Learning to Glide

In November, I optimistically purchased a complete cross-country skate ski package from LL Bean.  I have classic skied for several years but I have always admired the skate skiers looking so graceful as they glide along the trails.

Skate skiers gliding through New Hampshire forest. (Photo credit Jackson Ski Foundation)

Skate skiers gliding through New Hampshire forest. (Photo credit Jackson Ski Foundation)

When my boots were in need of replacement, I found out they were obsolete so I needed new boots and bindings. I figured since I was getting new boots and bindings I might as well get new skis.  As I mulled over this purchase I thought since I am getting new skis I might as well get skate skis since I always wanted to try it.  This is the thought process that led me to buying equipment for an activity I had never even tried.

A wise person advised me to start with a lesson so I waited for the right moment to schedule a lesson   First we had no snow, then too much snow, then I was too busy or it was too cold.

Sadly, my new skis sat in the garage.  One day over February vacation the stars aligned and the temperature was “warm” enough so I called, Pineland, the local cross-country ski area, to schedule a lesson. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if they were full for the day as I had been feeling apprehensive, but they had an opening for later in the day .

As I drove to Pineland, I began to worry.  What if I didn’t like this type of skiing? What if I couldn’t do it? What if I fall and hurt myself?

In the welcome center at Pineland, I met my instructor Joe.  He was a rugged looking, twenty something, outdoorsy guy with a rust beard and  weather burned skin.  He greeted me with a smile but I couldn’t help but imagining a thought bubble over his head that said Oh boy… this isn’t going to go well as he summed me up (forty something, out of shape woman). But his smile never faltered and we headed out the door to the trails.

As we walked down to a flat wide area, Joe enthusiastically discussed the basics of skate skiing.  Something about shifting weight and balance with knees, toes and zipper all in line.  I may have missed something because distracting thoughts of falling and breaking something were running through my head.  I really didn’t want to ruin Joe’s day.

Joe showed me how to snap in my bindings and took away my poles.  Eeek!  My poles are always there to save me should I lose my balance.  He was stressing the importance of balance and I was just kind of stressing.  The first quality I noticed in my new skis is the extreme slipperiness.  I felt  like they would fly out from under me at any moment.

Joe showed me how to put my skis at a 70 degree angle and that it was simply a matter of pushing off with one foot which will propel me forward while I balance all my weight on the other foot which will glide forward.  I shakily made my first tentative attempts and it became clear to me I wasn’t going to be a natural.  But, Joe must have seen some potential as he said, “Looks good!” and we kept going.

I made my way down the 50 yard section of trail and Joe continued to offer rapid fire tips: look up and ahead instead of at the ground, put the weight more on the outside of the foot (or was it the inside?), really shift the weight onto the gliding ski.

I felt incredibly awkward as my skis were ready to fly and I wasn’t.  At one point they flew out from under me and I hit the ground with a cry of surprise.  Fortunately, I was able to get my self up off the ground and laughed at myself, slightly embarrassed.  Joe was reassuring and said, “It happens to everyone, no worries.”

We made our way back up the 50 yard trail and I tried again.  Gaining a little more confidence but not quite getting the glide consistently.  Joe must have been feeling optimistic than me because he gave me back my poles.  This required an additional explanation as to how the poles fit into this new style of skiing.  Again, he lost me as I thought about getting my poles tangled around me.  Fortunately I had seen enough skiers to have an idea of how it should go.

Little by little I could feel, I was getting it.  I had moments of feeling the glide and then I would bobble and lose my balance.  We went up and down the 50 yard trail a few more times.  Joe right beside me, encouraging me as I went.  I could tell he was a little surprised as he said, “Most classic skiers have a little trouble with the switch over but you are doing great!”

We even ventured a bit further up the trail so I could try a slight hill (very slight).  It is amazing how this tiny incline could make me feel like I was starting over again.  But, I pushed my way through it and made it up the trail with a lot of effort but not much style.

We skied back towards the cross-country center, my shins, quads, back and arms aching from the exertion. Only an hour of skiing and I was exhausted from the effort of learning a new skill.

Joe and I chatted.  He was complimentary and thanked me for a good lesson again indicating that a first ski lesson doesn’t always go so well.   I thanked him for getting me started in such a positive way and said good-bye.

Walking back to my car I felt satisfied that I had given skate skiing a good effort and didn’t regret my new ski purchase. I knew  that this new style of skiing is tricky but believed I would figure it out with practice.




  1. Your theme is so clear – an old place of comfort with a new beginning to approach and new things to learn, but with fears of failure. You write of feelings that so many others can identify with.

  2. Oh, well done! I loved the way you described the process, and I could see the build up to that successful end. You’ve certainly picked the winter for skiing!

  3. Great writing, Diana! Skate skiing is so much fun, so glad you tried it out! I’ve always wanted a pair! Really enjoyed your account of your lesson!

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