Friday, February 16, 2007

Skate Revolution's Western Front Part III, 1986-7

1986-87 – Skating to Full Circle
Like the previous summer, I enjoyed some of the best running in my life and ran all-time personal bests at several distances. However, by August I actually started to think about skiing, a first, and mixed in a couple of hill climb races. I also set out to purchase some dryland equipment. Up to that point I had only done a handful of preseason dryland workouts (ever) and didn’t know where to begin. In 1985-86, skiers and hockey players were about the only customers of these new contraptions, called Rollerblades, so I bought a pair and began rollerblading with ski poles.

In September, a friend suggested a three day USSA ski clinic in Steamboat Springs, and upon arriving, learned that at 28 I was the oldest participant by several years. Half the coaches were also younger. No biggie there. Our mentor was Torbjorn Karlsen, a young US Ski Team coach by way of Norway. Feeling a little out of place there at the Scandinavian Lodge, I quickly learned that the rollerblades were a bad purchase—that they don’t simulate skating well enough and lead to bad habits.

Torbjorn’s opening speech—hell, it was a sermon—was an eye opener for certain.
“Skating, skating, skating,” he admonished in a still thick Norwegian accent. All you Americans talk about, read about, and do is skating. Skating is faster, it is new, and it is exciting, but you must get back to classic skiing.”


Then he informed us that FIS has brought back classic technique and that from now on, all FIS and USSA race series would include classic events as well as skating.

4 Time Gold Medalist Gunde Svan at the Olympics

Anybody want to by a pair of these really neat new Rollerblades?

Through the clinic he showed videos and gave dryland demos, talked endlessly about weight shift, riding a flat ski, and getting into proper alignment with your nose, knees and toes. He gave more sermons on training, and generally brow beat us into thinking about committing to become better skiers. He explained the different techniques in detail. And they now had official names to stop the confusion. The diagonal skate, which resembled the herringbone hill climb, was called the Diagonal V, marathon skate kept its name, the alternating double pole, which I had learned painstakingly in 1985 was now called V1, and the new double-sided double pole was called V2.

That clinic was of the best things I’d ever done as a skier, and all I did is show up! Out of about 15 skiers at that clinic, three or four went onto stellar Olympic careers, including a 14 year old Pete Vordenberg, who now head coach the US Ski Team.

On the last day up to our ears in theory and inspiration (in addition to classic skiing, Torbjorn was very big on volume training), we worked on skate techniques in a parking lot. Finally, I had opportunity to learn the newly named V2. Although the learning curve was not as excruciatingly slow as V1, it didn’t come easy.

Former US ski team member and then assistant CU coach Toni Jorgensen had to have had a Steamboat Mountain of patience to work with a n’er do well 28 year old citizen skier who couldn’t quite get the timing down. I was trying to V1 off of each side, but the pole plant timing is quite the opposite.

Rather than planting the lead ski and poles simultaneously as in V1, V2 requires the skier to compress off of a glide and shift their weight to the opposite ski before the double pole plant.

Compress the knees
Shift weight and begin glide on new ski
Double pole and follow through while gliding
Shift weight and begin glide on opposite ski
Double pole and follow through…

We spent a good 45 minutes to an hour with not much headway before Toni figured out what I was thinking, and said “No, no, no. Remember your marathon skate, V2 is a lot like marathon skating, but you’re just shifting from side to side instead of gliding off that one ski.”

I got it!

And at that instant I also realized that I would have made a lousy, terrible country swing dancer.

I went home all excited about training and racing. A few weeks later we moved up to Summit County, where I trained harder that I had ever before, skiing or running. And I also started mixing in some classic skiing for the first time in two years, usually 45 min to on hour recovery sessions once or twice a week.

The work paid off improvements continued in the early season races, all freestyle. By the beginning of 1987, with all the techniques at my disposal it seemed that I’d arrived as a Nordic skater and skier. I did one last tune race before heading to Biwabik Minnesota for the World Championship team tryouts. At a low key 5k citizen’s race in Vail all elements seemed to click as I cruised to an easy win (pictured below); my skis were riding flat, transitions were smooth, and I shifted gears and techniques with ease. I had never felt better, more in shape, and more prepared.

Knowing that this was an entirely new level of competition, I was just hoping to have a good series of races. Within the first kilometers of the opening race, a 15k classic, I realized that something very important was missing with my training. My classic skiing sucked! I finished well behind, and somewhat disheartened, thinking that I’d wasted a good deal of money for the plane ticket and motel. Fortunately, the 10k and 30k skate races went much better and I went home not so discouraged.

First thing I did when I got back to Colorado, however, was to drive to Boulder, to look for better pair of classic skis. Lo! Right there on the rack of the cities’ most popular Nordic ski shop was a pair of Fischer RCS Klister skis, medium/soft flex, for the whopping price of $50. The salesclerk kind of snickered when he said that nobody is buying classic anymore and that everybody is talking about skating. I just smiled and snickered inside, knowing that classic was back but that Boulder was so cutting edge that it was behind…

From then on, I trained closer to 50-50 classic and skating, and found that classic offered much more than just recovery days. You actually accrue greater aerobic benefits with classic skiing while enduring less muscle fatigue. An added bonus, was that I soon found that the previous two years of skating and thinking about balance, ankle flex, weight shift, and timing, had resulted in a better understanding of the dynamics of skiing. Without even practicing I had taken a huge leap in classic technique and had become a more complete skier.

I still couldn’t do any of those country dance moves, even if a free vacation to Scandinavia was on the line, and could barely carve a rudimentary telemark turn, but track skiing and racing—classic or skating—were just fine.


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