Reviewing the FIS Classic Race Rule

Mon, 01/17/2011 - 9:45pm -- kirknichols

If you understand the classic race technique rules, give yourself this quiz: stop reading now and write four or five universal, irrefutable classic racing rules – before reading on. Good luck on your self-graded exam. You will also have chance to judge skiers in the last half of the video.

Generously, the three international FIS Technical Delegates (TDs) quoted below, wrote back to Dave Hanscom and Chris Magerl upon their requests to help TUNA skiers become better informed skiers at classic races, locally and especially at regional, national, and international races. If you have young skiers, please help them understand the accepted classic techniques. If you do not know the skate and classic technique terms used here, consult a US cross country ski manual or US coach (other countries, even as close a Canada, use very different skate-ski technique terms). Visit also the USSA website at and FIS at .

The FIS, USSA rule states:

Classical technique includes the diagonal techniques, the double poling techniques, herringbone techniques without a gliding phase, downhill techniques and turning techniques. Single or double-skating is not allowed. Turning techniques comprise steps and pushes in order to change directions. Where there is a set track, turning techniques with pushing are NOT allowed. This will also apply to competitors skiing outside the set track.

Breaking-down the FIS rule line by line can help – though the paragraph must also be considered as a whole as well.

“Classical technique includes the diagonal techniques, the double poling techniques...

...the easiest of the FIS phrases: diagonal technique is the running-like and gliding steps, kicking off the wax pocket, with independently swinging arms. Double poling with a kick also gains traction off the wax pocket, and double pole without kicks gains traction off the poles only. When skiing these techniques, the skis are usually flat and parallel to each other and glide forward only inline with the skis’ long axis and commonly are set inside the classic track grooves. A skier may, at any time, step out of and along side the grooves but must maintain the parallel, diagonal or double poling techniques.

“...herringbone techniques without a gliding phase...

Herringbone climbing is as old as skiing. In classic ski racing herringbone is a static step where once the ski is set down onto the snow in its splayed position, the ski must not glide forward. Should the skis glide in this splayed herringbone position, the move will be an illegal skate motion whether the poles are moving diagonally or doubled. Young skiers (and inattentive older skiers) accidentally start skating when their skis are splayed; do not let your skate-muscle-habits take over in a classic race.

“Classical technique includes... downhill techniques and turning techniques.

This phrase does not stand alone but is delimited by the rest of the paragraph. Downhill techniques may be performed standing or in a tuck. Skidded and stemmed turns are allowed, but slow the skier.

“Single or double-skating is not allowed.

Never skate V1, V2, V2a, diagonal skate, or marathon skate. Former USST Cross-country Coach, Chief of Stadium 2002 Olympics, and current FIS Technical Delegate (TD), John Estle, when writing about classic skiing in the decades prior to skate skiing, described today’s illegal skating: “V1, V2, etc., had not been invented at that time, so using the V1 technique around a corner (a favorite of junior skiers who either don't know any better due to coaching, or who don't have our, er, "historical" perspective) is CLEARLY a skating violation because the skier is, in that case skating off the left edge of one ski, then the right edge of the other ski, etc. Besides the fact that it's ugly!”

“Turning techniques comprise steps and pushes in order to change directions.

FIS TD, John Estle, made the following distinction between pushing and skating:

“[Skiing] around a corner consisted of a series of steps with hard pushes, with the ski gliding while the skier was pushing . . . with the understanding that the [outside ski pushes] were always off the edge of the ski on the "inside" of the turn. So, if you're [skiing] around a right-hand turn, all your pushes came off the right edges of the skis.” These pushes gain traction from the edge of the ski rather than from the wax pocket, hence the limited-to-corners-with-no-classic-track use of pushing in a classic race.

“Where there is a set track, turning techniques with pushing are NOT allowed.

The concept is, on an FIS course, classic tracks are set only on corners where a skier in the tracks will stay in the tracks just by the resisting force of the track walls. Turning your knees and upper body into the turn will help you stay in the tracks. If you are not skilled enough to ski that fast in the grooves, then you may step out of the grooves and skid the turn outside the classic track grooves. You may not step out of the classic grooves and push or skate through the turn. However, you may step out and make lots of little non-pushing steps, all edged to the same side. Beware – some judge may think you are pushing when you think you are stepping. Non-FIS regulated tracks may not be so accurately set on the corners, causing even top skiers to blow-out of the grooves – skiers be warned!!!

