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Roller Skiing Basics

Have you ever seen people rolling around your local trail with those funny long rollerblades and poles? Well, those funny rollerblades are in fact roller skis specifically designed to mimic cross country skiing and if you are a skier, or just someone who wants a new, low-impact way to get fit, they just might be for you.

Roller skis mimic the speed and feel of skiing on snow to allow people to train in the summer and fall. Roller skiers use the same boots and poles that are used during the winter and they swap their skis for two foot long aluminum or carbon shafts with one wheel on each end. Both cross country techniques, skate and classic, can be executed on roller skis. Classic models use a ratcheting wheel to allow to skier to kick backwards simulating the classic stride. With skate models all wheels are free-rotating. Much to the benefit of lazy skiers and the chagrin of coaches, roller skis ALWAYS kick. Snow skis, on the other hand, need proper kick wax and a snappy weight transfer for a strong stride. Roller skis tend to be much slower than rollerblades - both for safety and for function. The slower speeds allow one to make use of arms as well as legs to push. Roller skiers tend to go about the same speed as x-c skiers on snow; about 6-10 miles per hour for skate skiing. Hoigaard's carries classic, skate and combination ("combi") roller skis.

How similar is roller skiing to on-snow skiing? They both engage your whole body and work the same muscles. Almost every skier, from high school racers to the elite racers, will spend about half of their training time on roller skis. Some racers in fact, will spend more time on roller skis during the 8-9 dry land months than they will on snow during the winter. For them, summer gives a time to put in a lot of base training, while perfecting technique and not losing touch with those "ski muscles" i.e. the balance muscles in your shin, triceps and lats to name a few. Even those who are not hardcore racers can benefit from the aerobic workout that roller skis offer. For one thing, like snow skiing, it is a total body work-out and can be more aerobically taxing than bipedal sports (running and cycling). You can get more bang for your buck out of a 45 minute roller ski compared to a 45 minute bike ride. Another reason to enjoy roller skiing is that it is easier on your knees and joints than running. For my own personal experience a 3 hour roller skis leaves me pain-free and ready to roll the next day, whereas a 3 hour run would leave me hurting for days.

Finally a word of caution before getting into roller skiing. Roller skis have no brakes therefore it is imperative that one knows the terrain before setting out. Steep downhills, abrupt stops and cracked or bad pavement should be avoided. Dedicated bike paths such as the ones found at Hyland Park and other local parks are best. Also realize that roller skiing takes considerable coordination and balance. Remember, it's only low impact if you stay on your feet! From personal experience I have spent many a time very close to the asphalt. Even with good coordination, things can always get in your way, so stay alert. Also, roller ski wheels are slippery when the pavement is wet, so it might be in your favor to avoid roller skiing in these conditions. If you have never cross-country skied before it is probably better to learn on the white fluffy stuff. Beginners are cautioned to start slow, wear kneepads if you are concerned about falling, and always wear a helmet. Finding a coach or joining a training group such as the City of Lakes Loppet club or the Sisu skiers will help you progress faster, as well as match you with those around your fitness level. As always, talk to your friendly staff at Hoigaard's if you have any questions about roller skis or roller skiing.

- Erik Hendrickson