Nordic Team Member Emily Lovett Says, 'Focus on the Fun for Skill Development'

Editor's Note: PSIA Nordic Team member Emily Lovett wrote this story as a part of a series the Nordic Team is working on with the Cross Country Ski Areas Association (CCSAA) to grow cross country ski participation.

An October 2016 Outside magazine article ranked nordic skiing the world’s toughest outdoor sport. Many of us cross country ski enthusiasts would agree, but also use another descriptor. Using your own power to glide on lightweight skis in a peaceful wilderness setting is so fulfilling... and downright FUN! After a few months of camps and clinics, where the upbeat groove of gliding down the trail can also have a component of grueling workout, my main takeaway has been, “Focus on the Fun!”

As ski instructors and coaches, we are often eager for our students and athletes to feel the fulfillment and fun factor of cross country skiing. At the same time, we know from experience that cross country skill development takes time, and the learning process can be very demanding of our cardiovascular system, muscle strength, and balance. Trying to perfect the technique and movement in one lesson can be physically and mentally exhausting. As instructors/coaches, we have the opportunity to create a fun- and success-focused environment that allows skiers to be attracted to the learning process.

As we bring a sense of lightness and fun to the learning process of cross country, we have more opportunities to grow the sport. With kids, it’s natural that we start out this way; playing games, making powder runs, skiing with a partner, etc. It’s important to remember that we can also take a “games approach” to the learning process with adults. The beauty of this approach is that games and fun exercises on skis often lead to great skill development.

Here are five fun game-approach exercises to add to your ski lessons and coaching, regardless of the age:

  1. One Long Glide: Identify a length of trail that represents a “glide-long” zone; then encourage skiers to see how few ski strides they can take to get through the zone. Challenge participants to beat their own number of strides with each new time they ski it.
  2. Slalom on Skis: Set up a series of cones or sticks in a slalom course for skiers to maneuver through. This can be done on flat ground or on a slight uphill. To make it more difficult, try it downhill.
  3. Partner Up: Set up a loop and have a skier follow his or her partner, mimicking their partner’s ski strides. Switch leaders, and do it again.
  4. Obstacle Course: Set up a simple series of “obstacles” for skiers to negotiate or drills to do in sequence. Example: No-pole double pole, sidestep, ski in a circle, ski with one pole, ski backwards… the list is endless.
  5. Relay Race: Have participants do a relay, tagging off to start the next skier, and cheering each other on.

And through it all, have fun out there!

Emily Lovett is a cross country specialist on the PSIA Nordic Team, and she also serves on the Rocky Mountain Division Cross Country Education Staff. She is the ski instructor at Lake Catamount Touring Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and a director of West Yellowstone Ski Festival Camp and the Steamboat Nordic Camp. In the summer months, Emily designs and leads bike tours in North America and Europe.

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