Snowmaking has been improving and lengthening the downhill ski season for years. More and more places are now adding snowmaking for the cross country skier. Year Round Nordic has started a page to list these Nordic ski areas. The page can found at this link.
The video above demonstrates how different types of roller skis are not only good for different trail types, but different trail conditions.
I’ve decided to present the final part of this series in a case study format with four cases representing a fitness-minded mid-age skier, a youth skier, an experienced skier and a new to skiing individual.
Skier 1 – The primary purpose of roller skiing is training/fitness. Limited xc ski access. Primary skiing style skate 30 years old or older
The first pair of skis I would put in this quiver is a pair with 6″ (150mm) pneumatic wheels and a calf break. Jenex V2 aero model would be one example that would require the use of a Nordic ski boot. A second example would be a pair of Skikes. Skikes have a built-in binding system that allows the use of a regular shoe. The calf breaking system is a reliable system that will enable you to slow down or stop if you come upon terrain or trail conditions that you are not comfortable with. A quality pair of tires are good for over 1500 miles, and when adequately inflated, do not get many flats. I have averaged less than one flat for every 5,000 miles skied on the pair of Skike V8s that I own. This pair of skis perform well on most paved surfaces, even with some defects and trails garbage (leaves, some gravel, twigs) that are common on rail-trails that are not regularly swept. The tires are also good on hard-packed dirt surfaces, which are found on the trails of many of today’s linear parks.
The second pair of skis would be a pair of Polyurethane wheeled skis. An example of theses woud be Swenor Skate ski. These skis would be fast for a similar amount of effort to allow for a little over speed training without fatigue setting in. They would not have any wheels with locking bearings, so would also be suitable for agility type training. This type of training is generally done in a flat parking lot with obstacles go around, over and through. Part of developing better agility is to be able to ski in a forward and backward direction. There are not many roller ski races, but if you have a desire to race, this pair would be the type most roller ski racers would use.
A third set I would acquire is a pair of roller skis with 8″ (200mm) wheels. The 8″ wheeled skis are an excellent choice for some classical style skiing, working well on grass surfaces. They would allow some good double pole workouts on dirt surfaces. They work well for skating also. I have tried them on trails at six different xc ski centers, and have found them to be an enjoyable way to get on the trails during the offseason. Two of the trails systems provided for nice classical, two good skating, and the other trail surface had too many big rocks and indentations for good roller skiing. One of the main reasons for having different roller skis is to be able to try different ones on different types of trails and in different trail conditions.
The fourth set I would add would be a pair of solid rubber wheel classical roller skis. I would probably only get this pair if I was interested in doing some classical ski races or if I was roller skiing with others using this type of ski. When skiing with others, it is nice to be on similar equipment. For classical training, I feel the 8″ wheel is more than adequate and is more versatile.
Speed reducers and braking systems are available as add-ons for many roller skis. One can also drag a small tire to reduce speed if the roller skis seem to fast for your ability or if you want to increase the workload for a more demanding outing.
Skier 2 Youth skier 10 to 20 years old, living in xc ski country, avid winter skier
The first pair of roller skis in my mind for this skier would be a polyurethane wheeled skis. At this age, in xc ski mecca areas, there are ski teams, camps, and clubs where young people can develop skills in group practices. Fun workouts for skiers in this age group include agility drills, along with other strength and skill development workouts. A ‘low-speed fall’ for most skiers in this age group is not a big deal. They have fun challenging each other in skill development. They can test their selves and each other in time trials and other ski-related activities. And have a tremendous amount of fun doing so.
The second pair would be a pair with 8” wheels. They are great for getting off the asphalt and having fun in the grass and on dirt trails. A cross skate model like the Skike V9 Tour would allow for some good classic practice and also works well for skating. With its built-in calf brake, it is suitable for hill workouts and safe descents. It is also a nice pair to let friends use, who may be interested in the sport and want to try it for the first time in the summer.
