Gliding over the winter landscape on cross-country skis is great fun and a great workout. But sooner or later your track will take you down a slope, sometimes a steep one – and then things can become scary.
The best way to handle such descents is to use a technique called the half snowplough in which your skis are placed in a wedge shape.
To learn it you need a stretch of grooved track that slopes gently downward. It’s important that the slope runs down to flat ground – so that you’ll come to a safe stop even if you do nothing to slow yourself down.
Equipped with such a slope, break the technique down into the following six elements. Then work through them one-by-one. Repeat each element several times until you are confident with it.
1 Glide straight down the track
Adopt a position in which your knees are slightly bent, your shoulders are relaxed and your hands are held slightly in front.
Maintain this basic position and simply glide down the slope. Keep your skis in the track’s grooves.
2 Shift your weight on to your right foot
Start down the slope in your basic position, and then gradually shift most of your weight on to your right foot. Your right foot, knee, hip and shoulder should be in line vertically.
Then, maintaining this new position, glide down the slope.
3 Lift your left ski off the snow
When you are happy with the right-weighted position, it’s time to start lifting your left ski briefly out of its track.
Practise lifting and lowering the ski as you glide down the slope. Keep your weight on your right ski all the time. Repeat several times, lifting your left ski for longer each time.
4 Wedge your left ski
Maintaining the right-weighted position, lift your left ski as just described. But now lay it on the snow in a wedge shape, placing it to the left of the track grooves. Your right ski still points forward in its track. Your ski-tips will be quite close together.
At this stage don’t worry about how wide the wedge is. As long as your ski-tails are further apart than your ski-tips, you’re making progress.
Now place your left ski back in its track.
Go down your slope several times repeating the sequence: Lift; wedge; replace in track.
5 Shift your weight gradually on to the left ski
Now, when you have wedged your left ski, move some of your body weight on to it. Do this gently and progressively. Feel your upper body moving from its right-weighted position through a central position and gradually to a left-weighted position.
Try it a few times. You may feel the wedge getting wider as your weight shifts.
6 Bring your left ski gradually on to its inside edge.
This last element calls for a gentle touch.
Now, when you have wedged and weighted your left ski, force its inside edge down into the snow. You do this by pushing down gently with the big-toe side of your left foot.
You should come to a stop!