As I’ve established in previous posts, backcountry Nordic skiing differs slightly from other types of XC skiing. In addition to having a separate style and equipment, the form must deal with different terrain. It is therefore essential to know how to address unexpected slopes and turns. You don’t need to hone your technique before heading out, but you should know the basics of how to deal with this type of terrain. Below, I have described the best methods (in my experience) for tackling level ground, uphill climbs, downhill slopes, and turns.
Level ground—Okay, this one is pretty easy. Most Nordic skiing is done on level ground—that’s why it’s called “cross-country.” On level ground, use the classic kick-and-glide. As one foot slides forward, push down with the opposite pole and kick forward with your back foot. Plant the opposite pole in front of you with each stride to retain balance, and work on keeping an even rhythm.
Uphill—If you encounter a steep uphill slope, try switchbacking instead of powering straight up. Never try to climb too steeply; most textured bases start to slip at just 15 degrees. Instead, put weight on your uphill edges to keep from backsliding. If the steep slope is short, utilize the “herringbone” step—with toes pointed out, put our weight on the inside edges and walk up. This should form a backward, downward-facing wedge with your skis, and the weight on your edges will prevent you from backsliding.
Downhill—If you’ve skied downhill on Nordic equipment, you know how necessary it is to have a game plan. Most newbies will assume they can attack a downhill slope as you might with alpine skis. However, the unattached heel means you won’t be able to turn and stop as easily. If you come across a downhill area, lean back slightly to keep your tips from diving under the snow’s surface. Assume an athletic stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. If the slope is very steep, step down while keeping your weight on the uphill edges. You can also “snowplow” as you would with alpine skis.
Turns—On gentle terrain, completely pick up your ski and put it down in the direction you want to go. If you are moving downhill, ease into a snowplow position and put additional weight on the outside ski. Move your skis back into the parallel position as soon as the turn is complete.