XC Downhill Technique Basics
Important Note: All training and technique information posted on xcskiworld.com are suggestions only and should not be considered a substitute for supervised fitness programs or professional instruction. Use of such material is done at your own risk with full knowledge of the inherent risks of any fitness or exercise program. Before beginning and throughout any exercise or workout plan, readers should regularly consult with your physician, follow all reasonable safety precautions, have complete knowledge of all equipment, exercises, locations, and methods as well as your own fitness and ability levels.
- Rule #1
Bend your ankles and knees and keep your weight on the forward 2/3rd's of your feet, this gives you a "shock absorber" for undulations in the snow and a stable center of mass. You should practice a bent ankle/knee position on the flat so that you know 100% for sure what it feels like.
- Rule #2
Keep your hands in front and below your belly button. Hands behind the body mean weight is back and you'll end up on your butt sooner or later. Hands raised means you are standing up too much and your center of mass is in a more unstable position.
- Rule #3
RELAX...a relaxed body and mind reacts better and allows your muscles to move quickly when they need to. As you triumph over different obstacles, your confidence will grow.
- Rule #4
- Learn how to control your decent and the basics of baby turns before getting yourself into anything but totally flat terrain. The best place to practice is at a groomed XC ski area on a packed flat surface. You want a small hill with an open runout free of obstacles.
- Rule #5
Always allow plenty of room to slow yourself, turn, or stop. Beginning skiing is like driving on an icy road--use caution and common sense in any situation.
This is the primary decent control technique. It is very good for slowing a decent but it is NOT great for stopping on a dime--no beginner-intermediate technique is! Note that the full wedge will only work on a flat surface so this means stepping out of the track and using a skating lane or packed snow area. If you are "trapped" on a narrow classic track, you need to use the half wedge instead (but many of the same principles apply).
While applying all the overall downhill rules, gradually push your skis into an A-shape while in motion. (Note: you can practice pushing into an A on the flats if you have a packed, smooth surface) Once into an A position you need to maintain pressure throughout both feet--evenly! Push too hard or not enough and you'll create a turn when you may not want one. Make sure to remember your downhill rules throughout! If you allow your hands to come up or behind you, your weight will come off your skis and the wedge won't do you any good. Another caution point is to avoid allowing the ski tips to cross. If you see this happen, immediately slide the top ski back just enough to separate the two.
To slow yourself, slowly push down harder with both feet while forcing the skis to go onto their inside edge. The edges will then begin to create a controlled skid. If you want the skis to run a bit more, ease up on the amount of pressure and edge (i.e. allow the skis to flatten a bit).
When you practice the wedge, it is essential that you become comfortable with both initiating and backing off so that you can control speed at will. As you get the hang of it, begin trying to come to a complete stop on a small hill with a sizable runout. At lower speeds you can stop pretty quickly with a good wedge and this is a huge confidence builder for beginners.
Half Wedge in the Track
When you are in the tracks you can adapt the wedge into an excellent slowing and stopping technique. Simply lift one ski out of the track while in motion and place it in at an angle to the ski left in the track. This gives you a push point to apply the pressure that slows you down.
Make sure to lift your one ski out and into the angle gently but quickly and without a lot of upward lift, otherwise you will end up trying to balance on one foot and a fall will surely follow! Also, gently apply pressure to the outside-the-track ski. Too much, too soon will dig the ski into the snow and literally stop you too fast.
Many beginners find that the half wedge in the track is an even more effective skill for slowing and stopping than the full wedge. It is indeed very useful for narrow track sections but for major hills or areas where the tracks have been wiped out, you still need to master the full wedge as well.
The easiest way to turn when starting out is to start out in a Snowplow Wedge and gradually flatten the inside ski (to the turn) while gradually increasing the angle of the edge and pressure on the outside ski. This will arch you slowly in the direction you want to turn.
It is essential that you remember your downhill fundamentals and do not let your upper body twist in the direction of the turn (common error) or allow your hands to come up or beind you (also common). Anything that takes your full weight off control of the skis will end up leaving you at the mercy of hill rather than the other way around.
Try to practice turning to both sides several times on a smooth slope in a slalom fashion. Having a professional lesson on just turning skills can be an excellent investment, particularly if you are planning to go on an off-track tour in mountain areas.