By Teemu Virtanen
This is the second part of the article written in the fall of 2016 when FIS announced its new regulation about the pole length. It caused quite a stir among cross-country skiers, particularly among us long distance enthusiasts. But as you can see not much has changed and the points the interviewed people brought up in this article are still very valid. One thing about classic technique no one really pointed out or expected to happen is the new “Klæbo technique” on steep uphill parts; running fast with skis. Again, our sport keeps evolving and there is no stopping that force. Now, keep reading our article and come up with your opinion about the future of double-poling vs. classic skiing and the relevance of the evolution in skiing.
The former head coach of the Finnish and Swedish National Teams and the current team leader of Team Santander (editor’s note: now Team Ragde Eiendom), the number one team in Visma Ski Classics, Magnar Dalen is truly concerned about the preservation of the true classic skiing.
“Double-poling has developed a lot in recent years, and the more athletes train for it the further they push the envelope. It’s difficult to stop something that is faster than anything else. However, it would be sad to see classic technique vanish completely. For me, it’s splendid to see world-class skiers using that perfect diagonal striding in hard and long uphills. Hopefully, we’ll see more challenging courses in the future. Not in Visma Ski Classics as regular folks don’t want to ski on tough courses. They don’t mind the climbs but the downhills may turn out to be too dangerous for them.”
The CEO of Visma Ski Classics David Nilsson spoke with Thomas Alsgaard, the director of Team LeasePlan (editor’s note: now defunct) and a Nordic ski legend, and based on that conversation a wild idea took shape. What if there were sections during a race where free technique was allowed, in curves and steep uphills where skating has been a problem, simplifying the current rules and minimizing “the grey zone” operation?
In reality this would mean that in a Visma Ski Classics race double poling on skating skis would be used on tracks and then skating on these so-called free sections, where no tracks would be set. An interesting idea that lends itself to another question; what if skating would become the only technique like in biathlon and Nordic combined?
Martin Holmstrand believes that it would not be a wise move for Nordic skiing as the sport would alienate itself from those huge masses that like classic skiing. In Scandinavia, the classic technique is the preferred one, and to limit that would mean less money for the sport. Toni Roponen and John Kristian Dahl seem to be on the same page with Martin and have classic skiing, in all its forms, as a pivotal part of our cross-country skiing heritage and experience. Skating and classic techniques co-existing makes this sport so interesting and gives us a chance to enjoy the sport in many different ways. The only thing they are really concerned about is the lack of snow that may indeed be the real thing killing our beloved sport, not the various forms of ski techniques.
But why is double-poling so much faster and more effective? To answer that question we need to take a look at our physiology. When a skier is double-poling, he or she uses smaller muscles than in regular skiing, be it skating or classic. Thus the amount of lactic acid produced in total in one’s body muscles generally becomes far less than when using bigger muscles such as thighs. That also means that a skier can maintain a high heart rate for a longer period. However, using legs is an important factor in double-poling as well, but the movement is more static than in diagonal striding or even in skating. Also, in high speed and on steep hills double poling can produce more lactic acid than diagonal striding, which explains why double-poling on steep hills is not as fast and effective as diagonal striding.
Several studies have compared physiological demands of these two classic skiing techniques: double poling and diagonal striding. Some studies have found that double poling is more economical by 10-26% than striding on flat and low-grade surfaces at various speeds. The average oxygen cost for double poling was found to be 10% lower compared to striding across all speeds, except at the highest speed. Then in double poling, the intensity to which a skier’s muscle mass is working can be 12% higher. Therefore, these results suggest that double poling, although more economical, is likely to be more demanding on our muscles and might lead to fast local fatigue. Something that many double-polers have to face when their body suddenly runs out of power.
In addition to thinking about various ways to save diagonal striding in cross-country skiing, we should also pay more attention to any possible technical advances. Why haven’t ski manufacturers developed better skis for classic technique so that kick wax could be used without loosing any of the glide? What about kick waxes? Where is the wonder wax that gives you the perfect kick and the greatest glide? I know that I am poking fun at our dear gear manufacturers and they are doing their best to find better commercial solutions, but those products are not yet out there to enhance classic skiing. Luckily, something has been done, not for elite skiers, but for recreational ones as skin skis are becoming more popular and offering a very good choice for those who want to enjoy perfect striding on cozy ski tracks.
So, what is the future of Nordic skiing, and particularly the much-talked about classic technique within the sport? No one seems to know, and perhaps that’s the way it should be. The future should remain a mystery to us, but some clear indications of where it’s heading are clearly in the air. It seems to me that we have traveled back in time to the mid-80s when skating became a revolutionary change in cross-country skiing. Then, some people panicked and feared that the doomsday was upon us, but we survived and cross-country skiing became something bigger than ever before.
Perhaps, we should have a little bit of that faith from the past and let the sport take its natural course and step by step become something that is again much bigger than anyone could have imagined. I think we are much wiser when this winter is over and we can look back and see what really happened and why. Until then, let’s accept what the powers that be have bestowed upon us and get ready for a great new season with a compassionate heart!