Pro Workout: Sand Skiing with Aubrey Smith

Topher SabotNovember 4, 20114

When it comes to skiing, there are generally two choices—the real deal on snow, and the simulation on roller-skis. But there is a third option that pops up every now and again, usually as a gimmick or diversion—skiing on sand.

Bill Koch, the only American to win an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, experimented wth sand skiing while living in Hawaii after his racing career ended. You may remeber the classic Rossignol poster of Koch, in just a pair of swim shorts, skating through the surf.

Coach Smith

But is sand skiing actually a useful took for training? In this edition of the Pro Workout Series, we talked to Aubrey Smith, current assistant ski coach at Williams College, who raced at the 2003 World Championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Smith spent her collegiate career racing for Northern Michigan University (NMU), where she was a multiple time NCAA All-American.

The NMU team would make the 20 minute drive to a beach on the shores of Lake Superior a couple of times each fall, packing rock skis of of the classic variety.

“It was super awesome,” Smith said of the sand skiing excursions. “It was basically like skiing uphill in slush with klister. That sounds awful, but it was great!”

With heartrates pushing into level three it is not a workout to be done with any frequency. The beach provided a solid half-hour in one direction so sessions were obviously out and back. Smith described the conditions and effort as “well…skiing through sand…”

For Smith, sand skiing provided benefits on several different levels. Being on actual skis was a thrill, and the novelty of the the unique material added an additional element. Add in the stunning vista of Lake Superior in the autmun and skiing in a tee shirt, and it is hard to beat.

“A mental break,” Smith said of the experience.

But sand skiing was not just about doing something fun and different. The high resitance provided for plenty of training benefit, and forced good classic technique.

“You have to lean forward and you have to drive your foot forward to get anywhere—really good for classic technique,” Smith said. But the high heartrate and relatively slow movements ae not ideal for frequent sessions.

And like snow, sand provides variable conditions. How much glide is dependent on the moisture content of the sand, so tide level had a significant impact. And also like snow, different sand has different glide properties.

According to Smith, the sand in Marquette was too slow for skating and double pole. The NMU workouts were exclusively classic striding.

Sand skiing may not be an option for many, but for those with a good beach nearby, it can provide welcome variation and ski-specific technique and intensity training in limited quantities.

Topher Sabot

Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.

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  • T.Eastman

    November 5, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Please shed a little light on the tide cycles on Lake Superior…

  • Mike Trecker

    November 5, 2011 at 8:30 am

    This may sound more than a bit crazy but here you go. We have recently installed a man-made beach on our property and this story gets me thinking that although pavement and indoor ski tunnels are both expensive, sand is cheap, and the sand with the best glide is probably some of the cheapest. One could chart a course, remove all the rocks, lay down weed barrier, and truck in several tons of sand and create a tremendous private training tool that might be the best dry-land, ski-specific workout we have seen yet. With different types of sand one could vary how much glide was available for climbing or descending or even double pole. The surface could be groomed and prepared for optimal performance. Hhhhmmmm.

  • kwikgren

    November 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    The water fluctuations in the littoral zone along the beaches of Lake Superior are actually a seiche or wave phenomenon and not an actual “tide”. Regardless of the cause, the water fluctuations can provide a nice strip of wet, skiable sand. Sometimes, you can see how far out you can go and have the incoming wave chase you. This is better done barefoot running, unless you are willing to risk a ski boot full of water and sand if you don’t beat the wave.

    As for the sand skiing trail, I would suggest that you may want to hose the sand or wait for rain to enhance the glide. Steep downhills can be especially fun once you get your sand skiing technique dialed.

  • kwikgren

    November 7, 2011 at 7:44 am

    I saw footage this morning of Matt Lauer sand skiing in Namibia on the Today Show. So dry sand works too if the hill is steep enough, although I doubt he skied up the hill especially on that heavy duty gear.

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