Roll the Roller Skiing

Post by blogger | August 22, 2011      

Fitness and health for ski mountaineering.

“Scott, you gotta get some of these man,” the conversation began.

“No way, its bad enough I get lumped in with the nordies during the winter… I’m not carrying that through the summer!”

“I’m telling you, you are going to love it,” my friend persisted. “Your wife will totally love these things….AND you guys can do this together.”

Okay, hmmm… how can I ignore that one? So I started to think, now that the hook was embedded deeply into my cheek, that maybe I’ll just buy her a pair, and then I could just sneak out when no one is looking and try ’em.

“Alright, order up two pair, besides I can always sell ’em if I hate ’em.”

A month or so later, “they” showed up. Who are “they?” “They” are some Swenor Skate Elite roller skis. Okay, I know where most of you’re minds just went. Visions of old guys in lycra looking dorky on the bike path. That’s where my mind went when I unsuccessfully tried to avoid ordering up these geek sticks. But truth be told, when I saw them up close, I was pretty intimidated and thoughts of slapping onto the asphalt, like in my skateboarding days, didn’t help the picture at all. “Honey, have we met our deductible yet?” Visions of the video below filled my gullible brain, check it out….

Undeterred by these Amazing Race contestants, I decided to crack open the boxes that contained our own wheels of death and get on with the binding install. Being the romantic that I am, I let my wife be the guinea pig on this escapade, so her skis were mounted first.

Training for backcountry skiing.

Swenor Skate Elite roller skis.

I started the install by looking at where Swenor recommends the bindings should be placed on the ski. Since I had a few Salomon Equipe Pilot skate bindings lying around, I used the balance point for that binding, which was about 31 cm from the end of the ski (see Swenor’s drawing in previous link to see what I mean here). If you have a bigger boot size or use an NNN binding (I wear a 8.5 US in a Salomon boot) then your balance point will be slightly different, see Swenor’s instructions. Or you could mount the bindings so the heel of your boot can be used as a brake system. Just kidding.

Once you've marked the balance point, just line up the binding slot (where you click into the binding) with the balance point that you carefully measured and marked on the ski, clamp or tape down the binding so it doesn't move, and center-punch the front-most hole. A third hand coming out of your chest would be helpful here.

Since I didn’t have a jig (and they aren’t always perfect anyways…), and I’m used to installing cross country ski bindings, I’m comfortable free handing these installs (although in the shop where I work in the winters, I’d use a jig, carefully, as doing so is way faster). But if you don’t have access to a shop nor a jig then just be careful (or just get a shop to drill them), double check your measurements and go slowly. Once I marked the topsheet of the ski with the centerpunch, (using the binding hole itself as a reference/guide) I used a 3.6mm bit to drill the actual hole for the screw. Then I tapped the hole, screwed in the front-most toe hole, and repeated the process on the next holes.

Key thing is getting the balance point marked where you want it and lining up the binding accordingly. And then just take your time and make sure the binding stays centered on the ski when drilling the rest of the holes. If you don’t keep it centered it is possible (especially with Salomon boots) that the sole of the boot won’t line up with the rear of the binding, and that is really annoying while skiing.

Once you have drilled and tapped the binding holes, epoxy, and screw your bindings down. Swenor advises using a two part epoxy. I use gorilla glue, and it seems to work fine.

The finished product. Geek sticks or death sticks? I'll let the reader decide...

So now that I’ve drilled the skis, they are pretty much mine, so I figured that I should give them a chance, or being the unselfish guy that I am, maybe I should let my wife have first tracks? Yep, let’s see how she does.

Jenny skating up the trail. She looked infinitely better than those poor Amazing Race folks. And better yet, her bindings didn't fall off. I was happy.

And then it was my turn. We went down to the local bike path, which is all asphalt, and was conveniently closed in one long section (which means less people/bike traffic, aka hecklers) and I clicked in for the first time. I felt like a clown on the high wire at first, somewhat wobbly looking I’m sure. Having weak ankles from not having skied since last April, and just being plain scared of slapping the pave, didn’t help. But once I started double poling and getting used to how the skis ran it wasn’t too bad.

