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Workout of the Week: Develop your feel for the `Ski Gears`
By: Craig Storey (2008/03/04)
Workout Type: Speed
Exertion Level: Hard
Skier Level: Intermediate
Technique: N/A
Season: Competitive
Terrain: Varied

Suggested Trails: Nakkertok, #15, #40, #33, #2



A skier has only two gears; power and turnover. When you want to go faster it's as simple as that. You can either put more muscular effort into every push (power) or you can increase your tempo by pushing more often (turnover). In general skiers can also be categorized as more muscle or tempo skiers. I'll come back to categorization latter.

Unlike cyclists or race car drivers who have a choice of gears at their finger tips skiers have only 2 options and have to use each wisely. Sure a skier chooses skis to match the conditions, but that's a rather small mechanical advantage compared to having a triple chain ring to downshift into on an uphill. I won't take this analogy with bikes and cars any further since a local ski/bike racing coach has all of the cycling-vs-skiing analogies copyrighted and want to avoid paying royalties.

So when should a skier use each gear? Well, you have to learn to feel out when and where it's better to use more muscle vs. a higher turnover. You have to develop your feel for the "ski gears". By this I mean you have to play with your tempo and muscular output during your intensity workouts to figure out how to go faster. Sometimes the answer will be to up the tempo, other times it will be to simply crank harder on the poles and skis.

There are general trends you can look for in terrain and conditions. Some uphills require more muscle, others you will be better to increase your tempo. Flat icy conditions favour powerful pushes with a long glide phase. Soft fresh snow or watery slush require high tempo light strokes so you don't plow. Muscular skier can tire easily in these conditions, so you must practice high tempo skiing.

Variable spring conditions offer opportunities and challenges to sharpen your ski gears....

- Ski in all the conditions, don't wimp out and skate when you need klister. Classic skiing requires a finer ski gear tuning since you need to make sure you can get grip. You won't improve if you don't practice in those conditions. This is the time of year that you can test your skis for wet snow and ice as well as practice moving fast in these tricky conditions. It could really help come Nationals!

- Do sprints and intervals in challenging snow, terrain, etc. A workout in deep slow snow, for example, may not feel great, but it is a good chance to get some experience with that condition. Notice the difference when you up the tempo and ease back on the power?

- Short (1-2km) multi-loop time trials where you can learn from your mistakes will help. Similarly timed intervals where you can test techniques, tempo, power and get feedback from an coach, heart rate monitor and stop watch will help too.

- Ski with teammates! Watch how others do in the conditions and mimic those skiing well.

- Prep for the conditions you will see at Nationals. This is important since Nationals are typically held at the end of the season and you will likely encounter wet snow and ice for at least one race.

Short intervals (1min repeats) and sprints (10-30s) should be on the menu right now to get those ski gears tuned up to race fast at the end of this month!


You will encounter the most variable conditions in the early winter, and in spring. Usually around those big races! So it's important to get those gears ready. Roller skiing is always a perfect hard pack. With that in mind as the racing season approached you need to find workouts to develop high turnover. You need to find terrain to challenge your tempo and remember snow won't be as solid as asphalt.

The most famous comparison of muscle vs. tempo was the final leg of Nagano Olympic Men's Relay. Norway's Thomas Alsgaard and Italy's Silvio Fauner started the leg together. Both skiers skied to their respective strengths; Alsgaard using strong smooth technique, while Fauner followed with an amazing tempo of flailing arms and legs. At various times during the race each skier looked poised to break away from the other, but neither could and they stayed glued together right to the line where only a toe separating them in the end. If you can get a hold of that footage, take notes of which skier you most resemble and try to ski like they did in similar terrain.

More Workout Suggestions . . .
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