Pace and rhythm in walking and skiing

  • Climbing and descending
  • Skiing
  • Rest stops
  • Rhythm and pace

We must learn how to walk and ski efficiently. Developing a rhythmical and harmonious pattern of movement is the key to being able to perform the skill over a long period of time, as required when bushwalking and skiing. When walking, smooth rhythmical steps of an even length, using the natural swing of the legs and arms is the most energy-efficient technique, and enables the length of the step to be adjusted to suit the terrain. For skiing it is worth taking time to learn basic skills properly so that you ski more efficiently and use less energy to travel the same distance.

Climbing and descending

Uphill climbs require the use of shorter steps. Available projections can form natural steps. Using these allows a more upright body position and reduces the load on postural muscles caused by leaning. Straightening the leg during each step will aid efficiency when going up steeper climbs. Using this technique takes some of the load off the muscles and transfers it to the bones and helps conserve energy. Where possible, place the whole foot on the ground.

On steep descents, place the feet carefully, heel first, with the toes pointing down the slope, the knees bent and the body leaning forward. This will help prevent and control slipping. Placing hands on available trees and rocks will assist with balance and control of the descent. Where possible, zig-zag across a slope rather than going directly up or down. This effectively reduces the gradient of the slope, the strain on the knees and the energy consumed with each step, as well as reducing the potential for erosion.

When descending on a steep rock slab, it is usually best to point the toe down so that the whole surface of the footwear connects with the rock. This will usually give much better grip and reduce jarring.


Skiing requires efficient diagonal stride and skating techniques that make full use of the glide of the skis. Any unnecessary lifting of the skis will increase energy use. Timing of the kick and the pole push is critical to the development of this efficient technique. Use energy-efficient techniques such as double poling, downhill running or double-pole stride at every opportunity.

On steep terrain, negotiate uphill sections by zig-zagging across the slope using an uphill traverse where possible. Skiing uphill using either a herringbone or side-step technique also requires a rhythmical action to be efficient. During a descent, selecting the appropriate turns for the prevailing snow conditions conserves momentum, facilitating the linking of turns in a smooth, rhythmical sequence.

Rest stops

In both walking and skiing it is important to allow the group to establish a rhythm. Frequent stops will interrupt this process and accelerate the onset of fatigue. A good leader should be proactive in controlling when and where the stops occur. It is important to define stages and designate rest stops so that members of the group can focus on a set objective. Set an easy pace for the first 15–20 minutes for everyone to warm up and adjust to the activity. Following this, a break to adjust clothing, equipment and footwear will allow individuals to get comfortable. Pack and adjust backpacks with care, as a poorly loaded or adjusted pack can cause discomfort and upset balance (particularly when skiing), making it difficult to establish a rhythm.

Activity periods should vary in length depending on the nature of the group and how they are coping with the conditions. Rest periods should allow the muscles to relax, but should not be so long that the body begins to cool. Five to ten minutes should be adequate time for most group members to relax and have a drink.

Plan rest breaks and let the group know what is ahead, so that they can focus on a defined objective. Select pleasant rest spots (e.g. under the shade of a tree or overlooking an interesting view), so that the group can enjoy the break for more than just its relief from the activity.

Rhythm and pace

Inexperienced walkers and skiers may have trouble establishing a rhythm. The leader must attempt to provide for this in planning to allow time for learning, particularly for skiing, where technique may take considerable time to develop. Selecting routes that avoid rugged terrain will facilitate the learning process.

Skilled travellers can establish a rhythm at a variety of speeds. The underlying consideration for the leader is to ensure that the pace is comfortable for the slowest member of the group. Putting slower individuals at the front is a useful ploy used to regulate the pace of the group so that it remains in the comfort zone for everybody. Giving slower individuals leadership or navigational roles which place them at the front of the group is a positive way to control the pace. Slow the faster members down by involving them in conversation or placing them at the rear as a ‘whip’. In all but a few situations it is preferable to keep the group together.

With an increase in pace there could be a tendency for movements to become jerkier or less smooth. The loss of control will lead to a greater expenditure of energy. When walking, any over striding, using jerky movements and jarring of the body (particularly on downhill sections) will waste a lot of energy. A similar loss of control when skiing may contribute to a loss of balance and falls. The impact of the fall and getting up afterwards requires considerable energy. Although the effect of such movements may not be evident immediately, they will take their toll as the day progresses, contributing to the early onset of fatigue.