Getting comfortable with the stopping issue is a little unnerving, but necessary. The hardest thing is keeping in mind that you just don’t stop quickly in these things. You have to anticipate when you want to stop by slowing down and coasting to a stop, or use a funky step snowplow technique or just veer off the bike path into the gravel, grass, barbed wire fence, or what have you.

After a few minutes of feeling and probably looking stiff, uncoordinated and nervous, I began to relax, breathe and sort of enjoy it, at least double poling anyways. I found that going uphill was easier, because you could control your speed more easily, and that allowed me to relax enough to try some V1 and V2 alternate technique and even, dare I say, some V2.

My first impressions of roller skate skiing are that it is a pretty good simulation of the real thing but also at the same time, different. You seem to use the same muscle groups, techniques, and balance but you’re still rolling on asphalt, not sliding on snow. I found myself being a little more mentally on edge (i.e. having a bit of a pucker factor) because of the asphalt–similar feeling to when you are skiing in icy, frozen track conditions in the winter.

What I really like about it is simply using my upper body. Double poling is a great workout in and of itself. And being a road/trail runner, cyclist and hiker in the summer and fall where my upper body basically atrophies, roller skiing should really help slow down that part of the aging process. I know some people that primarily use them just to double pole for that reason.

The Swenor Skate Elites are really pretty comfortable, no buzz from the pavement. They feel pretty forgiving actually, sort of similar to how a skate ski would flex, but they don’t feel like they unload quite like a skate ski. Then again I’m new to this sport so I’m not powering down the bike path. But the “pop” definitely feels like it is there if you want it. And the factory sends the ski with a wheel/bearing combo that aren’t super fast, so there is a bit of resistance built into how fast the ski rolls (you can buy faster or slower wheels / bearings if you feel the need to keep up with the cyclists…or just want more resistance).

You can use all of your existing skate gear to start doing this, with the exception of your skis of course, and you’ll want to swap in a special pole tip like these here. And you want to keep those tips sharp so you get some purchase when you go to plant them in the asphalt. We have used our existing winter pole tips (called ferrules), which work, but are much less durable than replacement tips.

If you’re brand new to the sport, i.e. you’ve never skate skied at all, then you might think about starting out on some classic roller skis, which have lower and wider wheels and should be a bit easier to balance and roll on.

So bottom line, I’m glad I gave in to my friend’s sale pitch. What’s really funny, is that I’ve been out rolling more than my wife, which may or may not be so good for our marriage…It’s always challenging to learn something new (especially when you’re searching for your new prime in life), but totally worth it in the end. I’ve had a few curious stares from others out on the bike path, but no heckling. And its nice to be engaging different muscle groups for a change. I think it will complement running and cycling really well, as long as I stay on my feet and don’t break anything. Though I should still check to see if my deductible is met just in case. Roll, baby roll……

Check out some footage of real skate skiers:

Get out of the way if you see one of these girls rolling up behind you.

At least a few nordies lurk around Wildsnow, and skate skiing wouldn’t hurt the training regimen of any backcountry skier, so please chime in with some comments about your experiences or thoughts on roller skiing. And by the way, roller skiing can be a lycra-free sport. I wear my baggies, so there….

( guest blogger Scott Nelson and his wife Jenny live in and enjoy the mountain life around Carbondale, CO. You’ll find Scott out running, skiing, climbing, cycling, and whatever else he can do to stay healthy.)


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14 Responses to “Roll the Roller Skiing”

  1. Njord August 22nd, 2011 11:08 am

    “Snowplow, damnit!” and “This is stupid”

  2. Christian August 22nd, 2011 12:12 pm

    A lot of roller-skiers over here (Norway), and a lot with skates and poles. Just to show the popularity suronding the cross-country skiers – even during summer:
    (Still haven’t tried it myself…)

  3. Ola Forsell August 22nd, 2011 1:47 pm

    Get some roller ferrules and sharpen them with a coarse diamond stone before every workout. It makes a big difference.
    I found that roller skiing improved my balance on all my other skis(tele, nordic and AT). The cardio and strength benefits are pretty obvious. Double poling workouts will make your arms stay strong longer when you are skinning etc.
    Stay upright…

  4. Lou August 22nd, 2011 1:48 pm

    I’ve found that roller blading is the best thing I can do for my skiing, besides skiing. It is just an amazing ski related workout. Which reminds me…

  5. Greg August 22nd, 2011 2:49 pm

    I find road cycling is the best training for ski touring. Not many other sports allow 5 or 6 hour workouts. When you’ve been doing hard 100+ mile rides all summer and fall, ski tours are easy.

