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Skating by on Ski Skills


After limping off the field last September nearly crippled by an Idaho Nordic Club pre-season cross-country ski training session, I was ready for round two--on snow.

Thanks to ample snowfall in late November, I'd been on my sticks since Thanksgiving. I had managed to sneak in some pre-dawn lung-busting at Bear Basin in McCall, accompanied only by my own shadow cast from the light of my headlamp. Under the simultaneous assault of an intense cardio workout coupled with sub-zero temps, my physiology was starting to adapt to the punishment. Still, it was only because I was bolstered by caffeine and the knowledge that I was building ski fitness faster than most weekend warriors, that I soldiered on.

Skiing alone under the cover of darkness, I might have been stealthily tuning my aerobic engine. However, I was effectively hiding from my abysmal technique. Although elite Nordic skiers boast some of the greatest VO2 maxes in all athletics, skate skiing is also one of the more technical endurance sports on the planet. I can outrun plenty of people, but those people leave me in a powder flurry when we have skis and poles attached. And I sure as hell don't want to be the girl who always blames her wax for her inability to keep pace.

So that's why I stood in front of the Nordic lodge at Bogus Basin one Saturday morning, geared up to attend a clinic taught by the upper echelon of area Nordic ski racers. I was still struggling to force my snow-caked boots into my bindings when the Idaho Nordic Club's clinic skated off precisely at the designated start time.

I caught up to the gangly herd about a kilometer down the track where instructors had stopped to break everyone into smaller groups. I wound up in the group led by Joe Jensen, who had earned his notoriety with me when he led last fall's dry-land workout with such vigor and intensity that he made Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser look like a softy. Of course, once we began a double-poling drill, I was the first person Jensen yelled at. But to my astonishment, this time he was chewing me out for working too hard, shouting, "This is not a race, Sarah! Leave your ego back by that tree, or I'll leave you bonked by the side of the trail."

As the minutes ticked by, our group went from double-poling, to skating without poles, to using poles with varied timing and varied results. Jensen was ever-present, ever-patient and his technique was ever-perfect as he demonstrated each drill before having us try it during the two-hour clinic.

Remarkably, although the 40-some participants at the clinic spanned the spectrum of ability levels, it's fair to say that we all came away having learned something that will improve our Nordic skiing technique. And the next time I'm out there alone before daybreak, I'll be working hard--just not too hard.