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The diagonal stride for beginners, intermediate, and advanced skiers

This is an excerpt from Teaching Cross-Country Skiing by Bridget Duoos & Anne Rykken.

Diagonal Stride

The diagonal stride is the technique used most commonly when people are cross-country skiing on classic, or diagonal, skis. In this technique, the skier uses a kicking action followed by a weight shift to the gliding ski; after the weight shift, the skier quickly performs a poling action with the arm opposite the kicking leg. The diagonal stride can be done in groomed tracks at a slow to high speed. It can also be done across a wide open area of ungroomed and deep snow, but the movement will be considerably slower. The diagonal stride technique is very versatile, and the movement pattern is similar in nature to walking. These factors make the diagonal stride a popular technique that is easy to learn. See figure 3.1 for the diagonal stride critical features and technique biomechanics.

Critical Features

Start with the feet side by side
Kick back and down with the right foot as the right arm
swings forward and the left arm swings backward. Make
sure the poles are angled backward.

Plant the right pole even with the left foot so you can
push off the pole and glide on the left ski.

Return the right foot next to the left foot as you prepare
to kick with the left foot. The left arm swings forward, the
right arm swings backward, and the poles are angled backward.

Glide on the right ski. Then plant the left pole even with
the right foot for the push-off, and return the left foot to
a side-byside position with the right foot, preparing for a
right-leg kick.

Beginner Skier

For beginner skiers, the diagonal stride technique (see figure 3.2) will more closely resemble a shuffling of both feet on the snow and will not have a distinct kick or glide phase. Many new or young skiers do not have the leg strength to dynamically balance well enough to shift their body weight over a gliding ski. Frequently, the young skier will slide the foot forward so that the foot moves in front of the knee. Poles will be used for balance purposes rather than for propulsion. The skier may flick the pole basket out ahead of the hand, and the pole plant may be vertical.

Common Errors

  • Skiers use the poles for balance by planting the pole vertically and farther away from the body (see figure 3.2a).
  • The foot slides in front of the knee (see figure 3.2a).
  • No real kick is made; instead, the skier shuffles and slides the skis forward (see figure 3.2a).
  • Body weight is not completely transferred to a gliding ski (see figure 3.2c).
  • Skiers move the right arm and right leg forward at the same time.

Teaching Hints

  • Watch skiers walk in the gymnasium. Make sure that they are using a contralateral arm and leg pattern while walking (as the right arm swings forward, the left leg should be stepping forward). This is the same pattern that the students will use when skiing; therefore, if they do not perform it correctly when walking, chances are they will not perform the motion correctly when on skis.
  • Use a variety of ski games and activities to increase the students' comfort level on skis. Your students' confidence will improve once they learn how to control and steer their skis.
  • Have the students spend lots of time using just one ski. Make sure that they frequently switch the foot that the ski is on. New skiers will soon be gliding on one ski without even thinking about it when playing a game or doing scooters.
  • Don't use poles at all for the first six beginner lessons. Always have students spend part of every lesson skiing without poles, whether it is for a warm-up, drill, activity, or game.
  • Encourage skiers to work on balance and leg strength at home. They can do this by standing on one foot when brushing their teeth or when watching TV.

Activities and Games That Help Teach the Skill

If you have your skiers wear just one ski, they will be forced to shift their body weight over the gliding ski immediately after the kick. Changing the ski over to the other foot can be done quickly and easily, so students can practice gliding on both legs in a short amount of time. Game play using one ski is also a good way to teach skiers to steer and control their ski—and they often don't even realize they're learning it!

  • Scooters—Make sure that skiers work both legs by switching the ski to the other foot.
  • Jumping Jack Tag (see page 80)—No poles are used.
  • Any of the tag games played with skiers on one ski
Intermediate Skier

The intermediate skier can perform a kick and can glide on one ski, even if only for a short period of time (see figure 3.3). Intermediate skiers, who are usually a bit older than the typical beginner skier, will have increased leg strength and fairly good balance. Skiers at this level are able to perform the diagonal stride rhythmically; however, you should review the basics with them and encourage them to think about what they are doing. Skiers sometimes hurry to beat their friends or partners, and this can decrease their skill proficiency to the point where they are almost back to the beginner level. To help intermediate skiers improve their diagonal stride, you should use noncompetitive drills, games, and activities that the skiers will not rush through.

