Outdoor 101: Skate Ski Basics

By: Whitney James

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How to score big endorphins and avoid crowded resorts this winter

Skate skiing is one of the most niche winter sports around, second only to skijoring (which isn’t fair, as that sometimes involves skate skiing). But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a complete dork to enjoy and even master the sport. You just need a positive attitude and the desire to burn an incredible amount of calories. The sport was first acknowledged by the masses in the 1982 Cross-country Skiing Championships, when USA athlete Bill Koch started skating on classic skis and blew everyone’s mind. Since then, five of the top 10 VO2 maxes ever recorded have been attributed to cross-country skiers (ultrarunner Kilian Jornet and cyclist Lance Armstrong don’t even make the list). And while you’ll often have quiet trails all to yourself, a cross-country day pass is roughly one-tenth the price of a lift ticket. If you’re ready to join the ranks and try your hand at skating on snow, here are five ways to get started on the right foot.


Your alpine get-up isn’t going to make the cut for cross-country skiing. But don’t worry—the spandex onesie you saw in the Olympics is optional. Even when the temperatures drop to below zero, your core is going to be toasty with a solid windbreaker and base layer, with a similar set-up on your legs. Focus on breathable materials and ultra-warm accessories for your hands, feet, and noggin. The guy at the rental shop will be able to outfit you with the proper skis, boots, and poles, and can tell you about the type of wax on your skis if you’re into that sort of thing. Remember that these types of skis are called skinnies and you’ll sound like a pro.


There are several different methods to get around on your skate skis. All involve moving your legs a lateral motion, as you would on roller blades or ice skates. From there, you can switch up the arms. The V1 motion is easiest to start with, and involves pushing off on one leg, as it begins its glide out to the side. The V2 is more advanced and involves pushing as each leg glides, one after the other. You can also use a single-stroke motion to get yourself up a steep hill, alternating a one-arm push with opposite leg glide. No idea what I just said? YouTube is your best friend when it comes to getting familiar with the ways you can glide. When you first step onto the groomed track, I suggest leaving your poles behind for five minutes to get acquainted with the lower half of your body.


Skate skis don’t have edges, and if you’re a downhill skier, you’re going to notice the difference the moment the track tilts slightly down. Don’t make the mistake of trying to turn as you would at the resort. Pizza-pie is a foolproof way to go down a hill on your skinnies, and you can alternate pressure from one foot to another to navigate corners. Don’t be embarrassed when you fall. This is an extremely difficult activity to master and can be frustrating until you get your balance down pat.

Photo: Daniel Dunn / Instagram


Like any endurance activity, having the basic muscle groups and energy stores available to tap into is key for an enjoyable experience while skate skiing. Runners and cyclists will find a natural ability to carry over to the sport in terms of endurance, while athletes who have strong triceps and shoulders will excel. Hit the weights on a regular basis to build these areas, and you’ll reap big pay-offs on flat terrain, whether you’re on classic skis or skate.

Photo: Daniel Dunn / Instagram

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