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Wild Rumpus Sports


Okay, not a lot of time to write. But I will try to respond.

1. This isn’t personal. I know Dick is a good guy, I assume he feels the same way about me. We both feel it is important to improve understanding of technique in this country. I would love to find common ground, or to persuade him (or be persuaded). My comment about his accusing me (and others) of not knowing what we are talking about was to emphasize that it is easy to criticize the faceless monolith known as the U.S. Ski Team (I’ve been know to do it), but when you do this, you are in fact criticizing a number of talented and dedicated athletes and coaches. Dick can’t accuse the U.S. Ski Team of disseminating bad information without accusing many of these individuals of serious knowledge deficits.

2. Dick demonstrates that he had a far broader knowledge of the literature, particularly the foreign literature, and of anatomy than I have. He points out, for instance, that when I rightly criticized Marty Hall for claiming that the “abs are stabilizers, not movers” I did not accurately describe the location and detailed functions of the different muscles involved. The point remains, though, that the abs are an important source of poling power, and also that skiers 20 years ago underutilized these muscles.

3. I simply disagree with Dick on the importance of the literature in developing technique. This is based on methodological flaws in the few papers I have read along with the simple fact that Dick is far better read than I am and comes to conclusions inconsistent with my experience racing the World Cup, watching the World Cup, and talking to my competitors. The “two oars” in his metaphor, should, in my opinion, be athlete and coach, not athlete and scientist.

4. As another example, I am curious how Smith concluded that V-2 is overused. Was this study done on Red Group skiers? Or did it in fact conclude that less competitive skiers did themselves a disservice when they V-2 as far up a hill as a World Cup skier? At nationals this year, I had a good skate race in part because I was willing to V-1 far more of the course than many of my competitors. This was good for moving me from 20th to 10th place in the country. But against a World Cup field, a skier using V-1 simply could not have held the pace necessary to avoid embarrassing himself. The U.S. Ski Team focuses on the technique it takes to win big races. I am open to the idea that their conclusions may not apply to the vast majority of skiers, but this by no means makes them wrong.

5. The issue that started this discussion was the issue of weight transfer. Dick claims no memory of the way I was taught to skate, that is, in three distinct motions: apply power in the direction of the glide ski, glide, and rotate to face the direction of the next glide ski. I could dig up and old PSIA manual where I have seen this prescription if people need proof.

6. The fundamental question here has to do with whether good weight shift is possible when conscious rotation is minimize. Dick notes at the end of his recent article that rotating the femur outward from the pelvis results in an unstable position with the knee buckled in. This may indeed be his experience, but this is the result of a strength deficit on his part. I struggled with the same deficit, particularly on my right side. In my experience, once one develops the piriformis and glute med muscles to the point that they can stabilize the leg with the hip turned out, skating is noticeably faster and more efficient in this position. Given that Dick agrees with the need to keep one foot from falling behind the other, I suspect that we are indeed closer on this issue than the FasterSkier hyped rivalry might otherwise suggest. I am glad that Dick questions the wisdom of the weight transfer I suggest, rather than questioning is physiological possibility, as Marty Hall did.

7. Finally, I am including a few video clips. The first shows the relay from the Calgary Olympics. Note the long poles, which sometimes lead to people planting their poles above their heads. This forces their weight back and minimizes the role of their abdominal muscles in poling. Not also the extensive use of V-1 on the flat, and the awkwardness this creates. In my opinion, we see a much more mechanical technique here as well; many skiers have a “hitch” in their climbing technique.

The next clip is from 1994. Note the difference between Daehlie and Alsgaard.

After that there are a couple clips of Alsgaard and Elofson skiing. Note how easy it is to read the bibs throughout the clips, and how little torso rotation is happening.

Finally, I have included Northug from 2007. Note how even at an incredible tempo his technique remains both compact and fluid. The contrast between this and the awkward flat sprints of the first video is especially compelling.