Skier 3 Experienced Skier
If you have never tried a pair of roller skis with 8” wheels, and you are an experienced roller skier, I would recommend trying a set. After using them a few times, I’m sure you will find that they will add to your enjoyment of summer skiing. Single tracks through the woods make for some enjoyable double poling and classic skiing. Some wide, packed dirt trails are good for skating. My conversion moment on 8″ wheels was when I used them for the first time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Frick Park. Lots of dirt trails with hills and I was able to skate up and brake on my descents and the time flew by.
As an experienced skier, I imagine that you already have a pair or two of roller skis. Think about it, each different type of roller ski has a different feel. Skiing on multiple different skis gives one the feeling of being on different types of snow in different conditions. The body and technique adapt so one move efficiently down the trail.
For the individual that has never xc skied before, summer can be a great time to start developing the necessary skill and techniques. A pair of cross skate style skis are great for the beginner. The calf brake adds stability. Good brakes allow one to ski at speeds that they are comfortable with. The larger wheels will enable you to develop balance, agility, and some skill on a grass surfaces. They roll over trail imperfections better than smaller diameter wheels, significantly reducing the chance of falls. They are great to practice gliding and agility skills with only one ski on, allowing you to step on to the ground to stop at any time. It is nice to develop these skills outside on days with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. Contact someone that has a pair you can try or rent a pair for a couple of weeks from someone like nordicskater.com Get outside and have fun.
PS: Do wear a helmet when roller skiing. Knee pads and elbow pads are other safety options that you may want to consider when learning.
Year Round Nordic is starting a page with a list of Roller Ski Races that I become aware of in the United States. Feel free to make comments on the page for events that I should add.
Huron Meadows Buck Run Trail has become one of my favorite trails to ski on for a couple of reasons. One, they are very likely to have snow. Two, they have a great staff providing the best possible conditions on the trail and great support from the local xc ski group, Nordic Ski Racer.
Located on the outskirts of Detroit, close to Brighton, you would not expect to find good snow, but a dedicated park staff creates a couple of large piles of manmade snow and spreads it out on the roughly 1.5 mile Bucks Run Trail as needed throughout the winter. The Detroit area is not in the snow belt region of Michigan, but the Bucks Run Trail is probably had the most skiable number of days in the lower peninsula over the past few years. When they get natural snow, they have a few extra miles of trails, which they groom in addition to the Bucks Run trail.
Each year, in early January, the park along with the Nordic Ski Racer
sponsor a weekend race series with a 5k and 15k freestyle race on Saturday (Frosty Freestyle), and an 8k and 12k race on Sunday Krazy Klassic. Helping promote xc skiing throughout Michigan, the Michigan Cup race series has been developed. Both of these races are part of the series; There are six or seven current Michigan Cup teams, all willing to accept more team members as they try to earn points for some of the covet season awards.
With Forbush Corners (Fredric, MI) adding snowmaking this winter, there will now be three areas that I know of in the lower peninsula of Michigan that will have some trails with manmade snow. There, Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, MI and here on Huron Meadows Buck Run Trail. My hopes that more areas will consider adding this option as it is always nice to know there will be some snow to ski on during the days of winter.
The frame of the roller ski has to provide strength to support the skier between the wheels with enough ground clearance to roll over the desired trail surface. Also, it has to provide a way to connect a ski boot or a person’s shoe to the frame. The frame can also have characteristics that can reduce road vibration and smooth out a few of the trail imperfections from effecting the ride of the skier. Frames are designed to mimic the feel of real skis. That is why most roller ski manufactures have separate frames for classic roller skis and skate skiing.
Current frames are constructed of a variety of materials including wood, fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fibers, and aircraft quality aluminum. The composite skis are generally more expensive, as they have greater strength to weight ratio. Some frames are also referred to as drop frames, with the axel of the wheels being above the top of the frame. The drop frame provides a lower center of gravity and is common on skis that use 6-inch and 8-inch pneumatic tires.
Over the past half-century, most roller skis have brackets for mounting the wheels on either end of frame shaft. Some have holes and slots machined into the actual frame shaft for mounting the wheels. A few manufacturers are designing the mounting brackets with a shock or dampening system to smooth out the ride, eliminating some of the road vibrations. Skike has just started selling an open-frame design that can be used with different size wheels. Them, along with other manufactures like Powerslide and SRB have frames that are also referred to as cross skates. TheSkike version has a binding system that can be used with a standard athletic shoe and contains a built-in calf brake.
