement (it’s good to practice without poles)

Tania is an expert at both and whilst I have started with Skate, the origins of cross country are in the Classic. Mastering the Classic first is a good way of getting to grips with the basic alignment of your hip over your foot, which is the foundation for an efficient cross country technique in both disciplines.

Tania explaining the importance of getting the alignment of your hip over your foot – key to both cross country disciplines

The Skate is an elegant movement, whereby you rise and fall with the motion of your skis as you alternate pushing out your left and then right ski. You also need to keep your head up and not look down at what your skis are doing. As Tania points out, this helps with the main point of cross country – to get out there and enjoy the view. But as with alpine skiing, keeping your head up and looking out and ahead, also aids balance and good posture.

Tania showing me how it’s done

However, don’t let that elegance mislead you. It is a superb work out for your heart and lungs and does wonders for your core and buttocks – It is cross country skiing that has been credited as the mastermind behind the world heritage site that is Pippa Middleton’s derriere.

Mastering hills is a challenge and you have four ‘gears’ to help you manage the changing terrain.

Tania introduced me to the two most helpful: Gear three or ‘Skate 3’ which is where you double pole over/on every other leg. You use it on the flat and on gentle downhills; and

Tania demonstrating Skate 3

The first gear or ‘Skate 1’, which has a slightly off-set double-pole over/on every other leg. This is used mostly for hill climbing and slow conditions, or getting going. Tania introduced it as “the telephone” technique – one pole is slightly more upright and you bring it up towards your ear – a bit like answering a telephone. I now think of Lady Gaga and Beyonce on all uphill. It works (for me).

Tania demonstrating Skate 1

Hills aren’t the easiest and you have to up the tempo and really build the momentum to propel your way up. Downhill on such skinny skis is also pretty exciting and it’s a fun test of your balance. It also feels like a nice complement to alpine ski technique.

Skinny skis and nimble boots

Cross country skiing is a lovely way to travel in the mountains, and there are some pretty exciting endurance challenges out there should you be tempted. The epic Transjurrassiene takes you into the heart of cross country skiing in Europe. As Jeff who completed the 57km this year says it’s, “one of the most gruelling events in the cross-country calendar. There are departures at 76km, 57km and 25km from the finish in a race held whatever the weather. It was minus 20 degrees celsius at the start this year. An ascent of about 9km through pine forests populated by bell-clanging Jura villagers helps make it one of the most arduous and exhilarating events around.”

There is also the historic and super tough Vasaloppet ski marathon in Sweden which Pippa completed last year and there are loads of other races dotted around the mountains throughout the winter.

Traversee de la Ramaz 2013 – 30k start

Tania has been Cross Country skiing for over 10 years and competing nationally since 2006.  She is a former GB champion in both the 10km Classic, and the 10km Biathlon Mass Start and has been British Biathlon Union Club Champion for several years.

Tania Noakes in action (Note the Skate 1 technique)

You could get intimidated by that, but Tania just loves what she does and gets totally excited about you travelling 50m or 50km – it doesn’t matter – she just wants you to be out there and have fun!

I have just propelled myself forward about 10m – smiles all round!

It’s also that energy and her ability to focus in on your technique in a really subtle way as you are skating along enjoying the view, that meant that after just two hours Tania had got me skating smoothly, broken down the elements of the technique, given me some key drills to practice, totally inspired my confidence and also got me contemplating my first cross country ski race (a somewhat hillier than anticipated 7.5km). And for the sake of my buttocks, a Transjurrassiene in 2014 …

Just finished the Traversee de la Ramaz 7.5km – a hilly but happy start to my skating career – Thank you Tania!

If you have been inspired and would like to have a go, Tania would be delighted to take you out for a lesson in Chamonix and the surrounding areas.