Before he headed off to the Black Sea for the Sochi Olympics, five-time Olympian and World Cup champion Billy Demong stopped by the Utah Olympic Park to offer up some pointers on how to improve skate-skiing form. It’s not every day that you get tips from an Olympian, so pay careful attention and perhaps you, too, can become a rocket-powered racer.
Skate skiing breaks down into three primary styles: V1, V2, and V2 alternate. All are similar, but have different applications—think of them as gears, just like in your car.
We’ll start with V1, the easiest and most common technique. The defining feature of V1 is the use of offset poles, or the “hang pole” and the “push pole”—as you’re standing, put one hand up by your ear (we’ll use the right hand), and let the other hand sit by the side of your chest. Rotate your torso slightly toward your higher right hand (this is the “push pole”), and drive off that pole, weighting your right foot and gliding forward. As you finish your follow-through, push off onto your left foot and bring your poles back to the starting position, so you’ll be prepared to repeat the motion—push off your left foot, drive with your right pole, and glide forward on your right foot.
Get comfortable doing this on one side, and then practice it on the other. When you’re solid, you can incorporate some hop-skate technique, literally jumping quickly into a stride, a particularly speedy and tiring technique appropriate only for really steep and short ramps.
Once you’ve mastered V1, it’s time to step it up and work on your V2. Balancing in V2 is more difficult, but it makes up for it by being considerably faster, particularly on gradual hills and all-out sprints. Predictably, you need to ignore a lot of what you just learned about V1—in V2, you push equally off both poles at every step, keeping your torso pointed in your direction of travel. Start by double-poling to get a feel for the rhythm and arm movement, keeping your hips high and butt tight, and then add in your legs. With every stride, pole evenly with both arms, pushing laterally from ski to ski to keep yourself moving forward at speed.
Got it? With your V2 dialed, it’s pretty easy to figure out the last technique, V2 alternate. As you might’ve guessed, it’s basically a standard V2, but with poling every other stride. Keeping your hips high, butt tucked, and both hands up, pole through and push off one leg, shifting your weight laterally to the other side. Glide and push off that foot, shifting your weight across, bringing your hands up to the starting position, and repeating the process. This is a technique meant for speed on flat ground, when you can really milk your glide without the need for the super-quick poling of standard V2.
Finally, while you might not think much about it, races can be won or lost on the downhills, particularly in the corners—get sloppy, and you can lose all your speed or even crash (it happens, and it’s embarrassing), but stay smooth and on top of things and you’ll be able to carry a ton of speed into the next section of the course, saving time and energy. It’s important to stay centered over your skis, with your upper body and eyes turned where you want to go and your inside hip dropped slightly into the turn. If you’re an alpine skier, forget about rolling your ankles and getting on your edges—you don’t have any. The only good way to turn Nordic skis is to shuffle your feet, taking small, quick steps to catapult yourself around corners (on straighter hills, you can also hop in the groomed Classic tracks, which are frequently icier and faster).
If you can’t master all these techniques in the next 15 minutes, relax. Skating’s difficult and tiring, even for an Olympian like Demong, and takes some serious time to master. Keep at it, though, and eventually it’ll click—while you might not make it to the Olympics, you’ll be more than ready to cruise around your local tracks, and maybe you’ll bring back a few medals of your own.