Learning to skate ski

Hauserman demonstrates the balance transfer and glide on one ski. | Alyssa Ganong

The teacher

     by Tim Hauserman

Skate skiing is my favorite sport. You escape the crowds, get a great workout and float through the quiet winter woods. Skate skiing is a form of cross-country skiing that utilizes a motion similar to roller blading and ice skating. While it is a blast, it can be a challenge to learn. Taking a lesson is highly recommended.

While skate skiing is a blast, it can be a challenge to learn. Taking a lesson is highly recommended.

For about 20 years I have been teaching skate skiing at Tahoe Cross Country. I’ve taught more than 1,000 people and a few of those folks picked it up right away. Others decided fairly shortly into the class that perhaps snowshoeing might be a better fit. And then there is the bulk of students who will learn the sport, but perhaps not quite as quickly as they would like.

Here are a few tips to make the process easier:

Lesson 1 | Yes, learning a new sport can be hard. Be patient, grasshopper. Jimi Hendrix probably sucked at guitar when he first picked it up. Someone had to tell him where to put his fingers and what to do and then he had to practice a lot.

Lesson 2 | Skate skiing is about skiing on one ski at a time. The power comes from transferring your weight back and forth. It’s about pushing off on one ski and committing to the other ski. Do not chicken out and keep both skis on the snow because you are afraid of falling.

Once I was teaching a couple in which one person was living on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast. I informed them that skate skiing was all about commitment. She said, “Commitment? He doesn’t know anything about commitment.”

Lesson 3 | In classic cross-country skiing, the skis go straight ahead. In skate skiing, the skis go out at in a V-shaped angle. Remember to ski with the V. For you downhill skiers, it’s OK if your skis cross in the back.

Lesson 4 | Everyone learns at his or her own pace. In general, women tend to learn by actually listening to the instructor and doing what he or she says. Men, on the other hand, tend to watch and say, “Oh, yeah, I got this.” Many a time I have thought: “Now, if I could just combine the two of you. She has the precision and grace; he has the brawn.”

Lesson 5 | Flex your ankles and bend your knees. Straight legs are not good shock absorbers and don’t help with balance — and balance is one of the keys to skate skiing.

Lesson 6 | Keep your hips and body forward and your butt in: You are not supposed to look like a Kardashian perched over a golden throne.

Lesson 7 | It’s all about rhythm; find your inner rhythm and dance your way down the trail.

Lesson 8 | Don’t over analyze. It will come to you. Just relax and have fun.

Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area offers private lessons by appointment and free drop-in clinics for beginner adult skate ski on Tuesdays at 9:15 a.m. Rentals and trail passes are not included. | tahoexc.org

Authors Ganong and Hauserman

The student

     by Alyssa Ganong

I’ve been heading down snowy mountain paths for more than 20 years on a pair of metal-edged touring skis to enjoy the woods or just get in a quick, lunchtime, winter workout.

While cross-country touring and skate skiing are both forms of Nordic skiing, they have always been at opposite ends of the spectrum in my eyes. Skate skiing might as well have been basketball. Even so, it is still skiing and so it’s been on my radar for years. But, picking up another winter sport just didn’t seem realistic. Some days I can’t seem to find the time to use the gear I already own, let alone add another ski to my quiver.

Beginning to gasp for air, I attempted to ski up that mild slippery slope, quickly overheating in the not-yet warm morning. And I thought I was in somewhat shape. Ha.

It wasn’t until I registered my daughter for the local Strider Glider program that I finally decided to give this skinny-ski thing a whirl. My good friend Zoe Najim suggested we should skate ski together, taking turns pulling her 3-year-old in the sled and getting strong, while our first and second graders were receiving instruction. I decided I had better get a jump on it, so I could keep up with her.

Tim Hauserman, whom I know from Tahoe Weekly, just happens to teach a free beginning skate-ski clinic at Tahoe Cross Country. Perfect. With a recent snow on a sunny day, I put on my softshell running pants, a lightly lined coat and headed over to the ski area.

Before I’d even put on my boots, I’d already overheard a new term: “the gunslinger,” referring to the appropriate stance to take when standing in skate skis. This was hilarious to me and put a light spin on skate skiing that I hadn’t imagined before. In my mind it had always seemed slightly stuffy and serious.

Renee Lewis joined me for the clinic and we headed out onto the snow with Hauserman to learn the art of skating. We practiced our stance and what we should and should not do with our skis and poles. Then we put on our skis to head up the initial hill to the practice area. How hard could it be? I mean, really, I’ve been downhill skiing my entire life. It is after all, sliding on snow.

Well, I felt like a fish out of water. Beginning to gasp for air, I attempted to ski up that mild slippery slope, quickly overheating in the not-yet warm morning. And I thought I was in somewhat shape. Ha. Somehow sliding on these little skis felt awkward and not at all like the on-snow experience I thought I might have, as I pictured biathletes cruising seemingly effortlessly in the Olympics.

But I think it was the jargon, that skate-ski terminology that hooked me right away. As a climber I have a great appreciation for the words that people associate with actions, that more often than not, bring humor to a situation. As we got moving and began to duck walk/skate ever so slowly up that first incline, Hauserman says, “Now, kick it into granny gear.”

Something you shift into on your bike right? Nope. Apparently also known as single stick, it is the slow, slow you that huffs it up a hill while trying to hold the gunslinger position on skinny skis, overdressed in the December sun.

Hauserman is also a pretty funny guy, bringing his own humor and anecdotes into our fishbowl. You immediately pick up on his passion for the sport. As we ditched our poles to practice some gliding while balancing on one leg, Hauserman shares tales of past lessons and the dynamics occurring within lessons, glimpses into relationships that translate all too well to life experiences.

“Skate skiing is all about commitment,” he says, “and balance and coordination and rhythm.”

Back in our poles, we’re learning V1. And later, V2. Sounds like a boulder problem to me. Well it practically felt like one of the first few times I tried V2. But according to Hauserman, I’ve got it, something most beginners don’t learn early on. Success. Maybe all that downhill skiing is helping me out after all.

“Oh, and by the way, this is how you stop,” Hauserman says about 15 minutes into our lesson that could be important. “Don’t be afraid to fall down.”

In larger Hauserman-speak that means: “Don’t think too much like an adult, focusing on the outcome. Just go for it, practice and if you fall down, get up.” Great life lessons here.

So it only took 1 hour and 20 minutes to become quite exhausted and to discover that I also have some muscles in my shins and feet that I hadn’t known existed before.

I also got in my moving meditation, learned something new, almost fell down (several times), felt silly, skied fast down an icy path through the woods (which was not only exhilarating, but also a little scary), made a new friend and most importantly, laughed.

I climbed in my car and headed off to the office thinking that I would definitely need to pick up a pair of these skinny skis. | (530) 583-5475 or tahoexc.org