    The aerobic engine is the important part, the muscle-specific stuff comes back quick with a little gym time and early season jaunts.

  6. XXX_er August 22nd, 2011 2:56 pm

    I have done roller blading with poles for xc cross training in the summer and i used my touring poles extended all the way for the poles but the nordies tell me it’s NOT exactly the same action as using real roller skis

    you can swap the snow tips on your xc poles for road tips using hot water to soften the glue

  7. tka August 22nd, 2011 3:13 pm

    they are fairly cheap too….bout $230 for top of the line set up. the bike paths up here in AK are crawling….err rolling…. this time of year with the nordic crowd (of which we have many) starting their training as fall starts.

  8. XXX_er August 22nd, 2011 4:34 pm

    Since we are going all alternative/nordy these are a LOT of fun, if you never really liked hockey skates ,already own nordic boots and have BIG areas to skate on

    They feel a lot like skate skiing and I don’t use poles

  9. Dan Thuente August 22nd, 2011 7:25 pm

    Roller skis are a great off season work out. My wife and I have two sets of V2 Aero (150 and 125 sizes) We don’t fear the hills because the tires are pneumatic and have “speed reduces” and one calf brake lever. I have also stopped using the carbide tip that is recommended b/c doing an aggressive pole plant stresses the elbow and makes a load noise. I drill out a 1 inch black rubber stopper from ACE Hardware and use electrical tape to fasten it to my ski pole. It provides some cushion and “grips” the asphalt with each pole plant.
    I can get my heart race racing with these skis. The total body workout is amazing.

  10. Scott Nelson August 23rd, 2011 8:57 am

    The rubber pole tips sound interesting, and seems like it could work on concrete as well (where carbide tips don’t do very well). Makes me curious….

    Yeah, from what I understand, roller skiing is different than roller blading. The balance seems different, roller skate skiing is more like landing with your weight forward (with knee and ankle flexed, upper body forward, using the core) when you set the ski down, which in turn drives the ski forward . Roller blading seems more side to side to me, and weight a bit back, at least from others I’ve watched.

    Either way, good workouts both of them.

  11. Hojo August 24th, 2011 8:56 am

    Roller blading is excellent for ski conditioning. I haven’t tried roller skiing so I can’t speak to it’s effectiveness, but I know something that kicks the pants off of roller blading if you have the access and the desire; ice hockey or just plane ice skating. The major departure from roller blades is the ability to “hockey stop” which is identical to your average alpine skiing stop. That said, not many are willing to pick up yet another gear intensive sport (let alone rink/league fees which can be a real drag). If, however, you’re near a hockey rink open year round and play regularly your legs will never know ski season ended. I also notice that skiers are natural ice skaters and the learning curve is minuscule.

  12. Scott August 24th, 2011 9:41 am

    I think the big benefit from roller skiing is the aerobic conditioning, balance and core stuff. I do a lot of skate skiing over the winter, and I think the above benefits seem to really help getting up the skin tracks.

    Honestly, I just decided to try roller skiing because it was something new to do, looked like “fun” and its good to be humbled every now and then. I’ve tried ice skating (my wife, ironically, is a long time figure skater) and lets just say, it wasn’t pretty, but I can see how that could keep the legs in shape, especially hockey where you’re sprinting and moving constantly.

  13. cletus August 26th, 2011 9:52 am

    I hated roller skiing as a junior nordic racer training in the summer. nasty crashes, pole plants slipping, a happy day when i sold them.

  14. Scott Nelson August 26th, 2011 2:27 pm

    Yeah, I worry a bit about crashing. I know a guy who fractured a couple of vertabrae from roller skiing. He’s recovered, but I definetly keep that in mind while rolling, not to get to crazy.

    As previously mentioned, keep those pole tips SHARP, use a coarse diamond stone to do so. To me that could be the difference between a good and a bad day.

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