Anybody Can Ski on Snow” – Training to Race Fast Without Snow

FasterSkierDecember 16, 20095
Maria Stuber, CXC Team Vertical Limit
Maria Stuber, CXC Team Vertical Limit

In the past month, the CXC Team Vertical Limit has been all over the west skiing on awesome trails with abundant snow.  We raced in West Yellowstone, MT, Bozeman, MT and Silver Star, B.C.  Although these trips are a blast, early season races are extra challenging because most athletes competing have spent only 10 days (or less) skiing on snow.  Whether you get the chance to travel to snow in November or not, there will inevitably be a time when you want to race fast without having spent much time on snow.

Lots of ski racers live in places where snow is not a given in the month of January.  Although I currently live in Marquette, MI where the average annual snowfall is over 200 inches, I was born and raised in Waukesha, WI, where it was normal to be roller skiing well after Christmas.  Although the snowfall in Waukesha is not dependable, the ski community definitely is.  The Waukesha area high school ski team, Peak Nordic, was started in 1997.  This club has grown from six rag-tag beginners to a team of thirty plus racers that won the High School State Championship in 2009.  When asked how Peak Nordic could possibly compete with the Northern Wisconsin High School teams that ski on snow from December to March, head coach, Mary Eloranta, said, “Anybody can ski on snow.”

The single most important thing to remember when trying to ski fast without training on snow is specificity.  Like other aspects of training, the type of demand placed on the body dictates the type of adaptation that will occur.  An athlete will not get fast and powerful by doing all long, slow, distance training.   Likewise, an athlete will not succeed in cross-country skiing by running or biking until the snow falls.  Fortunately, roller skis provide an experience that is very similar to skiing on snow.  It is imperative for cross-country ski racers trying to race fast without snow to do at least 50% of their off-season training on roller skis.  While roller skiing activates the same muscle groups used in cross-country skiing, it also provides a great opportunity for skiers to work on technique.

The only negative thing about roller skiing is that rubber wheels tend to be faster than P tex on snow.  To make roller skiing even more specific, athletes can find big uphill sections of road to do their intervals and technique work.  Another way to simulate the physical and technical demands of cross-country skiing is to do ski walking and bounding intervals.  When done properly ski walking and bounding are very similar to classic skiing on snow.  It is imperative for athletes to take the time to learn the fundamental skiing movements involved with ski walking and bounding to fully benefit from this activity.

Most cross-training options for cross-country skiers lack the upper body demand associated with skiing on snow.  Thus, skiers who are training to race fast without snow must not forget to work on their upper body and core strength.  This should be done in several different ways.  General strength activities in the weight room or basement will surely pay off in the winter time.  Another great way to work on upper body strength is by doing what we call, “specific strength.”  Specific strength workouts are usually done with classic roller ski equipment and involve a warm up, 30-60 minutes of strength activities, and a cool down.  Specific strength activities include: single sticking, double poling, kick double poling, and core only double poling.  Athletes should find a nice gradual uphill and mark off 100-250 meters depending on their strength background.  Specific strength workouts involve doing many repetitions of the activities mentioned above.  Athletes can have some fun making up workouts that focus on their weaknesses.  I would suggest putting an emphasis on single sticking and double poling for athletes looking to build strength fast.

A common mistake made by athletes that are training to race fast without snow is to neglect technique work.  Technique must be a focus of training all year round.  NMU Ski Team head coach, Sten Fjeldheim, tells his athletes, “if you can’t do it right in the grass, how the heck are you going to do it on skis.”  Sten is no stranger to making skiers race fast without snow.  At the 2007 National Championships, NMU Ski Team athlete, Lindsey Dehlin, won the 5K Classic race without being on snow more than a few days before the race.  Technique work can be very productive on or off the skis when a logical progression is used.  Central Cross-Country Skiing has done an excellent job teaching this progression to athletes, coaches, and teams like High School State Champions—Peak Nordic.  Contact CXC for a clinic in your area, or go to to purchase their new DVD called, “Cross-Country Technique Progression.”

