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Learning and practicing balance on Cross-country skis

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
[DISCLAIMER]Despite the title, this is less an essay and more of a question. I am not a trainer, I have no formal training on this or background or any reason that this should be taken as a good idea. I'm simply looking for feedback on how reasonable this idea is. This is something I do for me, and nowhere do I suggest that anyone try it or that anyone's skiing will improve through this practice.[/DISCLAIMER]

Now that that's out of the way, I started alpine skiing only last winter. I was pleased to find that I adjusted pretty well to balancing, though I had problems with being in the backseat for some time. Even so, most of my instructors were surprised to hear that I had only just started skiing.

It is regularly suggested that skiers spend time in the off-season with activities like skating, and other sports requiring balance and independent foot movement. I suspect that one of the reasons that I was able to adapt with relative ease ("relative" is a key word here) to balancing on skis was my experience on cross-country skis over the previous two winters. This part is probably pretty obvious, and I'd like to go on to the part that I'm curious about.

What I'm wondering about is the potential benefit to those that own cross-country skis and take some time running down hills on that equipment. Though it would probably be a waste of time to people who get a lot of actual time on the mountain, I wonder if it might be beneficial to those of us who get less ski days and want to spend more of their limited time on the slopes skiing, and less remembering how not to fall down.

I think the major point to be made against using cross-country gear is, why not use your alpine equipment? I can give two reasons. One is borne out of practicality, the other is sheer speculation.

First, practicality: Some of us do not own alpine skis yet, having only recently started. However, if we own a pair of cross-country skis, there is an opportunity to get some practice balancing on long, thin planks for no cost, rather than paying rental and lift tickets.

Second, speculation: Classic cross-country skis, with their freeheel bindings (made worse if they are the less rigid three-pin type), double camber, lack of much width and extreme light weight compared to downhill equipment makes them far less forgiving of poor balance than alpine equipment.
You have to stay over your feet on this gear, or you are likely to fall down. Of course, it's still possible to be horribly out of balance and keep your feet while straightlining, so this brings me to the next point: turning on cross-country skis.

Just as a note, this applies specifically to waxless, three-pin binding skis with low-topped shoes. Even so, the principle should remain pretty much the same for newer NNN bindings with higher boots. It's probably possible to give a little more pressure and "edging" on this equipment.

There's no real need to give a long explanation on turning cross-country skis on a downhill. The technique is simply to use a telemark turn, keeping in mind that you have no edges of any kind on your skis. It MAY be possible to make a pseudo-parallel turn on newer NNN gear if the skis have a softer flex (that is, they are beginner's gear). My belief, however, is that the double camber and lack of edges make this impractical. If you want to try it by putting pressure on the outside ski, go ahead, but don't expect much.

As for how to perform a telemark turn, there are countless others that could explain it far better than I, especially since I pay more attention to turning and less to where my weight is, how I'm doing it, etc. The basics, however, are that you advance the ski on the outside of the turn as you bend that knee. The outside, forward ski is your turning ski. The inside, back ski is your balance ski. By putting some slight pressure and tilt on that forward ski (though I believe your weight should remain more or less even - someone who knows better correct me please) you can turn on your cross-country skis, albeit very slowly indeed. If you wish, you can apply some more "edging" by tilting the ski and apply some rotary to try and speed up the process, but it is very easy to overdo it, which will cause that edgeless ski to twist or skid and bring you down. If it'll make you feel better, think of it as more of an exercise in elegance than in athleticism. There's no way around it - a cross country telemark turn is a slooooooow turn.

All that explanation of the turning processis probably unnecessary - it's been the only viable method of turning cross-country skis down a hill for who knows how long, and so it's what people do. However, I wanted to explain my process in arriving at my conclusion - if I'm doing anything wrong, it will be easier to see and point out to me.

The conclusion and the whole point of this is that making a downhill telemark turn on cross-country skis without falling requires excellent balance and some precision control on the part of the skier.

Just some notes on the conditions of my experiment location, plus some thoughts/recommendations: I did my practice work on a wide hill with some few trees scattered about at the base. The grade was about medium to slightly steep, compensated for by the shortness of the hill. The snow was light, about two inches deep.

I'd just like to say that the very LAST thing I would recommend to anyone is taking their skis up a mountain. I don't believe any ski areas would allow such equipment anyway, but the point of this exercise is for it to be low risk. This is partly because the very idea is to have a low stress environment. Falling has to be safe, because anyone trying this WILL fall down at some point. The other reason has to do with safety and control. Cross-country skis are very light and, because of their double cambered design and narrow track, don't have much surface area in contact with the snow surface. Because of this, they are extremely jittery and hard to control, in addition to simply being very slow to turn under the best of conditions. Turning can only be used to avoid obstacles, not to control speed, so the skis can run beyond your ability to control them very quickly. 5 mph or so should be quite fast enough. If you go to a mountain, take telemark skis.

So, there you have it. Now, my question to Bears in general and trainers/coaches/instructors here: What do you think? Are my methods and thinking any good? Am I wasting my time? Is my equipment too out of date to really have a good theory? In any case, I only intend to use this for my own benefit. I have no plans to try and teach balance to anyone, beyond recommending time on cross-country gear and skates.

