Maverick Guide to Skate Skiing

Crossing deep snow is a pain in the you-know-what. Since our ancestors didn’t have four-wheel drives and Whole Foods with stocked shelves, they were forced to invent efficient ways to cross snow effectively to hunt and forage. In modern Russia, archaeologists have found skis that date back as far as 8,000 BCE, so the method has been around for a while.

Always looking for new ways to get sore muscles, my girlfriend and I decided to try out some skate skiing. But before we get into that fiasco, let’s start with the basics.

What is skate skiing?

Skate skiing evolved from traditional nordic skiing, becoming popular in the 1970s. Like road bike tires, skate skis are skinnier than regular cross country skis and are built for speed. For detailed info about ski sizing and the right gear, check out this guide from Salomon.

But don’t think you can just hop on any old snow and start skating like you’re Tonya Harding. Skate skiing requires groomed trails. Lucky for you, Idaho has plenty of groomed trails to choose from with 17 Park n’ Ski areas across the Gem State in addition to those managed by ski resorts and local governments. 

Bogus Basin or the groomed trails near Idaho City are the nearest spots for Boiseans. 

Classic vs Skate Skiing 

The skis uncovered by archaeologists in modern Russia could be considered classic cross country skis, though they are probably much different from the nordic skis people use today. A lot has changed since 8,000 years ago, including access to post-ski showering. But anyhow, classic cross country skiing involves gliding one foot, then the other forward to create movement. 

Skate skiing, much like its name suggests, involves a skating movement pushing out from left to right using the skis’ inside edges and making a V shape with the skis. Simply put, skate skiing takes practice and finesse, but you also move faster once you figure it out. 

Traditional Nordic skiing is a great way to get some winter exercise, but it can be slower than skate skiing. 

How to Skate Ski Cross Country 

As a kid in the 1990s, I spent many hours on rollerblades at the local skating rink. I refined my rollerblading skills and held hands with cute girls when the DJ played Boyz II Men. Looking back, I was sure my vast experience would make me a fast pro at skate skiing. 

Brimming with confidence, my lovely lady and I drove up to Bogus Basin in late December to try out our newly purchased skate skis and boots on their nordic trails. We were both glad to be out of the house and in the sunshine, high above the inversion and blistering cold of Boise. 

After purchasing our tickets at the Frontier Point Lodge for $12 a piece, we snapped into our skinny skis and began heading up the Nordic Highway. Immediately, I realized skate skiing was going to be a bit tougher than the sweet bladin’ I’d done back in the 90s. I fell right away and continued to do so throughout the next few hours. 

If you’re not trying to return home covered in bruises and with socks full of snow, check out this great skate ski technique video from Nordic Ski Labs, an instructional organization put together by three Canadian cross country ski coaches. 

Propelling yourself with ski poles is a dangerous venture without the proper technique. 

More than once, I tried to push myself forward on the inside of my skis, tripping myself and going down hard on the groomed trail. As I began to get my footing, I watched other skate skiers pass us gracefully, pushing out off the edge of their skis right then left, even moving uphill with ease. 

After another series of spills, a kind stranger stopped on the trail and instructed us on proper technique. The stranger instructed me to maintain an athletic stance on the balls of my feet, then shift my center of gravity over each ski with my knees as I pushed out with my left, then right foot. After heeding his advice,  I actually started to move pretty quickly down the trail. 

I celebrated too early though and ate it in front of some elementary kids. 

Bogus Basin has breathtaking views from its Nordic Highway trail. 

Should You Try It?

While there was some swearing and sweating involved during my first few attempts at skate skiing, I gave it two thumbs up, well four including my girlfriend’s hands. She complained less but didn’t move much faster.

I enjoyed the views up at Bogus, the fresh air, and the vitamin D gleaned from the sunshine. The day we went up, an inversion covered Boise with a layer of clouds, but I could see the mountains up beyond the ski resort and snow speckled Shadow Butte to the east. 

According to my Apple Watch, I burned about 740 calories on one trip down the easy rated Nordic Highway and back. I think I overexerted myself because I pushed mainly with my poles due to my inexperience. After two of these trips up the easy trail and back, I was completely exhausted and drenched in sweat. 

If it wasn’t for the heated seats in my Subaru, I’d have been hypothermic by the time I’d gotten down from the mountain. There’s nothing like a hot shower and meal after a winter day out in the elements. 

Don’t be like me. Check out some instructional videos and get skate ski lessons from the fine folks at Bogus Basin before you give this winter sport your all.