On a corner where there is NOT a set classic track on an FIS course, the pushing on the ski edges is allowed. Estle is worth repeating: “When I was racing, back in the day, we were urged to [push] around corners. After all, it's a race, and you should be trying to go as fast as you can. [...the outside ski pushes] were always off the edge of the ski on the "inside" of the turn. So, if you're [skiing] around a right-hand turn, all your pushes came off the right edges of the skis.” World Cup and World Championship FIS TD, John Aalberg: “We also allow pushing with the outside ski in corners where there is no track set (as long as the inside ski also steps/is moved in a stepping motion).” This last parenthetic remark is a warning against marathon skating which is pushing on only the outside ski while leaving the inside ski on the snow – for classic technique, the skier must also pick up and step the inside ski into the turn with every outside ski push! Plus, as Estle said, keep the inside ski edged the same as the outside pushing ski. Remember, all these pushes with steps are only allowed on corners where there are no classic grooves set.

“This will also apply to competitors skiing outside the set track.”

These last two sentences must be considered together: “Where there is a set track, turning techniques with pushing are NOT allowed. This will also apply to competitors skiing outside the set track.”

“...skiing outside the set track.” refers to a stretch of track with the classic grooves set, but the skier has chosen to step out of the classic grooves. Consider this cornering situation: there is a track set, and a skier steps out of the track and no longer has the use of the track walls to force the turn and must therefore use a turning technique. A skidded turning technique would be allowed but that is not racing, so a stepped turn is in order but a step with momentum looks like a skate with a glide. John Estle wrote: “I do not differentiate between a step turn and a skate turn.” Reapply Estles’ So, if you're [skiing] around a right-hand turn, all your [steps] came off the right edges of the skis.” With a classic track set, you can only step and not push, which is not easily distinguished by a judge. Step turning outside-the-grooves puts you at a greater risk of a judge’s discretion of disqualification or a written warning. Keep remembering, never can a skier in a classic race resort to any type of skating V1, V2, marathon, etc.

A TD judge has discretion. FIS TD, Aalberg: “As a basic principle in a FIS race jury/TD, we take action when it is clear that the skier gains advantage, for example skating in a slight uphill, continuing to [push] after a corner (after the tracks are set), skating [or pushing] when passing someone, or a gliding herringbone...” A clean skier will be careful while passing to not gain any unnecessary advantage while skiing and turning outside the classic track. Where there is a classic track make your cornering steps look as little like pushing as possible.

Stepping outside the classic track to change lanes or to pass a slower skier in a straight section of track also puts a skier’s technique into the realm of opinion of the TD. Aalberg again: “- one skate push is allowed when changing tracks. However, if we see (a smart) guy continuously changing lanes (or more than once or twice in a row) this way, he will be disqualified. In World Cup competitions we (for this reason) only set one track in flat sections (but often two in uphill sections).” FIS TD, Bob Gross, warned that the FIS is looking more closely at skate and pushing steps, including lane changes and when a faster skier passes a slower ski by pushing out of the classic tracks and then back in. Allowing the one skate step to change lanes is not in the FIS rule; it is a recognized historical exception.

The classic race technique rules are surprisingly few and mostly clear:

  • Ski diagonal and double pole techniques and stay in the classic track grooves whenever possible – though there is no rule against stepping out of the grooves at any time.
  • Never ski V1, V2, V2a, diagonal skate, or marathon skate, meaning never skate inside edge to inside edge (big toe edge to big toe edge) and avoid the marathon skate by always picking up and stepping your inside ski before each outside ski push – where pushing is allowed at all.
  • On corners with NO a classic track set, pushes off the outside ski are allowed with the inside ski stepped and tilted to the same body side (right or left) as the outside pushing ski.
  • When changing lanes (or tracks) one push is generally allowed unless a skier does this too frequently and gains an advantage. (A TD judge has discretion here.)

Lastly, when Aalberg is judging, he gives hope for the novice, the clumsy, any skier up against their limit, or if someone steps on your ski or pole: “We also do not take action where we see one or two skate moves if it looks like the skiers is a bit out of balance.”

Kirk Nichols