Maria Stuber, CXC Team Vertical Limit
Maria Stuber, CXC Team Vertical Limit

Maria Stuber is CXC Team Vertical Limit member and her main equipment sponsors are; Vertical Limit apparel, Salomon skis/boots/bindings, Toko wax/gloves/hats, Polar heart rate monitor, Swix poles, Rudy Project eyewear/helmet, Marwe rollerskis, Finn Sisu stonegrinding, Podium Wear race suits.


Loading Facebook Comments ...


  • Cloxxki

    December 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing!

    My country gets near zero snow. By chance, I expect some tomorrow, although likely exactly NOT where I happen to be. No tracks for sure, ever.
    I’ve found rollerskis to be too difficult to even get to work. Difficult as in too dangerous. In part I think, due to the tippy narrow wheels, and realively sloppy bindings/boots used in xc skiing. SO far away from the snow experience that I loved so much from the first instant.
    Inline skates, worked immediately without even having used them. I now have slow wheels in the inlines, and it feels exactly like slow, for technique and speed. The 4x90mm Continental rubber wheels per (K@ Moto softboot) skate, one of which with rubber “bearing”, actually seem to be slower than snow. Maybe similar at high speeds, but at slow speed, it’s like really crappy snow. Stop skiing on the flat, and within seconds you stop. No-poling, that’s a huge but wonderful, high turnover effort, while the movements are very much inline/skeeler. Holding the poles, even when just freeskating, makes it “snow” for me.

    To go cheap, I can recommend to try any 4-wheel inline (take advantage of the once-but-never-again owners), and remove wheels 2+3. Less wheels equals slower (counter-intuative, but true), and in this case also makes the skates track straighter. The “hockey” style movability of 4-wheelers is reduced greatly, much more snow-like. Do realize you’re voiding warranty, and SHOULD any time on any wheels, wear helmet.
    Big plus for the Continental wheels: they were made for the rain,a nd worked great, still offer good grip. However, they were found to be too slow for the inline folks. But, perfect for the Nordic crowd.

    I wish you all good snow, soon.

  • lsiebert

    December 16, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Can’t classic ski on rollerblades. Also, the shorter wheel base makes it far easier to “kick back” when skating, which is a pretty significant technique flaw.

    With a decent pair of boots (non combi), a good pair of skate rollerskis feels a lot like snow.

  • ande3577

    December 17, 2009 at 1:09 am

    I agree that rollerblading really can’t compete with rollerskiing for specificity. Although depending on skill level and available terrain, brakes (which most rollerskis do not have) and better cornering are a definite plus for developing conditioning at least, though not technique.

    The real challenge for me is those times when there’s not enough snow to ski, but enough snow/ice on the roads to make rollerskiing pretty dicey, or when the temps drop below zero, and the wheels don’t roll and the tips don’t bight. Needless to say I’m thankful for the advent of snowmaking on cross-country trails.

  • Cloxxki

    December 17, 2009 at 3:04 am

    For classic I will not contest use of rollerskis, obviously.

    Interesting though the difference of opinion regarding rollerblades. I can see the technique varying some.
    For me, the main diff with rollerskis is the one between hours of trying to make ANY ground, contantly falling and having wrecked 2 sets of my favorite winterwear, to simply skiing away like it’s a perfect snow day. It may be a flaw in my brain, but I just cannot rollerski. Skikes I can probably learn one day, thanks to the added lateral stability from built-in straps and air tires.
    At least, on the blades I’m skiing at near maximum intesity the first time I put them on in more than a year. Muscles trained are the same as on snow, I can clearly tell from the acute discomfort.
    While blades don’t come with speed reducers (I’d want those in hilly terrain), the slow wheels I use really prevent you getting into trouble. The added manouvrability of blades reduces the amount of crashes (on unforgiving asphalt) to a minimum. I crashed mine once, a silly moment. I recovered many moments of bad balance. On rollerskis, I was only crashing, not skating over walking pace.

    Ah, we’re all different.

    2cm of snow outside. What could be more frustrating than that?

Leave a Reply