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Roller skis can be purchased thru a variety of stores and mail order firms throughout North America and Europe. Many of the mail order firms with websites will also ship worldwide. Despite a very specialized market, several major brands of roller skis include (but are certainly not limited to) V2, Marwe, Ski Skett, ProSki, and Elpex. The differences between the brands primarily have to do with wheel speed, smooth ride, cost, weight, ability to handle rough pavement or dirt roads, and tire wear. Every brand has strengths so it can really be a personal choice as to what brand and model is best.
Pretty much every major brand has several models to choose from including ratcheted and non-ratchet options. Ratcheted skis allow for both the classic and skate motions... non-ratcheted skis are for skating only. Typically the non-ratcheted skis will tend to be faster and have slightly harder wheels to counter the agressive skate motions.
Your best bet is to go with a ski that fits your particular situation. Fast roller skis can be fun if you have a loads of safe, flat bikepaths nearby, but they make for dangerous and decidely un-fun workouts for most people on crowded urban roads, on steep terrain, or on rough roads. On the other hand, rollerskis that are too slow might gather dust if you have tons of quiet pavement of good quality available, but it takes you an hour to go 2 km. You also need to consider your general ski abilities, fitness, coordination and balance when choosing roller skis--much more so than snow skis.
Technology has been applied towards rollerskis with such added features as shock systems, brakes, "speed reducers" (adjustable for slowing descent speeds on long downhills), longer-lasting wheels and even "off-road" roller skis. It is recommended that you contact several individuals or coaches that have actually used these new products or go to a product demo before investing in something that may or may not deliver as promised.
It is perfectly OK to use any pole grip and shaft you would use on snow for roller skiing. If you have really high-priced racing poles, however, you might want to think about investing in some cheap, roll-dedicated poles. Pavement will beat up poles over time and it is very possible to break poles while rolling just as easily as on-snow skiing. Often the best option is to look into poles marketed for inline skating and sold thru a variety of outlets. They usually cost far less than XC ski-specific poles (because they are mass produced in greater quantities and usually made out of aluminum rather than composite materials). They are usually a bit more durable which is nice if you take a tumble now and then.
The only real distinct feature of roller ski poles as opposed to on-snow poles is the tips. Roller ski pole ferrules (tips)--as well as diamond tipped sharpeners-- are available from any outlet selling roller skis. Do NOT use your regular snow baskets for roller skiing if at all possible! The plastic of the basket can easily be broken off and the tips on regular baskets are usually not designed to handle the stress of pavement. Good on-snow baskets are not cheap and you don't want to throw away $ on your first attempt at roller skiing. Dedicated roller ski tips are much cheaper than replacing broken baskets, usually offer a more durable tip construction, and are far easier to sharpen.
Bonus Tip: When you get a pair of roller ski ferrules (tips), use some super glue and reinforce the area where the steel tip is imbedded in the plastic/rubber housing. This extends the life of even brand new ferrules.
Here's a few suggestions for applying and maintaining pole tips.
- To take off a winter basket/tip...use a heat gun (or really powerful hair dryer) to loosen the glue holding basket to shaft or steam/boil the basket for a couple minutes over your kitchen stove. Use water soluble glue to stick on the roller ferrules on the pole shaft and you are set for the summer.
- Do NOT use super glue or epoxy to afix a roller ski ferrule on a pole shaft even if you have dedicated roller ski poles. Ferrules will break occasionally (most often the tip snaps off in a pavement crack) and it will be a royal pain to get them off the shaft if you don't use water soluable glue. It's a good idea to reinforce the actual tip of the ferrule with a stronger glue since you'll just be throwing away the ferrule when the tip is gone anyways.
- Take the time to sharpen your tips each time you go out. Five minutes of sharpening will prolong the useful life of a ferrule and help prevent the frustration of constant pole slipping. Sharp tips can also reduce strain on your shoulders, elbows, and wrists that can develop trying to plant dull tips into pavement. A diamond blade file is a handy purchase, available at most hardware big box stores.
- Keep in mind that colder weather makes for harder pavement. You'll want super sharp tips in the fall or if you typically roller ski early in the morning when it is cooler. Also note that older pavement is harder than brand new asphalt.
