Skiing and ice skating are two of the most beloved snowy weather sports. But a lesser-known winter activity has become just as popular in the Cascades that binds the two sports together.
Skate skiing combines the atmosphere and terrain of Nordic skiing with the motions and fitness required for long-distance, and at times uphill, skating.
Anthropologists say the Sami people of the Arctic Sea region were "running on skis" as early as 550 CE, and Johan Grøttumsbråten was the first to use the skate skiing technique competitively in the 1931 Nordic Ski World Championship. But it wasn't until the late-1970s that skate skiing gained widespread traction in North America.
Its closest relative is classic cross country skiing, but skate skiing is its own sport. And a grueling one at that.
The arena is most often a well-manicured trail lined with snow-drooped trees and scenes fit for a nature documentary. But this is no waltz through the woods—skate skiers burn their calories to earn their views.
Unlike its tamer Nordic father, skate skiing requires trail-runner endurance and technique that takes many more than one lesson to perfect. Traditional cross country skiers push forward in a straight line, keeping their skis planted in the snow. Skate skiers, however, gain momentum by kicking in an angled V-stride and shifting their body weight from ski to ski, like an ice skater with skinny skis for blades.
For greater maneuverability, skate skis are shorter and lighter than their traditional cross country counterpart and the poles are longer to give the skier more driving force. Although most of the momentum comes from the leg movements and shifting of weight, poling techniques are also important and difficult to master.
Contrary to classic backcountry Nordic skiing, gentle, corduroy trails are a necessity for skate skiing. Throughout the snowy passes of the Cascades there are several world-class groomed trails perfect to skate ski, and with snow sticking around for 8-10 months on average, Bend has the longest Nordic ski season in North America.
Just outside of town, Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center and Virginia Meissner regularly run a Snowcat over their greens, blues, and black diamonds to rake the trails. Mt. Bachelor also has instructors for classic and skate style skiing, as well as rentals that are waxed daily. There are also several sno-parks near Bend with groomed trails, including the dog-friendly Wanoga Sno-park. Farther West, Hoodoo Ski Area offers cross country ski instruction and grooms its Nordic trails Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the season.
It's highly recommended that beginners take a lesson or two before heading out on a skate ski adventure. The Bend Endurance Academy has developmental programs for juniors and adults that last from a few weeks to a whole winter. BEA also grants tuition assistance to those who qualify.
Bend is a favorite training spot for elites like the U.S. Ski Team and the home of XC Oregon, the Northwest's top Cross Country team. But with plenty of trails for all difficulties, it's also a great place to learn.
Ski, Skate, or Skate Ski?
Are you a winter sports lingo afficionado? Decide which of the following are skiing, ice skating, or skate skiing terms:
Baroni (Skiing)—Flipping forward and rotating 180 degrees.
Camel Spin (Ice skating)—Spinning while the free leg is raised parallel to the ice
Cherry-flip (Ice skating)—A toe-loop jump
Death Spiral (Ice skating)—Much more elegant than the name suggests, this is a pair skating move in which one skater grabs the partner and spins them around like the hands on a clock.
Haircutter (Ice skating)—Spinning while raising the free leg, arching the back, and holding the skate blade to the hair.
Polish Donut (Skiing)—This dizzying trick is performed by raising the skis and spinning in a circle.
Pancake Spin (Ice skating)—It looks more like a pretzel than a pancake, but this move is executed by spinning with one leg tucked over the other while bending over the legs.
Rittberger (Ice skating)—A loop jump.
Twizzle (Ice skating)—A quick body-twisting multi-rotational twirl while gliding.
Choctaw Turn (Ice skating)—Two-foot turn while changing the blade's edge.
Crossover (Skiing, Skate Skiing, & Ice Skating)—In skating, crossing feet helps gain momentum and makes turning easier. Similarly, skiers use the crossover technique for aggressive turns.
Kick Turn (Skate Skiing)—Positioning one ski at 180 degrees and following it by the other ski to turn in the opposite direction.
Mohawk Turn (Ice skating)—Two-foot turn on the same edge.
Worm Turn (Skiing)—Performed on a gentle downslope, by bodysliding and rolling back into a standing position.
Boogying (Skiing)—1970s term for skiing bumps with style.
Chattering (Skiing/Skate skiing)—When the edges of skis click against icy terrain.
Shussing (Skiing/Skate skiing)—Skiing without making turns.
Tracking (Skiing/Skate skiing)—Holding a straight line.
Flying Sitzmark (Skiing)—The crater left behind by an airborne skier who crashed rear-first in deep powder.
Herringbone (Skate skiing)—Moving forward while keeping the ski tips further apart than the tails.
Skimeister (Skiing/Skate skiing)—German word for all-around excellent skier in Nordic and Alpine disciplines.