Need for speed

Skate skiing by Tim Hauserman

It’s like Groundhog Day. It keeps happening over and over again. Whether it’s a Sacramento television reporter or a Bay Area sports writer, they all seem incapable of accurately describing cross-country skate skiing. One will say skate skiing is a new sport, when it has actually been a form of cross-country skiing for close to 30 years (so I guess that makes snowboarding a new-fangled sport as well?). Another pens the headline: “If you don’t ski: Winter Options,” with a picture of a cross-country skier under the headline. They talk about cross-country skiing being a “low-speed option” when that isn’t necessarily the case either. So, as a public service, and in an effort to keep some of the remaining hair on the heads of skate skiing addicts such as myself, I took on the task of creating a quick educational primer on cross-country skate skiing.

There are several forms of cross-country skiing. Striding or classical is the original style that most people are familiar with. You slide along with your skis moving straight ahead. It can be a slow tromp through the woods, or it can be an aerobic workout in the groomed tracks at a cross-country ski center. Skate skiing, as the name suggests, involves skiing with a motion similar to ice skating or rollerblading. It is performed primarily at cross-country ski areas on groomed “skating lanes,” which are ribbons of corduroy the width of a grooming machine. In comparison to classic cross-country skiing gear, skating boots are firmer, the skis are shorter and the poles are longer.

Skate skiing is a fast moving technique that allows you to cover a lot of terrain and get an excellent full body aerobic workout in a short period of time. It involves gliding on one ski at a skating angle, then transferring your weight, and gliding on the other ski. Once you learn the technique it is incredibly fun and can be totally addicting. At the cross-country ski areas in the Tahoe region, the bulk of the several thousand season pass holders are primarily skate skiers. Many mountain athletes treat skate skiing as their winter counterpart to their summer running and bike riding routines. All ages can participate, from youngsters on the school Nordic programs to fit 80-year-old retired folks.

Downhill skiers and snowboarders have found skate skiing to be an excellent aerobic balance to their downhill activities. When the snow on the slopes has turned to packed powder, also known as ice, it is actually a good time to be skate skiing. Hard, fast snow is a plus for skate skiing. When the precious powder returns, however, the downhill is good, while skate skiing in the cold, soft snow becomes more difficult.

If you’re thinking of trying skate skiing, a lesson is recommended. While it’s fairly simple to learn, it can be a challenge, and a lesson can make the difference between finding a new sport that you love and flailing in frustration. The cross-country ski areas in the region all have programs to teach skate skiing, and many offer special clinics. Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area in Tahoe City, for example, gives free beginning skate skiing lessons every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Several times a winter, Tahoe Cross-Country also conducts yoga-ski workshops, where a skating lesson is followed by a yoga class.

Ahhhh … now that sounds good.

Where to go:

Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area, Tahoe City. 530-583-5475

Tahoe Donner Cross Country, Truckee. 530-587-9484

Royal Gorge Cross Country, Donner Summit. 530-426-3871

Spooner Lake Cross Country, Spooner Summit. 775-749-5349