- Try to avoid dragging tips to "brake" on downhills. You'll damage tips and shafts plus the noise you'll make will tend to freak out other road or trail users which gives roller skiing a bad name (potentially leading to access closures -- never a good thing!). If a downhill is too steep to ski normally -- you are much safer walking down, getting some speed reducers, or trying out some a roller ski brake.
Boots, Gloves, Protective Gear
Your normal winter boots and gloves will usually work fine for roller skiing although if you plan on doing a ton of rolling you'll go through equipment twice as fast in the summer. Light gloves are advisable otherwise you are looking at tons of hand blisters and soaked gloves when the weather is warm. At least one prominent XC brand makes dedicated gloves made just for roller skiing which are outstanding. Be forewarned: you'll probably get blisters no matter what the first few times--it does get better when your hands start to toughen up. Vasoline can help.
For protective gear it is recommended that all roller skiers use, at the very minimum: very bright (reflective if possible) clothing, gloves, a good-fitting helmet, and ideally some kind of knee and/or elbow protection. It is also a very good idea to use elbow/wrist guards...particularly for beginners and juniors. Your best safety measure is to slowly develop your roller ski skills in the safest possible locations and always stay on pavement that is 100% suitable for your skills.
The primary drawback of roller skiing compared to winter XC skiing is the relative difficulty for most folks in finding suitable locations. It can take awhile to discover perfect roller skiing spots, but if you know what to look for (and when to go) you can discover a whole new dimension to XC skiing.
Where To Roller Ski
- For most skiers, look for roads or (ideally) dedicated multi-user or bike trails on flat to gentle rolling terrain with very low traffic levels, wide shoulders, and good visibility.
- Many moderate to high use areas can be somewhat safer to roller ski very early in the morning. Early evenings on weekends or holidays can also decrease crowds in heavy use spots.
- A location that often is perfect for urban skiers is a modern business park early on a weekend or holiday morning. If the location has any kind of terrain to it you'll often find plenty of good pavement and empty parking lots to cruise around in. Note, however, that you may find yourself pestered by security folks if the business park has prohibited skateboarders or inline skaters. If in doubt, always ask before rolling on private property. If the area is private property and they have tight security, all you can do is point out to management you aren't interested in doing backflips off the handrails...and hope that you can convince them you are a different animal. Sometimes having a training group with a general liability policy naming the business park as a fully indemnified additional insured party can give you weekend access to basically your own private roller ski park.
- Always look into law enforcement policies and protocol regarding roller skis before going out. If in doubt, actually take your skis into a police or highway patrol station and find out what your local Highway Patrol or police department's policies are regarding roller skis. Ask if they have any suggestions for places to go and if they would prefer that you ski facing or with traffic. You'll find that most law enforcement folks will be thrilled you took the time to get their feedback and by following their directions you'll have gained valuable allies if you ever run into some folks that hate to see people out exercising and want to ruin it for everyone. Installing roller ski brakes and demonstrating their use at a police station has proven effective at gaining law enforcement approval in the past. Basically if you can prove that you can safely stop in a reasonable distance when required (without bailing to the side of the pavement), you are much less of a hazard to both yourself and others which is the bottom line for most law enforcement officers.
- In rolling terrain, look for downhills with plenty of run out and a moderate slope so you don't build up too much speed. Very few skiers have the ability to handle steep and/or twisting descents. The speed reducers and brakes offered by a couple different brands can be very much worth the additional $ they add to the package price of roller skis by controlling speed on long or steep downhills. With reducers you can open up significantly more terrain for your training fun. The only real downside other than cost of reducers/brakes is the added weight.
- Be aware of how your choice in location and behavior on roller skis impacts the general skiing community. If you create dangerous situations by skiing in overly agressive terrain, in heavy traffic, or in locations where roller skiing is prohibited...you are directly and negatively impacting those of us in the ski community that obey local laws and routinely show common sense. Same goes for roller skiers that are openly rude or flaunt restrictions put in place by landowners or local public agencies. Roller skiing is not backed up by powerful, well-funded special interest groups like those for off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, etc. so if you act like a jerk on roller skis it directly and negatively impacts the rest of our sport. Please play nice (and safe) or don't play at all.