Different types of frames have a different feel and handling characteristics that one skier may like and value, while another may not. It is good to roller ski with others so you can have the opportunity to try different skis before adding them to your quiver. Do keep in mind, you should try a ski multiple times before making that decision, as it may take your body a few times to adjust to some of the differences between a roller ski and a traditional ski. Many inline skaters find the skate feel of skis different and may be reluctant to roller skiing as they are not initially as efficient with them.
The fundamental design of roller skis has not changed much in the past 30 years, with the exception of braking systems, frame materials, road dampening vibration systems and the addition of the cross skate frame design that allows one to use a regular shoe. It is worth considering some of the benefits of these changes, especially when deciding which ski is best for the conditions that you will be roller skiing on most.
Last July I decided that I would like to get an early start to the Nordic winter season and started doing some research on early snow locations in North America to XC ski. I narrowed it down to two places. The two finalists were Menihek Nordic Ski Club and the Sovereign Lake Nordic Center. Both were early training locations for National Ski Teams. After looking at travel arrangements, we chose Sovereign Lake and travel arrangements made.
November 8th quickly arrived, and my wife and I flew out to Vancouver, British Columbia from Pittsburgh, PA. There we spent a couple of days sightseeing, as it was our first trip to the area. We then rented a Jeep Cherokee and left on a drive through the mountains of British Columbia on our way to Kelowna Valley where we would be staying during our week of skiing.
During the week, the temperature in the valley was in the mid-40s. The temperature dropped as elevation increased on our daily drive to the Nordic Center. There the conditions were perfect for XC skiing with temperatures around 28F degrees and little to no wind. The trails, like Art Roscoe at Alleghany State Park, are well designed and maintained allowing one to ski with a little less effort.
The practice area at Sovereign Lake was the nicest I’ve seen anywhere. There were 10 or so tracks set with enough space in between to skate for a length of 200 or so meters. Many skiers enjoyed working on skiing technique in this area. The terrain varied with some very challenging hills on some trails, and others with gradual hills mixed in with some flat sections. My wife was a little concerned about whether the area would be within her ability level, but found that they had plenty of trails open in her ability level and loved the temperate climate of the region. I enjoyed those trail along with some more challenging trails, skiing more miles than I had ever skied in a week. We are both excited about a return trip for some early and maybe even some late-season skiing in the future.
The tires provide traction, trail clearance, the ability roll over some roughness, and trail/road vibrations. It is the first thing to consider when deciding on roller skis.
The second thing is the ability to control speed. The tires play a role in your speed when roller skiing, but there are a few other factors.
Regardless of skis, one can control speed by selecting appropriate terrain for your comfort level and ability. Staying on flat trails, like many of today’s rail-trails, will allow you to manage your speed to a certain extent. Flat trails and parking lots are great locations for the learning to roller ski, whether you have done some xc skiing or not. Skiing uphill will allow you to increase your workload, at rates that you feel comfortable with. Skis can always be taken off for hills to steep for one to descend.
Another way to control speed is to drag a trailer tire or other object to provide additional resistance. This resistance may allow you to go down a hill at a comfortable pace or will enable you to work at a more intense level at a reduced speed.
There are mechanical speed reducers that can be attached to the ski, providing friction to the rotating wheel. One can easily adjust them before going down a hill or to offer more resistance for a workout on the flats.
Calf brakes can also be used to control along with allowing you to stop quickly. The calf brake is the speed control/braking method that
I prefer. It is available as an add on to some roller skis, mounted on a ski boot with a small bracket, or part of the ski frame on type of roller ski sometimes called a cross skate. I like it so much, and I wish more roller ski manufactures would incorporate it in their standard roller ski package. The video below shows the calf brake on a pair of Skikes being used to stop quickly. The blog post, Canton Ave. Brake Test demonstrates the ability of using a calf brake to control descents. Canton Ave. is one of the steepest streets in the world.
In summary, the ability to control speed is as important as having good traction on the surface your roller skiing on. Choice of terrain and mechanical devices like speed reducers and calf brakes are great for maintaining safe speeds and controlled stops.