Sorry this was so long. I tend to be rather verbose (ha) and couldn't think of a short way to do this. Thanks very much,

post #2 of 8
Hi Grolby. First off, a telemark turn has excelent fore and aft balance, because of the position of the feet and not as good lateral balance because of the narrowness of the stance. Second if you want this skill to transfer better you should definetly try to get your rear ski on edge also. front ski big toe edge, rear ski little toe edge. What's that sound like? Instead of sliding that ski forward and then tipping, try gently pulling the inside foot back as you tip both skis, keeping equal weight on both. Think one long ski. Even in floppy old school gear, you will find that you can turn easier than you might think if you focus on tipping both feet and the knees, simultaneously. With practice, you will also find that you can parallel this old school gear, maybe with a little more motion to realease that double camber. And maybe you will start teleing to go where you want to go as opposed to not going somewhere. :

Every skill you use in cross country, has a relevance to alpine skiing, you just might utilize it in another way or blending so to speak. My guess is that the better you get at alpine the better your down the hill cross country technique will get and vice versa. That tele turn you desribe is refered to by some as a telemaybe. Remember the same things make skis turn, whether they are long double camber skate skis or short alpine skis.

So keep on getting out there and having fun, who cares what gear it's on. But if you want to enhance your skiing on both sides of the fence, keep the same good fundamentals in mind. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hehe, "telemaybe." Reminds me of when I tried actual telemark gear last winter. That was terrifying, all right.

Thanks for the wisdom, Ric. It's very helpful, and I look forward to improving in both downhill and cross-country skiing. [img]smile.gif[/img]

post #4 of 8

this is a nordic instructor training site

nordic site

might help with the tele-turns
post #5 of 8
Grolby, A couple of weeks a go things were so bad at the touring center I decided to take my skate skis for some runs at the alpine area. Now these skis are made the wrong way, reverse side cut, the tip and tails are narrower than the waist of the ski. The camber of the ski is intense. It must take 60 pounds to push the ski flat to the snow. These things were not designed for turning. But after a few runs I was able to make a fair imitation of a short radius turn. It took a lot of two footed steering. I had a lot of fun, however when I hit a patch of ice I had absolutely no control. I mean none. I had to hang on until I reached some snow. There is a safety issue with no steel edges. The skills that allowed me to use the skis at a fairly high level came from my years as an alpine ski instructor, so the transference of skills was in the opposite direction from what you propose. If your objective is to learn alpine skiing then I think you will learn much faster on alpine equipment with competent instruction. I have found that experienced cross-country skiers learn alpine skiing very rapidly but they would never make back the time investment spent on cross-country.
There is one exception, Children as young as three can have a very good time on cross-country with little to no instruction. I would bet that a child with significant xc experience would beat the learning curve, and most certainly beat the financial curve, but this is not something alpine areas like to hear.
A level 3 certified Nordic track/skate instructor must demonstrate all alpine turns thru open track parallel with a level of accuracy near the alpine standards plus all the telemark progressions on xc skis. If you wish to advance your xc skills, a nordic certified instructor can be hired at bargain rates. Either way, have fun.
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hill&Dale, that's why the title says "Balance." Practicing alpine technique on xc gear and expecting actual alpine skills to improve seems silly to me. I am buying skis this season and getting out on the mountain, so I intend to practice lots on the real thing! Thanks very much, though, I appreciate your advice. Oh, and the stuff about nordic instruction. Now, anyone wanna loan me some skate skis?.
post #7 of 8

I can give you some first hand actuall experience on this subject. On a few occasions I have used downhill skiing on XC skis as a balance training exercise for my race team. We used equipment ranging from soft flex 3 pin, to more modern binding systems and thin double camber race type skis, all were free heel and non edged. All our turns were parallel, no telemark, and we performed all types of turn radius from SL type to SG with speeds maxing out at probobly around 30mph.

My feeling is that it is an superb balance training tool, you have to be so finely dialed into a highly stable neutral stance because balance recovery through the use of edging skills is of limited value on skinny skis with no edges. If you have read David's therories on balance and establishing 3 point platforms they would be very much accurate while doing this.

Technically, here is what can be done and how they must be skied. Because you can't establish a solid edge and carve the ability to create centrifigal force is very limited, therefore you can't allow your center of mass to move inside of your skis very far. You must assume a very upright stance using knee angulation to edge the ski. Carving is impossible so steering is the only option, with little shoulder or hip rotation used. Everything must stay balanced above the skis at all times. Laterally it works best to use a 100 percent outside ski weighted platform, this helps encourage a center of mass over the top of the skis position and leaves an unweighted foot for balance recovery if needed. Done properly you can ski the slope in a manner that makes the fact you have XC skis on your feet unrecognizable, and you can execute turns that are much smoother and faster than telemark turns without all the extra movements.

Now my reconmondation. This is a drill that should only be undertaken by highly skilled alpine skiers who have aquired high level balance and edging skills, and only on occasion to fine tune balance. There are so many other skills to be learned or refined in alpine skiing that can't be practiced on XC skis because of their innate structural limitations that spending too much time on these would in fact be counter productive to progression. But if you've got what it takes, once in a while is a hoot.
post #8 of 8
I concur Fastman. Good advice. I have seen skiers motor downhill on cross country gear with technique that would put some downhill skiers to shame. The only caveat I would add is that the good balance acquired on cross country skis can go to hell in a hand basket in a hurry if the alpine ski boots screw up everything.
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