- Check the pavement and route ahead of time. Chip-seal surfaces, lots of big cracks or potholes, piles of leaves/needles, and obstacles such as cattle grates or curbs can all ruin your day. You cannot stop on a dime with roller skis...ever...so you want things as smooth and free of debris as possible. Any new route should be driven or ridden on a bicycle first (or skied with someone that knows the route) so that you can determine if there are any hidden dangers.
- Forget about skiing in city traffic or even on busy bike paths if they have multiple traffic controls (stop signs, speed bumps, etc.) or even several downhills with stop signs at the bottom. Stick to rural roads and dedicated multi-user paths with long stretches of uninterrupted pavement whenever possible. Even if you have a brake and speed reducers, multiple traffic controls will drive you crazy and will really compromise the training benefit of being on roller skis.
- First-time skiers should practice in a safe area before venturing too far afield. Newly-paved parking lots on a weekend morning are a good bet as long as they are flat and you have permission to be there. An even better place is paved paths surrounding grass ballfields or grass parks. The limitation with these paths is you have to go when people are not around and the paths have to be flat enough and long enough to actually move using real ski techniques. Practice getting the feel of the skis. How to turn quickly. How long it takes to come to a stop. How to safely bail out to the side in an emergency.
- A particularly good drill for beginning roller skiers is to find a grass area right next to pavement and practice an intentional "bail out" from the pavement onto the grass. Go slowly at first and anticipate that the skis will very nearly come to a dead stop when you move from the pavement to the grass. If you move your feet quickly enough in a shuffle or run...even for 3-5 steps...you'll find you can quickly come under control on the grass. Best of all, this drill offers a great deal of what we call "rear end forgiveness" as a mistake just means you'll tumble on the nice, soft grass. The alternative (pavement) is not nearly as pleasant!
How To Roller Ski
- Just about every technique you can do on skis you can do on roller skis--both classic and skating. You'll find that diagonal stride yields a "perfect" kick due to the ratchet in the wheel which can be a negative situation if you are aiming to improve your technique (you don't want to get to depend on that level of kick which is almost never there on snow!).
- Note: Many very good classic skiers limit diagonal technique on roller skis to avoid developing bad classic habits. When they use "classic" technique on roller skis, these skiers primarily double pole and double pole kick. On the occasions that you do see good to great skiers striding you must keep in mind the physical and technical base these skiers have developed over years of training. Take Home Message: Until you know what a good diagonal kick should feel like, try to stick with double pole and especially double pole kick when classic rolling.
- On roads it is typically best to ski with traffic. Depending on the state or city it also may be required. If you are skiing early in the AM or at twilight you should also be aware of sunlight potentially blinding drivers in one direction or another in some sections of roadway. Be particularly careful at these times! If you roll in a group, typically you will need to ski single file if skating and no more than 2 abreast if classic skiing.
- Keep your skis and poles in towards your body whenever passing or being passed by cars, bikes or pedestrians. The best option is just to double pole (if skating) until you are clear to begin skiing again. The flaring motion of skating plus the fact that most skiers never really hug the curb or shoulder of a road makes you a big concern to drivers. Getting in the habit of double poling on the extreme edge of the shoulder when being passed means you'll always be in the safest position when cars come by.
- Always check over your shoulder before skiing into a traffic path or passing another skier. Same applies when you have to ski into the traffic lane to avoid a drainage grate, gravel, or other obstacle.
- Stopping can be tough on rollers no matter your skill level. A snowplow wedge is only partially effective as is rapid-fire step-turning. They both can work but you wouldn't want to bet your life on them. Skiers that have good balance on roller skis can often use a stepping snowplow whereby the skier steps forward several times one foot at a time in a snowplow position slowly creating a brake action. When done properly, this works better than a straight snowplow because you can push harder with each foot on each step and don't burn your wheels as much as regular snowplowing. A good quick-stop combination for intersections is to snowplow or step snowplow heavily AND use your poles to help brake by planting them in front and away from your body several times outside the edge of the pavement. Another tip is to use your body and arms as a "windbreak" standing up as wide as possible to slow things down. Be sure to keep your knees slightly bent and be ready to get your hands low and in front while doing this however.
