More on USSA technique C/O coach Bryan Fish

I had the privilege of spending a full six hours one on one with one of the best coaches in the Midwest last weekend. Bryan Fish coaches the Division 1, UWGB nordic ski team as well as helping with the USSA development team. Like Scott Wilson the previous weekend, Bryan is well versed in the USSA techniques and program and uses his own variations for his team.  Also like Scott, he feels that the basics apply equally well to skiers at all levels, a message strongly made in the “Level 1 Ski Progressions” video from the USSA.

For me the sessions helped clarify what I had learned over the last couple of years. I had long believed that the bio-mechanical explanations for how skiing really worked were pretty lacking.  I also believed that gravity was an important force in skiing movement and that any technique should take gravity into account to be really effective.  I participated in a long thread on this in the rec.skiing.nordic newsgroups in the thread Forward Step move in skating. I was never really able to convince anybody about my points and at one point, Ken Roberts suggested I should spend time with a coach.  While I had already spent considerable time with different coaches, the point was still valid.  So now by getting critique on both my own skiing and my views, I have really gotten a better grip on the techniques and the terminology.  On technique, here are some observations:

  • The forward step is still a debated issue.  Bryan and Chris Grover discussed this fall and came to a conclusion.  Chris, and the USSA program, is encouraging very little forward step, while Bryan teaches a little more forward step. The real key is to avoid stepping forward so much that your weight ends up behind your heel.  If it does, it can still be OK if you have enough hip drive to carry your hips forward.  This was shown in some great footage of Bjorn Dahlie classic skiing.  If you don’t have enough hip drive to get your weight forward, you will slow down. You will be in an awkward position sometimes known as the “late kick“ where you try to get your weight forward again. By understanding the basic postion and weight transfer, the forward step can still be used and often is when a skier has a great drive of the hip and legs forward.
  • My earlier thought that during the compression you trade potential energy for forward movement was sound.  However, because I was focusing more on the knee angle than the ankle angle, this downward movement was really too much up and down and not enough forward.  By using a compression initiated by driving the knee forward, this action also moves you in a more forward direction.
  • My term “fall line“ to judge your management of gravity and lean, is the same term used by both Bryan and Scott Wilson.  Yes, you do really fall forward onto your skis and continue the fall as you drive your knee forward.  This is one of the primary points of the ski progressions, covered in the shuffle, the basic position drills and other drills.  It’s the basic motion of skiing that is then enhanced with energy to increase the speed.
  • These techniques could absolutely be applied to beginners. If you think about the low energy shuffle, where propulsion is almost entirely because of forward lean, I can easily imagine this technique being taught to that large group of people who seem to find skiing hard even when they are just touring for pleasure.  Better yet, if most beginners started with this approach, they would be in a much better position to learn how to ski faster and get the additional fitness benefits of the sport.
  • So far I have talked to Scott Wilson, Nathan Shultz and Bryan Fish and they all have some refreshing things in common.  They really know what they’re talking about, express it in similar ways and have advice that applies to me as well as elite skiers. I think our sport really needs this and we should all be familiar with what’s going on in the US Ski team and the closely related other national teams.

On my own technique:

  • My technique still needs work, but thankfully is fairly sound, particularly in terms of forward lean and managing my fall line and ankle flex.
  • I need to learn the “curl“ style of upper abdomen poling techniques
  • I need to work on my “pop“, the wax set in classic skiing and the aggressive push off in skating.  I do it, but need to be more consistent, especially when tired. 
  • I need to make my legs more symmetrical as I climb.  In particular, my right leg is a little lazy compared to the left.
  • Lots of room for improvements in use of my arms, position, timing and coordination with the upper body curl.
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