Skip the Lift, Try Nordic Skiing
For many athletes, Nordic skiing is a recreational sport that involves a more leisurely pace allowing the skier to enjoy the outdoors and chat with friends along the trail. For more competitive athletes, races are an all-body cardio workout and extremely challenging activity. Nordic skiing can also be used as a great cross-training activity for summer sports like running or cycling. No matter why you’re out on the trail, Nordic skiing takes on three main forms.
- Classic Skiing: Classic skiing involves kicking and gliding in a forward-leaning motion. Classic Nordic ski tracks are deeply groomed, thinner tracks that run parallel to each other.
- Skate Skiing: Skate skiing tracks are more widely groomed than classic tracks. The skate skiing motion moves the skis forward in a V pattern, similar to rollerblading or ice-skating.
- Back-Country Skiing: For athletes with a bit more experience, back-country skiing is typically done in more remote locations like a state or national park instead of at a Nordic center. This type of Nordic skiing is done off of groomed trails and the individual skier, or the leader of the group, is actually breaking the trail instead of sticking to pre-cut trails as in classic and skate skiing.
Your hometown Nordic center or Paralympic Sport Club is also a great resource. To find one in your hometown visit US Paralympics club finder.
- Stand-Up Skiers: Stand-up Nordic skiing independently requires the ability to walk and balance on one foot for a short period of time in order to glide through tracks. Athletes with arm amputations ski standing up without any prosthetic devices. They will learn how to adjust their forward motion using only one (or no) pole to propel them forward. Athletes with single leg amputations can ski standing up wearing their prosthetic leg.
- Visually-Impaired Skiers: Visually-impaired skiers will use stand-up skis, poles and a guide. Guides often ski with a mic and speaker to give the athlete verbal commands. Guiding requires a large amount of trust between the guide and athlete to ensure they stay on course and at the proper speed throughout both the uphill and downhill sections of the course.
- Sit Skiers:Athletes with spinal cord injuries, double leg amputations and some single leg amputees will use a sit ski, a piece of equipment with a seat mounted on top of two fixed skis. Sit skiing requires a lot of upper body strength, and Carey recommends that beginners get assistance pushing, especially on uphills. “It is a unique motion,” says Carey. “Sit skiers who like a challenge will be better off exploring more terrain and getting a little help when they need it, rather than staying in a small flat area.” The sit ski should fit snugly to the skier, and the design of the ski will vary depending on the level of injury. It is best to contact your local adaptive sports organization to find out what ski might best fit your body before heading out on your first lesson.
At the Paralympic level, races are split into Standing, Sitting and Visually-Impaired classes with skiers racing against others with similar ability levels. Standing skiers have the option of skiing classic-style or skate style, whereas sit-skis are designed to fit into the deeper classic-style tracks.
If you want to add another challenge to your race, consider adding the element of rifle shooting and you’re now participating in the sport of biathlon. Governed by the same National Governing Body as Nordic skiing, biathletes carry a rifle on their backs as they ski the course. Racers must stop at designated spots along the course, calm their heart rate enough to aim true and shoot at targets with a rifle. Racers that miss their intended target receive a penalty of either an additional length of course to ski or time added to their finish time.
Sprint biathlon races have athletes ski three 2.5 kilometer loops. In between loops, athletes shoot at five targets. Missed targets result in athletes having to ski an extra length of course prior to their next loop. Distance competitors ski the same loop five times, stopping between each loop to shoot at the target. Missed shots in distance races result in a one-minute penalty being added to the racer’s finish time.
Standing and sit-ski racers use an air rifle with pellets while visually-impaired athletes shoot an electronic rifle that allows them to aim by listening to a set of tones. The closer the rifle is to the center, the higher the tone.