- The best stopping solution is to roll in areas where you won't ever need to come to sudden stops so that you can let speed diminish naturally before using a partial wedge or your poles to finally stop. Note: Using a snowplow too often will shorten wheel life considerably. Wheels are not cheap to replace so keep that in mind when selecting terrain.
- Slow down well before and anticipate hazards. You'll learn the hard way if you blast into a dangerous area and find you have to crash to save yourself!
- Leave the daredevil stunts for Hollywood. Gunning down dangerous hills; running stop signs; weaving thru traffic--these kinds of behaviors force officials to create laws prohibiting roller skiing and lead to expensive (and potentially tragic) accidents.
- When in doubt, walk down a hill. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Roller skiing is a very effective snow simulation tool (and even a sport by itself) but you want to keep a few things in mind. First, if you simply can't get comfortable on pavement or around traffic you will be better off doing foot ski simulation instead. A terrified roller skier isn't going to be able to train effectively and is far more likely to take a dangerous fall.
Conversely, if you are rolling in particularly tough terrain or at high altitude, you need to make sure your heartrate does not climb too high. It is very easy to get swept up by the speed of roller skiing and forget to monitor your training zones. If you are operating at too high a heartrate with too little experience on roller skis you are more likely to make mistakes which result in a fall or simply overtrain yourself.
Finally, probably the biggest benefit roller skiing provides over bounding or running is in the development of technique and specific endurance strength. To yield the maximum benefit, roller ski workouts must contain a great deal of focused time isolating specific technical areas and muscle groups. Some skiers (of all ages) spend a ton of time in the summer and fall on roller skis and yet can't figure out why they don't make a huge jump in improvement the next winter. The answer usually lies in too much time rolling with "lazy " technique; always skiing in terrain that is too steep or too flat; and/or generally just "going out" instead of going out with a specific goal in mind. Here are some ways to improve your roller skiing training next time out.
- Try to avoid using diagonal stride when classic rolling unless you have a clear understanding of and feeling for a "late kick". Instead, concentrate on good double pole, double pole kick motions or skating.
- Use as much V-2 and V-2 alternate when skating on roller skis as possible. Roadways almost always lack the abrupt transitions of ski trails so take advantage of the opportunity to really build your power gears.
- Vary your terrain as much as possible. Seek out both flat and rolling terrain sites. Bike paths often offer the best technical choices but please watch out for other users!
- Concentrate on complete motions whenever roller skiing. "Lazy" training will translate into lazy skiing next winter. You don't have to go hard--but you always want to ski technically well. An hour of focused training with excellent technique is often far superior to two hours of sloppy technique.
- Specific strength exercises such as skiing without poles, double poling uphill, and single poling uphill are best on gradual slopes with good visibility (to account for traffic and multiple trips up and down) or one very long gradual slope. Aim for strong, snappy motions at moderate to high turnover. AXCS members have annual access to many great specific strength menus and training ideas (yet another reason to join AXCS today!).
- Timetrials and intervals on roller skis are best on uphill terrain whenever possible or a very safe section of rolling terrain. It is essential to spend many hours practicing on roller skis in safe locations before you ever intentionally start going harder in any type of terrain.
- All out speed on roller skis should only be done by very experienced skiers with proper safety equipment. However, most skiers can benefit from 5-10 second "pick ups" randomly thrown into distance sessions. Concentrate on powerful motions at a reasonable tempo. A good rule of thumb on pick ups is to factor one speed burst for every 15-20 minutes of a distance workout. It can also be helpful for many folks to do speed bursts on gradual uphills so that your actual top end speed is shaved a bit by the resistance of the hill.
- If you train in a group on roadways, try to have a support vehicle follow you with bright signs warning drivers you are on the side of the roadway.
This roller ski guide is provided for informational purposes only by American XC Skiers. Use of all suggestions on this page is on a use entirely at your own risk basis with the reader acknowledging and accepting all personal responsibility for the inherent risks and dangers posted by roller skiing. The guide was originally written by xcskiworld.com. founder and AXCS National Director J.D. Downing with several edits since that time.