Skate Expectations

Maggie Slepian's picture
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It's way harder than it looks.

I had extremely high expectations for skate skiing. I don’t know why, considering my history of underwhelming athletic performances.

For the past two winters, I’ve shuffled around on snowshoes and classic cross-country skis. While it was nice to be outside, I’d be lying if I said the men and women cruising by on their flashy skate skis didn’t make me wish I was moving a little bit faster.

This year, I decided to join the pack. Outfitted with a sleek pair of Madshus Hypersonic skate skis, I watched an online video entitled “Skate Skiing in One Day” and headed out to Bozeman Creek Trail. I've seen Bozemanites of all shapes and sizes skate ski like pros—kick, glide, something with the poles, kick, glide. How hard could this be? 

  Off to a stellar start

I envisioned myself clipping into the bindings, my legs growing four inches longer, turning into solid muscle, and somehow wearing a spandex bodysuit that complemented my long goddess legs.

Spoiler alert: none of this happened. It took ten minutes squatting on my living room floor to clip the boots into the bindings, which was fine because it meant I didn’t have to struggle at the trailhead. Wrong again: in the parking lot, I immediately slipped and fell while shoving my foot into the ski/boot combination, fell again when I dropped the tailgate and my ski pole hit me in the stomach, and went down a third time in the wheel rut as I shuffled to the gate. 

"Maggie! Lower your wings! NO WINGS."

Waddling and stumbling up the trail, I apologized whenever one of the gliding goddesses or spandex-clad men blew past me. Obviously, I was doing something wrong. About ten minutes, (and one-tenth of a mile up the trail) an athletic-looking gentleman with an impressive moustache came sailing by. I stumbled, my skis slid to the sides, and I went down in a tendon-busting split. I rolled over onto my side like a newborn giraffe, fighting the skis and finally getting to my feet. The man glided up to me. “It might help if you stayed in the track,” he said kindly, gesturing towards the classic lines.

 “But I’m on skaaaaate skis,” I wailed, berating myself for not paying more attention to the video.

“Oh… okay, well, have you had a lesson?” He asked. This question did not deserve an answer, given that he had two eyes and an assumed capacity for reasoning.

 “Press out with the inside edge of one ski, glide with the other. It’s like ice skating.” He showed me a few strides, and I copied his movements before thanking him profusely and sending him on his way. I waited a minute, then executed a 15-point turn and double-poled my way back to the truck, where I took the boots/skis off as one unit, flung them in the bed of the truck, and drove home. 

The next day, I roped Emma into accompanying me back to Bozeman Creek. She had competed for school's Nordic ski team back east, and was willing to A) witness the hilarity, and B) impart some desperately needed knowledge. 

Right away, she told me to plant my right foot, push off with the poles. Then plant my left foot, kick off, creating that V-shape movement I’d seen everyone else execute with ease. I stumbled along behind her, trying to copy her fluid, effortless movements. It felt like ice-skating in clown skates. Emma offered a continuous flow of advice, even taking my poles away to force the foot motion.

We migrated partway up the first hill, and she gave me some garbled instruction on “stepping around the turns.” I skidded down the (very slight) incline, missed the turn, and hit the side of the hill with my face. Shuffle back up, try again. Face-plant again into the body print from the previous attempt. 

There's a video of this somewhere, but a picture works fine.

“So you fell in exactly the same place,” Emma said. “That means you did exactly the same thing… which was wrong.” I went back up the hill and careened down, this time managing to adjust my weight and make the turn without face planting. Not smooth, not pretty, but at least I was still on my feet.

Skate skiing shouldn’t be this hard, but not everyone suffers from the severe lack of coordination as myself. It’s fun, and it’s a good solid workout. I’ve been out a few more times, and dare I say, I’m starting to get the hang of it. The learning curve is rarely enjoyable, but this seems worth it, so I’ll keep plugging away. Stay tuned—once I start to hone my skate-ski technique, the biathlon course is next.

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