November 2016 - CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
Training on Rollerskis
By Brian Halligan
In the world of competitive outdoor athletics, you will often hear a coach say “there is no substitute for [the sport].” What is meant by this is, the best way to see improvement in ability is to do that sport. The best way to improve as a golfer, is to golf. The best way to improve as a runner, is to run. But what do you do if your sport is dependent on the weather? Cross country skiers in the Northeast are limited to four months of skiing on snow. Running and biking in the warmer months are suitable cross training activities, but there is no substitute for the real thing. So how do cross country skiers train in the summer? Rollerskiing!
Just as it sounds, rollerskiing is an activity that closely mimics the technique used by skiers in the winter. A typical rollerski is just under two feet long and has a rubber wheel on each end. Skiers use the same boots and binding system as with their snow skis. Skate rollerskiing is the most common technique used, and classic technique skis can mimic the “kick” action with a ratchet in one of the wheels. Some skis have brakes and or speed reducers that can help a skier maintain control, but generally control is reliant on the skier’s awareness while on the road. Safety is key though, so it is important to always ski with a helmet and wear protective gloves and high visibility clothing.
Rollerskiing has been around for decades. The 1980 US Olympic Biathlon coach, Art Stegen, recalls the first time he saw rollerskis in the 1970s, “Rollerskis were actually Jarvinen [snow] skis with three wheels. One in the center of the ski through a “cut-out hole” near the tip, and two others near the tail, that were mounted on a ratchet, with the wheels on each side of the ski. They weren’t very effective because if you kicked hard, the tip would scrape the ground in front of you. They were also heavy. You couldn’t do much more than double pole… His teammate, Charlie Kellogg, got an idea how to make them better. He cut off the tip of the ski and the tail behind the wheels. That helped, but everyone thought it ruined the ski!
Since those early skis, rollerskis have advanced with technology to give the skier a more “on snow” feel. In fact, today’s rollerskis imitate the feeling of snow skiing so well that in the late 1990s, the US Biathlon Association began hosting World Cup rollerski trail races in October, to decide which athletes would represent the nation in early winter World Cups.
Today, rollerskiing is an essential part of a skiers training repertoire. Not only can it be used for long distance workouts, but also for improving technique. It’s common for novice rollerskiers to have reservations when approaching big downhills or sharp turns. Obviously falling on asphalt at high speeds can result in some pretty ugly wounds. But once skiers are able to move past this fear of road rash, they unlock a valuable tool that elite skiers use daily. Conquering this fear often comes down to time spent on skis.
According to Queensbury High School skier, Brian Beyerbach, “You just have to send it.” And his brother Bryce supports his claim, “Falling is falling. Sometime you just have to go for it, get it out of the way, and that’s how you get better.” Their teammate, Dan Manzella elaborates, “Falling hurts… but not as bad as losing because you didn’t train over the summer.” When I was training as a full-time biathlete in pursuit of qualifying for Junior World Championships, I trained roughly 350 hours of my 650 hour year plan on rollerskis.
If you are a bit timid on rollerskis one of the best ways to get the most out of each training session is to do “ski specific strength.” A 20-minute double pole (keeping the hands together and using your core to push yourself down the trail) can give your core a better workout than 45 minutes in the gym. Another specific strength workout is the no pole ski. Like roller blading, this activity works everything below the waist and helps improve balance.
My personal favorite strength-specific workout is the “Left Pole-Right Pole.” This is accomplished by dropping a pole and skiing roughly 15 minutes with only one pole. This drill forces the body to work in order to ski with symmetrical and balanced technique. After 15 minutes, switch arms and begin again. The body will naturally want to bend and flop to compensate for the asemantic application of propulsion, so it is important to keep the shoulders and hips square.
Although most skiers dread the thought of putting the snow skis away and having to dust off the rollerskis every spring, many prefer a rollerski training session over a run or bike. When asked which she prefers, Shenendehowa High School skier, Sohyun Park, explained, “Definitely rollerskiing! I like to climb big hills and get going really fast on the way down.” When asked how she stops on the skis, she responds laughing, “I don’t.”
Despite the inability to stop on a dime at high speeds, rollerskiing is fairly safe. Skiers who pick up an uncomfortable amount of speed can bring themselves to a halt by shifting their weight back and aiming for the grass. But they must be sure to keep their weight back! Or they will go flying forward head first.
Once the technique is dialed in, the next thing rollerskiers have to watch out for are poor road conditions. One rock or patch of sand can send a skier to the ground. While broken bones or sprains are possible, most of the injuries I’ve seen throughout my career are minor scrapes, cuts and bruises.
The most dangerous part of rollerskiing is traffic. Distracted and unpredictable drivers are too often the cause of the worst rollerskiing accidents. Although it is not common, every once in a while news spreads throughout the Nordic community of promising career cut short. If a paved bike path is unavailable it is critically important for rollerskiers to always be aware, stay to the side of the road, ski single file, and follow rules of the road. Rollerskiers lose the battle against a car, every time. Speaking as an athlete who trains on roads frequently, while driving please be alert and mindful of all who use the roads.
Skiers should not let the danger deter them though, because rollerskiing is a great way to stay or get in shape. Avid skiers looking to ski in the off-season or an active individual looking for a new healthy activity can contact the Hudson United Racing Team at hurtnordicskiing.com. Executive director Dave Paarlberg-Kvam or I can help you get started. We can provide information regarding where to buy rollerskis and also direct you to local clubs in your area. Team HURT offers coaching and education for skiers of all ages and abilities. Don’t be dependent on the snow, get out and ski year-round!
Brian Halligan of Saratoga Springs is the development coach for HURT Nordic, and assistant coach for the Queensbury High School Nordic team. As a junior biathlete, he represented the U.S. at multiple events such as the Junior World Championships and European Championships. Brian also has a podcast about the Nordic Lifestyle called “Word on the Trail” which can be found on iTunes, Sound Cloud and Kickzonemedia.com.