Friday, January 7, 2011

How to Assist Nordic Sitskiers

Despite the lack of snow in most of Massachusetts, Heidi and I escaped the office for an introduction to sitskiing at the Weston Ski Track this week. The nights have been cold enough to make good snow and the days warm enough to enjoy being out there. Conditions were icy with granular snow loosening atop the groomed snowpack. Only a handful of other skiers were out on the track on a Tuesday mid-day.

We practiced both sitskiing and assistive techniques, a refresher for me while introducing Heidi to the basics so she can ski with REC Connect participants in future programs. Despite the fact that glide wax wasn't needed on the icy snowpack, I was reminded that sitskiing is a lot of physical work to accomplish. Your body gets used in a different way so it is reasonable to expect some soreness after a first session. We practiced the sitskiing techniques described in the previous post and took a few good falls. One word of caution for slick conditions - take the downhills slow and beware of oversteering even while poling at a comfortable speed.

A standskier assistant is vital for beginners and even experienced sitskiers. It didn't take long to experience the difference an assistant can offer, even on the relatively moderate terrain of the Weston Ski Track. Each of us was able to sitski around the course with assistance and neither of us would have wanted to try without it. Even a short grade can be a physical challenge for the sitskier, who must keep forward momentum going or rest propped by ski poles on the hill. To get an assist uphill is a huge boost to the process while still doing your fair share of the work.

A standskier can provide a quick assist in a couple of significant ways. One way is to locate a good spot on the back of the sitski to place a ski pole tip (without poking the sitskier of course) and give a quick push while skiing alongside and slightly behind the sitskier. For a more powerful burst of support, especially on short steep uphills, the assistant can physically grab the back of the sitski with both hands (holding their ski poles in a tuck) and do a classic herring-bone stride, pushing the sitskiier ahead of them.

For a longer uphill assist, the standskier clips into secure locations on the frame of the sitski with a tether and skis in front of the sitskier, wearing the tether around their shoulders or clipped into a waist belt. (We have added bungee cord to our tethers to absorb some of the connective pulling force.) Then, just skiing together in classic forward style is sufficient to handle gradual uphills. Just be careful of any downhill dips, however short, as the sitskier will quickly catch up to the standskier and runs the risk of collision. It is up to the sitskier to slow down as needed behind their support skier. For steeper grades, the standskier will need to do the herring-bone technique and should be comfortable with doing it as weight adds another dimension and good grip on the snow is essential.

At the top of hills, the proficient sitskier will want to unclip from the standskier to take the hill on their own, since they will pick up more speed than the standskier on the way down. Their support person can also clip the tether in at the rear of the sitski frame and ski behind the sitskier performing the snowplow, adjusting for more speed or less based on communication with the sitskier as they go down. By holding the tether, the standskier is free to let go should the sitskier take a fall, and ski around them.

If a sitskier is unable to get up from a fall on their own - sometimes fatigue will be a factor here - or is uncertain of how to do it safely on a hill, the standskier can come alongside and assist again. The sitskier can provide some of the work necessary to come upright, while the standskier kneels and grabs the sitski frame and pulls it upright. Teamwork in sitskiing is everything - and it isn't just the standskier who assists!

Volunteer Opportunity!
If you'd like to get some basic training and assist adaptive Nordic skiing in the Boston area, the New England Nordic Ski Association is looking for volunteers right now for their program which starts January 31. Some volunteer work needed doesn't require skiing, but all volunteers can take advantage of the opportunity to get basic Nordic ski instruction for both classic style and skating. If you are interested, click here!

1 comment:

Oatie - IWillSkate on Ice said...

Dear Marcy,

I love your blog, seeing so many people from all walks of life enjoying the outdoors. It's just fabulous xxx