ABOUT NORDIC SKIING
The unexpected and exciting success story of a young British team of Nordic skiers in international racing competitions has created waves in the Scandinavian skiing community in the last few years. They understand the magnitude of the achievements of these athletes coming from a (virtually) no-snow nation. Building on our return to the Olympic Games in 2010, Andrew Musgrave was unlucky to just miss out on a podium spot on the 50km skiathlon, eventually finishing 7th in the Pyeongchang Olympic Games. We compete at elite international world cup level and we now have athletes rated within the world top 30 within the sport.
This guide gives background information, accurate at the time of writing, in this form of Frequently Asked Questions. Information is supplied in collaboration with the British Nordic Ski Team’s Head Coach and the Management Committee.
Q. What is Nordic Skiing and how does it differ from Alpine Skiing?
Nordic Skiing (also known as Cross-country or XC Skiing) is the original form of skiing, with its roots in Scandinavia. In snow-rich countries it has developed from its purely practical purpose of travel over snowy terrain into a major recreational pursuit and also an exhilarating racing sport. Despite limited snowfall, Great Britain is taking a renewed interest in this sport, and now has a young team of world class racing skiers.
Nordic skiing differs from Alpine skiing in some important ways. It uses lightweight equipment – trainer-like boots clipped at the toe into narrow flexible skis, allowing a bounding run or skating action. Waxes are used to provide grip for going up hills, allowing touring and exploration of hills and mountains. Long lightweight poles help provide forward push with the upper body. Alpine (or downhill) ski equipment and technique is suited to steep fast downhill prepared runs and cannot be used on flat or uphill terrain.
Q. How could I participate?
You can go skiing virtually anywhere there is snow - in local parks, through forest trails or onto the higher mountains. Many people in the UK learn in order to go abroad for ski touring holidays. Although cross-country skiing is one of the most all round physically challenging sports, anyone can participate, young and old, at a beginners level. You only need a reasonable level of walking fitness. The basic skills are quickly learnt but it does take a lot longer to master the finer points of balance and technique that give rise to the grace and speed exhibited by experienced racing skiers.
Q. Where can I find out more? Are there clubs I could join?
There are several clubs throughout the country, some giving lessons to beginners. Look for your local club on this website or by visiting www.snowsportscotland.org or www.snowsportengland.org.uk. Through them you can also find out about racing. If you are a teenager or young adult wanting to take up competitive skiing, please contact the Pathway Team at the British Nordic Ski Team where there is a youth coaching programme for British Nordic skiers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Roller skiing, which was developed as a way of training during the summer, has become a fast and exhilarating sport in its own right. Roller skis are very short skis on wheels which are used on roads and cycle paths. For lessons and equipment hire in your area, contact the nearest club listed on our supporting club page.
Q. What sort of races do Nordic skiers do?
Just as swimming has different strokes, Nordic Skiing has two styles – classic and skate. Classic looks like running on skis, skating is like rollerblading on skis. Both styles are fast and graceful, though skating is faster. Distances go from 1km sprints to 50km races over hilly terrain. Fast GB racing skiers can average 30km/hour (19mph) over a 10km race. This is the ultimate endurance sport!
Q. How do these British athletes train without snow?
Because Nordic skiing uses more muscle groups than any other sport regular training is needed to buildup whole body strength and endurance. A lot of this training can be done off-snow, by a mixture of road and mountain biking, running, swimming and gym work. Ski technique is practiced on roller skis.
Q. So what might a weekly training programme look like for, say, a 15 year old competitive skier?
In early summer, for a talented young skier aiming for the European Youth Olympics the following February, a weekly training programme would entail about 2 hours of biking, 3 hours of running, (including running/walking with poles) and 1.5 to 3 hours of roller skiing. Added into that would be some work on core & strength plus some stretching.The hours build up and ease off to stimulate the body to become fitter, but there is still a lot of emphasis on technique and making the activities fun.
Q. How is Great Britain involved at a world level of competition?
In the past, most competitive GB Nordic skiers came from the military forces who were taught Arctic warfare. This skill developed into Biathlon (now a separate sport combining shooting and skiing). The formation of the British Nordic Development Squad, now known as the British Nordic Ski Team and the evolution of fun and effective youth coaching methods has resulted in a recent upsurge of youth interest in pure cross-country skiing. In the last couple of years a vibrant group of young British world class skiers has astounded the world ski scene. Although the athletes travel to the snow nations to race, much of their training is done off-snow, in Great Britain.
Q. How much training do skiers need to do to get to world level?
Training with the Team is available to promising skiers from age 12 onwards. Young teenagers coming into the Team are given training programmes with different hours depending on age. They are encouraged to participate in ski training as part of a range of sports and pastimes. Committed older teenagers are expected to pursue a much more intense and varied programme of all-year training. This builds up, over time, to a peak of around 24 hours per week during key pre-season periods. Fitness is monitored and training levels are adjusted continuously. Although this level of involvement requires considerable determination and discipline in both mind and body, the Team coaches have found that regular team training and competition events keep athletes interested and enthusiastic.
Q . What international events can I see British skiers taking part in?
Several of our skiers are qualified to ski in World Cup races which are held in Europe and North America from November to March every year. These are televised in Britain on satellite television (Eurosport). Because our best skiers are still young for the sport (the average age of World Cup skiers is in the mid to late 20's) some of them chose to compete in only a limited number of World Cups, concentrating on the Continental Cup races which are one step below from World Cups.
Each season there will be Team GB skiers competing in World Cup races throughout Europe, the Tour de Ski and the World Junior and Under 23 Championships.