When most people think of cross-country skiing, they picture the classic diagonal stride that resembles a running action mixed in with a bit of glide courtesy of long skis. If enjoyable, it has one major drawback: it lacks speed. Skate skiing, however, is the technique that will have you really cruising atop a trail of freshly draped snow with the exhilaration of the chilled air against your face.
Pioneered by American Bill Koch during his 1982 Nordic World Cup-winning season, skate skiing is exactly what it sounds like: With skis in a V-shape, the skate skier extends one leg to the side while planting his poles in the snow and, like an ice skater, pushes off. Done correctly, with rhythm, the stride is so proficient—about 25 percent faster than the diagonal method—that it is now performed as a separate event in competition because of the speed disparity. (An Internet search yields numerous tutorial videos and most ski mountains offer lessons.)
While Koch was forced to master skate skiing on classic skis, its subsequent popularity has spurred the creation of equipment designed specifically for the stride. These skis are shorter and narrower and take an application of wax to encourage glide.(Skiers on traditional cross-country skis usually forgo wax as they want the skis to grip the snow.) Skate poles are significantly longer than classic ones. Visit a local ski shop professional to receive a proper fitting, as height and weight will factor into the length and flex of your ski choice.
Salomon’s Equipe 7 Skate ski ($224), is one of the better beginner skate skis. Redesigned for 2013, the Equipe 7’s Densolite foam core resists twisting with reduced weight (590 grams per ski), giving you a feel for skate skiing without the sense that the ski is skiing you. The ski’s Javelin sidecut increases stability and control to make your stride more efficient and help you stay upright.
Salomon’s Active 8 Skate boot ($260), which locks into the brand’s new SNS Profil Equipe Skate binding ($100), offers additional lateral and rear support. Poles play a major role in the skate skiing stride, making a solid set is crucial. Salomon’s Equipe 20 Carbon poles ($75) sport a comfortable, ergonomic EVA grip with adjustable power straps at the top. At the bottom it has an aerodynamic racing basket located a few inches above a tungsten carbide tip.
Crunchy, hardpack snow is ideal, but you can also skate with about two inches of fresh powder on the base. Be sure to dress in light layers, as you’ll need to shed because you’re sure to work up a sweat.