Skate Skiing: A Brief History
by Matt Halloran
Over the last ten years, I have received a lot of requests for skate lessons. These requests are usually followed by an exclamation of how fast skate skiers are going and how much fun it looks. When done properly, skate skiing is generally faster than classic skiing and has the look of speed skating mixed with poles, which makes it look exciting. It also doesn’t require daily waxing.
Skate skiing has done a good job increasing the participation base of our sport around the world and surprisingly. Skate skiing as we know it today has its roots right here in the USA.
A little back-story: The “marathon skate” is a technique that utilizes one ski in the diagonal stride track and one ski working in a skate like motion out to the side while the upper body is double poling. This technique was born out of necessity. The name “marathon skate” comes from its use during long loppets when a skier’s wax no longer worked but they still had to complete the race. The marathon skate not only allowed them complete the race, it turns out that on flat terrain and moderate uphills, it was faster than the diagonal stride.
Fast-forward to the early 1980s, and the era of the American skiier Bill Koch (if you do not know who he is, please google him). Koch went to Scandanavia to participate in the long (50-100 km) marathon races that are a tradition there. Koch observed the marathon skate that was utilized in the last half of the races and how effective it was. When he returned to the US he began to practice and refine it. In 1982 Koch used the marathon skate on the world cup circuit in shorter races. This proved very effective and Koch used it to win the overall world cup--the first, and last time an American has done so.
The rest of the world took note and began to utilize a mix of marathon skating and classic striding in all races. By 1984, skiers were starting to not even put kick wax on their skis. This was the beginning of skate skiing as we know it today. The governing body of skiing didn’t think that skating was good for the sport and took measures to ban it. This included making berms of snow next to the track and disqualifying skiers who used the technique. Neither of these tactics worked, and people kept skating.
In 1985, racing was divided into two categories: “freestyle,” which allowed skating, and “classic,” which did not. We have been on that path ever since. Only today, “freestyle,” which meant a skier could use whatever technique they thought was faster, has been replaced by “skate.”
Over the last twenty years, skate technique has evolved and will continue to do so as equipment and grooming gets better, but please don’t forget about classic skiing. It is fast and fun too!