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.
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 is the editor of FasterSkier.