Common Errors

  • Skiers straddle the tracks and do not commit completely to the gliding ski after the kick.
  • Skiers are unable to continuously repeat the kick and glide rhythmically with their arms and legs working contralaterally.
  • The pole is planted in front of the foot (see figure 3.3a).
  • Skiers hurry because they are trying to beat their friends, and technique falls apart.
  • Skiers do not use the poles for propulsion (see figure 3.3b).
  • Poles are planted vertically rather than angled backward.

Teaching Hints

  • Continue to have the students ski without poles for a part of every lesson. This helps improve balance and confidence.
  • In activities with no poles, encourage skiers to swing their arms down the track by swinging their arms out in front of their body as their hands reach down the track.
  • Encourage skiers to start with their feet side by side and to figure out which foot they will kick with first. Standing in place, they should slide that ski backward and then figure out which arm should be moved forward and which arm should be moved backward. Skiers should return their feet to the side-by-side position before they actually start the diagonal stride. Do not use poles.
  • Tell skiers that if they lose the correct rhythm, they should stop, put their feet side by side, and then start again.
  • When adding poles to the practice of the diagonal stride, go through the sequence introduced in Intermediate Lesson 4 (see chapter 4), where skiers start with the poles out of the snow and then slowly lower the poles to the snow. If they lose their diagonal stride rhythm, skiers pull the poles out of the snow and start again.

Activities and Games That Help Teach the Skill

  • Slow-Mo Ski—This activity forces skiers to think about what they are doing in the diagonal stride movement. Once skiers get the correct feel and rhythm of the diagonal stride, the Slow-Mo Ski activity will continually challenge them to increase their glide phase. Practice this exercise without poles.
  • Scooters—Skiers should work on scooters regularly. This exercise will help to improve skiers' balance and will force them to shift their body weight over the gliding ski. Stress the importance of the arms moving contralaterally, and make sure that skiers work both legs.
  • Advanced Skier

Advanced skiers will be confident in their ability to use the diagonal stride to move rhythmically and quickly from place to place. These skiers have increased leg strength and improved balance, which will improve their performance of the diagonal stride. They have an easier time committing their weight to the gliding ski, so the shift of body weight over the gliding ski should be visible. Advanced skiers will have discovered that using the poles for propulsion really makes a difference in their forward speed and momentum; therefore, they will plant the poles angled backward and in the area across from the foot.

Common Errors

  • The skier's foot slips when performing the kick, resulting in a lack of forward propulsion.
  • Skiers make a noisy, slapping sound when diagonal striding.
  • The kick is executed late.
  • Skiers do not fully commit to the gliding ski.
  • Skiers “sit” with deeply bent knees.
  • The pole plant is still slightly vertical.

Teaching Hints

  • The kick should be made when the feet are side by side. If the feet are allowed to slide too far apart before kicking, the foot may slip.
  • The kick should be downward, not backward.
  • The kick should be done almost simultaneously with the pole plant. The kick will be started just slightly before the pole plant.
  • Hips should be kept high and forward. Skiers shouldn't slump. The lean should start at the ankles.

Activities and Games That Help Teach the Skill

Continue to play games with skiers wearing just one ski. Make the playing area larger and make teams smaller so that skiers are forced to move greater distances with increased speed.

  • Scooter count—Skiers should strive to reduce the number of scooter pushes made and should attempt to glide as long as they can. They should swing their hands down the track, reaching out in line with the ski.
  • Slow-Mo Ski—Practice first without poles and eventually with ski poles. Skiers should be using the correct contralateral arm and leg pattern. They should be able to perform the slow-motion diagonal stride for at least 150 yards (137 m) without stopping.

Read more from Teaching Cross-Country Skiing By Bridget Duoos and Anne Rykken.

More Excerpts From Teaching Cross Country Skiing