  1. This discussion is very interesting, and a great thing for the sport. I only want to add another example of top skate technique. These biathletes are in the bussiness of skating. Some general things to watch for.

    1)Open knee and hip
    2)Bent ankles and complete weight shift.
    3)Ski knee and hip allignment.

    This is the link to the Mass Start at the World Championships. You have to wait through the comments, but the coverage is excellent. Watch Ole Einar Björndalen, he is the best.

  2. Jacob Scheckman says:

    Hi Justin, I just posted a response on my own blog (originally was just going to be a comment, but got too long) at:

    I should add to my post that the person who convinced me to enter my first ski race was Forest Reid, who I think you work and coach with.

  3. Hi Jake,
    Thanks for responding. I must quibble with your statement that I advocate “very little upper body compression.” In fact, it is possible to significantly compress the upper body when you “crunch” the shoulders towards the hips. What I do not advocate is significantly bending forward at the waist – which Marty seemed to advocate in one of his columns. You would know far better than I how he actually feels on this issue.

    On the V-1 vs V-2 issue there are two separate effects. In one, which you describe well, a skier sees that someone faster used V-2 for an entire climb and concludes that they skier faster because they used a different technique rather than vice-versa. I’m sure this happens and that some individuals and even teams overuse V-2 for this reason.
    On the other hand, as the 1988 video makes clear, there is no “automatic transmission” that guarantees you will switch to the best technique for the terrain. You need to develop all of your gears, and this means forcing a V-2 in training and intervals, and maybe even less important races. I believe it is a wonderful drill to ski up the steepest slopes in a V-2. Once you have mastered this drill, you can time intervals on different hills in different techniques and learn to match your technique to the terrain in a way that works for you. Indeed, it would be foolish for a serious racer not to fine-tune their technique choices this way, but almost as foolish not to experiment with V-2 as a climbing technique and to test its limits.

    Finally, I am not trying to say that there is no rotation of the hips or shoulders. Rather, I am asserting that this rotation is a consequence – not a cause – of weight transfer.

  4. Jacob Scheckman says:

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks for your comments – in my mind, we’re actually making progress in this discussion, and I think the “two sides” of this debate are way more in agreement than most people realize. I think you and I come to the table from opposite perspectives. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine when you learned to skate you learned the “fishy” technique, as Luke S. describes it, with (by today’s standards) an overemphasis on torso rotation and waist bend. When people realized that there was a lot of wasted energy here, there started to be an emphasis on minimizing torso rotation and waist bend. For “fishy” skaters, this was good, they could rein in the excess motion until they found the “minimums” which didn’t limit weight transfer or application of upper body power. But when I learned to skate (I am close to 10 years younger than you), the conventional wisdom of “minimal” rotation/waist bend was interpreted by most as no rotation/waist bend – forcing no rotation put limits on weight transfer and forcing no waist bend put limits on upper body power. What this resulted in for me was a very compact technique, but one where I sat in the middle, incompletely shifting my weight, and used only my arms for upper body propulsion. As a junior I took every opportunity to learn technique, and as a consequence had interactions with a lot of coaches and other skiers. I don’t think my experience with skating technique was much different than other skiers my age. Allowing my torso to rotate and my waist to bend improved my skiing a lot. I think the reason Marty and Dick talk about these things so much and so adamantly is a reaction to coaching a lot of skiers like me out of the bad habits that we developed.

    I apologize for misunderstanding your perspective on upper body motion. I think we may agree that some waist bend is important. Look for example at this picture, again from the Alsgaard clip:
    His upper body isn’t parallel to the ground, but clearly, his butt is back and his waist is bent.

    Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about V-2 vs V-1. In order to develop a skill you have to practice it. Technique transitions are absolutely a skill.

    Thanks again for the productive (at least for me) dialogue.


  1. […] most efficient way to skate. This debate was recently continued in an exchange of articles between Justin Freeman and Dick Taylor (background reading in the first link). I have never been a very fast skier, but […]