Roller-skiing is one of the best forms of ski training â€” and also one of the most dangerous. Unlike on snow, where a controlled fall can salvage many situations and a skilled skier can stop on a dime, skiing on the road can be unforgiving in the extreme, and bailing out should be used only as a last resort.
But you should not feel as if you are putting your life on the line every time you strap on your rollers. Taking the proper safety precautions and making smart decisions can keep you healthy and happy on your skis.
Having the right equipment, and equipment that is functioning properly is the key to effective roller-skiing.
Skis: Obviously you need these. If you are buying new skis, make sure you think long and hard about ski speed. Get skis that match your ability — too slow and you will be V1ing the downhills, too fast and you will be dreading every change in grade. If you are not a confident roller-skier, skis on the slower side will be safer and more comfortable. The good news is that there are plenty of options on this front. Talk to your local ski shop, WebSkis (purveyors of the renowned Pro-Skis – http://www.webskis.com ), or FinnSisu (distributor of the Finnish Marwes – http://www.finnsisu.com ) for advice on specific models.
If you are using old skis — either your own or someone else’s — be certain to give them a good look-over before heading out. Make sure the wheels spin freely and without grinding or grating noises — a sign that the bearings are going bad. Check to be sure that the bindings are tight and that they function properly. The vibrations of the road can cause screws to work loose and weak bindings to open unexpectedly while skiing. Finally, check the shaft and forks. Look for signs of cracking in the shaft and carefully check areas where parts are screwed together (i.e. where fork meets shaft). Play it safe — if something looks bad, get it checked out, or replace the part. While roller-skis are expensive, replacement parts (other than wheels in most cases) are not overly pricey. It is worth $15 for a new bearing to avoid the rather unpleasant experience of having a wheel seize up.
Don’t even think about it
Sharp tips equal happy roller-skiing
Helmet: Wear one. If you don’t you are crazy — no matter how good a skier you are. There are so many variables outside the control of the skier in roller-skiing, and the ability to stop quickly and recover from equipment failures is limited. Here is a partial list of events that can cause a serious crash — all independent of the skier:
– Rock/stick in the wheel
– Wheel falling off
– Ski shaft breaking
– Wheel bearing seizing
– Binding coming loose
– Traffic hazards (cars pulling out, stopping suddenly, etc)
– Pavement hazards (potholes, loose gravel, etc)
– Wheel melting
Skills will give you a better chance of coming out of the above situations unscathed, but it isn’t worth trusting your life to fragile equipment and drivers.
Time for some new ones (the scary thing is that they smell worse than they look). These are roller-ski specific gloves — lightweight, with a mesh back. Seven good years of use
Boots: Many people use old ski boots that they have retired from on-snow (or at least racing) use. Roller-skiing is tough on boots — the skis are heavy, putting more stress on the boots, and the rain, mud, salt, etc, that are encountered on the road will contribute to breakdown. Add 3+ years of snow skiing on them and roller-ski boots are often barely holding on.
If you have an option, it is best not to use your brand new racing boots on the road. However, old flexed out boots are floppy and offer much less control and support. This can be a significant safety issue — especially when navigating corners, obstacles, etc. Be smart and retire your old boots before they do the same to you.
Alpina makes a roller-ski specific ski boot, available at WebSkis.com. If you do a lot of rolling, these could be a good investment. FasterSkier will have a full review of these boots later in the summer.
A roller-skier’s dream come true
Reflective Vest: If you are ever going to be roller-skiing in low light conditions, be sure to wear a reflective vest. Dusk and dawn are notoriously difficult times for drivers to see. If you stick to the full daylight, a very bright top will do the trick.
Skiing in the dark is also a viable option — but be sure to have the reflective vest, a very good headlamp (preferably a high output rechargeable lamp like the Mila — mila.com), and a rear flasher. There are a number of reflective bands that can be clipped around your calf — some offer bright flashing capabilities.
It reflects, it flashes, it stays lit, if only it could cook
Pads: This is personal preference. Pads can be cumbersome and uncomfortable, but slapping some on your knees might give you the confidence and peace of mind to get out there. Sometimes beginners will wear them as they get started, and after they become more comfortable, they will relegate them to the back of the gear closet. Overall, pads are mainly protecting you from skinned knees and elbows, but in theory they could save you significant damage in a large crash.
Brakes/Speed Reducers: Many roller-skis can be outfitted with brakes or speed reducers. Brakes are an active mechanism that the skier can engage at will, as speed and terrain vary. Speed reducers are usually adjusted occasionally — at the top of a large hill for example, and then disengaged at the bottom.
Stopping and slowing on roller-skis is not an easy thing to do. Brakes and speed reducers are an excellent addition that will give you more control. See if you can demo some before buying to make sure you feel comfortable with the operation.
Skills are the best way to avoid injury. And skills come from experience and practice. Don’t rush yourself or take risks while roller-skiing. It is not worth it. Get comfortable on easy terrain. Both stopping and slowing are not easy on roller-skis and require some practice. Start on easy terrain — get up to speed on a flat and then try to slow down.
There are a number of strategies for slowing, but the most tried and true is a form of snowplow. Wheels will not slide sideways on the road the way a ski will, so you need to create friction in another way. Spread your legs wide, and allow your skis to tip in on the inside edge of the wheels, form a slight V and apply hard lateral pressure to both skis. You can change the amount of â€œbrakingâ€ by adjusting the amount of pressure on the skis and the distance between them.
Why we roller-ski — so we can admire our reflection in the car window where the curvature of the glass makes us look HUGE
Some small scrapes and bruises will come with the territory, but big crashes and serious injuries are not inevitable when roller-skiing. If you take care of your equipment, wear a helmet, and make smart decisions, you can take advantage of the training opportunities that roller-skiing provides.
The requisite low-angle action shot