Mass-start cross country ski races is increasing in popularity. Many skiers find themselves in unknown territory when they end up skiing with a small or large group of skiers – a “pack” – during part of, or for the entire race. Here are some suggestions for how to approach pack racing, enjoy the experience and avoid some common mistakes.
It’s less energy demanding to ski behind someone in a race – especially on the flats where the speed is high. The skier in front breaks the wind and energy is conserved by “tucking in” behind the front skier(s). The advantage is greatly reduced in uphills. Skiing behind someone in difficult downhills increases the risk of being taken down or crashing if someone in front or next to you is not a good downhill skier.
Be happy and avoid the big moves if you feel comfortable in your group, especially if you haven’t raced much this season. The speed of the group might seem easy but your pace skiing in “no-where land” (by yourself) might be considerably slower.
Be happy and enjoy the bonding experience it is skiing your heart out with someone!
It’s (also) worth considering taking the lead and trying to slow down the pace if you are close to “blowing up” or “hitting the wall”. The other skier might be happy that the pace is suddenly slower and go along with it or you’ll have someone in the group that feels good and realizes what you are trying to do. That skier might now take the lead and crank up the speed. Ski hard and attempt to drop your competitors (the pack) if you are that skier!
If possible try to avoid skiing at the tail end of inexperienced or bad downhill skiers in technical downhills. Move up in the pack when you know such sections are coming up. Good downhill skiers should try to drop the pack in these sections.
Approaching the finish
Use your knowledge from skiing behind your competitors to make decisions regarding the last part of the race. Try to drop bad V1 skiers in the uphills and bad V2 skiers on the flats. Try to move up toward the front if the last kilometers are narrow or windy. You can not cut in between two skiers if there is no room to move in, but you can ski side by side if it’s wide enough.
Old fashion Marathon skate can be used as a passing technique on narrow trails. Attempting an early long sprint (1-2 k from the finish) from the front is risky but is psychologically/mentally tough on your competitors as well. Try that if your endurance is good but top/sprint speed medium. Don’t look back when the decision is made!
Good luck in your next mass-start race!