Isolation Isn't Always a Bad Thing
One of the basic coaching principles for skiing is to break down the techniques. The greatest breakdown is dryland techniques, done off of skis or rollerskis, working on the details of the movements, control, body position, specific motions, and relaxation. While these are the fundamentals that athletes from beginners to Olympians should do regularly and reconnect with, without a coach or training group, these types of drills often get overlooked as superfluous, or not done simply by being unaware of a good regimen.
In this age of high tech gizmos and over-the-top competitive youth commitment to sports development, I’m still a strong believer in learning the sport from the sport. While it may not be fashionable or cutting edge, letting the requirements of skiing teach you organically has always been and still is a great way to improve your skiing.
There are two ways you can easily get better on your own, both technically and physically, and it’s about isolation:
Lower body isolation: skiing without poles
Skiing without poles is nothing new. But I bet you don’t do it enough!
Classic: Rollerskiing classic without poles challenges your balance and teaches you how to glide better on one foot. It prepares you to stride, not shuffle. That should be your focus—to glide. It teaches you that to glide, you need to transfer your weight fully. Spend periods of fall classic rollerskis skiing gradual uphills with no poles to prepare your balance.
When you get on snow, classic striding without poles on flats and gradual uphills improves working your kick initiation way better than simply going skiing. If you get frustrated from slipping when you first get on snow, drop your poles and work on it. I would challenge you when the snow flies and there are kilometers of tracked trails beckoning, to spend the first 30 minutes of your first 5 classic skis of the year, working on kicking your skis without poles. Keep adjusting kick wax and see each time if you can get kicking with a touch less wax than the last time. Your skiing the rest of the winter will thank you for those 2.5 hours!
Skating: Rollerskiing skating by all accounts has an easier stress and initiation on its kick than real snow skating. A great way to make up some of that difference is regularly skate rollerskiing without poles. It helps build better balance, and when you remove the poles, your sense for a better weight transfer is heightened. Concentrate on your hips, not your shoulders, being the leader of the weight transfer!
When transitioning to snow, all the nuance necessary to effectively control and edge your skis with the lower leg, calves, and shins, get help from the poles. If you remove the poles, those supportive and stabilizing muscle firings are much more practiced and improve technique quickly. I challenge you to the same 30-minutes of no poles for your first 5 skate skis of the season. I believe most if not all skate skiing technical ills can be wiped out with more no-poles skating, and a bit of concentration.
Upper body isolation: double poling, initiating, and single sticking
Double poling strength and technique is the single most important aspect necessary for effective, enjoyable, and faster skiing, regardless of the technique. As ski surfaces improve and harden, skiing speeds increase, and good effective classic and skating technique require a forward body position. Good technique is predicated on being able to throw your body onto your poles. To do this, you need to be strong in the core, pecs, lats, and back. Strength training helps prepare you, but so too does simply going out and DOING IT! It’s simple. Double pole more.
A great drill to help become a better double poler is to work on your initiation of planting the poles. This gives you some lower-intensity practice emphasizing a high, forward initiation, without adding fatigue. On a gradual uphill, work on throwing your body weight and hips high and forward onto your poles. Basically this drill can exhibit for you how much speed you can generate at relatively low physical cost, just initiating the poling motion dynamically. Trying to achieve a dynamic initiation will help you naturally feel where your body weight is most effective and gaining a spike in forward speed.
Finally, doing single sticking builds triceps, core, and back strength as well as accentuates the need for weight transfer when trying to diagonals stride.
So much of skiing can be learned by engaging the necessary motions, body positions, and building better fitness to do them. Often, it just takes discipline and personal engagement with the requirements of the sport motion to see improvements.
Good luck and happy skiing!