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Ski striding: A Lost Art?
By:  Karl Saidla   (2013/07/17)


My impression (and that is admittedly all it is) is that in recent years, elite skiers have been doing less ski striding (or bounding) than they had previously. It would appear that in terms of specific modes of dryland training, rollerskiing has taken over as the clearly dominant mode. I am not going to speculate as to why this might be the case, but I am going to suggest that there is a lot to be gained from ski striding and that in my opinion, many skiers could benefit from doing a little more ski striding and a little less rollerskiing.

The main advantages of ski bounding (as I see it) are as follows:

  1. A simpler, arguably less error-prone way of simulating diagonal stride than rollerskiing.
  2. It is easier to find terrain that is similar to a ski racing trail when ski striding than when rollerskiing.
  3. It is arguably more pleasant than rollerskiing given that you get to be out in the woods instead of on bike paths or on roads with traffic. Natural ground just feel nice and the scenery is typically more interesting.
  4. Given that you don't have to worry about poles slipping, keeping your skis going straight, or bad patches of pavement, and that kicking at the right time is more intuitive, it is a very easy and distraction free way of doing an intense workout.

Of course, in addition to knowing when to choose a particular mode of training, once that choice is made it’s important to carry out the activity with good technique. In addition to my impression that elite skiers are doing a bit less ski striding than they used to, it also seems to me that people are paying less attention to technique when they are ski striding. This is an opportunity lost.

Certainly, not everyone agrees about what good ski striding technique involves. At the most basic level though, well executed ski striding is a very deliberate attempt to mimic real skiing. Even this commitment isn’t carried out all that well by many accomplished skiers. For example, I would direct you to the video below of Team United Bakeries. My first impression is that many of these skiers are being a touch lazy with their technique, and sometimes essentially running while using their ski poles a bit. I can’t exactly call anybody to ask about what the goal of this workout was, but personally, I wouldn’t use this as your model for ski striding.

I will try to cover some of the basics of what ski striding well includes, but as I mentioned, there will certainly be people with different points of view.

Equipment - This is one of the great things about ski striding. All you need are running shoes and some ski poles of a height that allows you to put them comfortably under your arm pit.

Start - A good way to think about ski striding is that it is a series of controlled forward “falls” with short, snappy injections of energy to keep yourself moving. As much as possible, use forward lean to create the movement rather than simply pushing yourself up the hill with your legs.

Ankles - Should be loose and relaxed. This allows you to lean forward with both the hips and torso simultaneously.

Body position - Try to accomplish a relaxed forward lean with the shoulders loose. You don’t want to feel either upright or pitched forward. This is generally accomplished by keeping the ankles loose while falling forward and keeping the hips in a relatively forward position. As you land on each foot try to do so with your centre of gravity (think belly button) over each knee, and your upper body vertical. This puts your weight firmly over each “ski” when you land, and also keeps you moving forward in a straight line.

Leg drive - There is a common tendency to drive the knee too far forward, leaving the skier in a “hips back” position when the foot lands. While this might be ok if you were running, it is not good for skiing for a variety of reasons. As you drive the leg through, try to keep your upper leg more vertical than you would if you were running, and keep your hips forward and “over” your knee as much as possible. Also, keep your feet close to the ground (as you would on skis) as you bring the foot through. Finally, allow your hips to rotate a bit in order to lengthen the stride

The “kick” - Briefly, landing with your hips in a relatively forward position should allow you to “kick” sooner rather than later. Again, kicking “sooner” rather than “later” is generally good for fast skiing.

Arms - You want to use these as you would in skiing. This means bringing them your hands forward in a straight line (no “arcs”, and no “circles, either front to back or side to side) while keeping your shoulders relaxed and planting them with your shoulders forward and your elbow angle in the 90-120 degree range. This angle should be opening rather than closing after pole plant (i.e., don’t allow your arms to collapse). Finish the motion with your elbows close to completely extended (in steeper terrain this might not always be possible).

Again, nobody is perfect. The videos below are examples of people making a conscientious attempt to ski stride well. First, Noah Hoffman-with commentary by Zach Caldwell.

Some skiers from XC Ottawa on a hot summer evening at Mooney’s Bay!

Interesting Reading. . .
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