As rollerski season is winding down, it feels like a good time to address their benefits, limitations, and dangers. At their most basic form, rollerskis are two wheels with a stick in between and a binding mounted on top. For all the variations in flex, rubber, durability, material, and other hodgepodge of skier jargon, it really doesn’t matter. They exist because we cannot easily ski in the summer. I don’t know a single skier who prefers their rollerskis to skis (though maybe they exist somewhere).
Rollerskis do present good training opportunities. Full body workouts that accurately simulate skiing are difficult to find in the summer. Running, biking, swimming, strength, and many other activities all have their place in our weekly training regimes, but rollerskiing is the majority. The interesting part for me is that rollerskiing feels so normal and so mundane that I hardly ever take photos or write about it. Really, there is a saying that “skiers are made in the summer” thus skiers are made on rollerskis.
Rollerskis also have their limitations. To begin, the simulation of skiing is very imperfect by the very fact that we are rolling instead of sliding. The small muscles that result in coordination on skis do not have to work nearly as hard on wheels. Additionally, we ski on flat skis instead of rounded wheels, so edging and other subtleties are lost. Rollerskis feel like a blunt instrument trying to mimic the finess of cross country skiing. Then there is the perfect kick on rollerskis. Classic rollerskiing relies on ratchets instead of specialized wax which only kick with the flex of the ski. These two are very different.
Now it is time to address the monster in the room: safety. Are rollerskis safe: No. That would be a resounding no. Although there are brakes available, using them is like wearing a mirror on a bike helmet. Functional? absolutely but dorky nonetheless. (And if you have any questions about that: yes, your mirror is dorky.) The result is that everyone shuns brakes (and mirrors). The result is that we can’t really stop. Slowing down is somewhat possible through an awkward snowplow; however this slowing necessitates strong glutes and practice while also being extremely wearing on the wheel rubber. Instead most of us just try to avoid any downhill that seems beyond our comfort.
Yet, the inability to stop becomes even more of an issue due to traffic and poorly placed stop signs. What already is on the margins of safety rapidly spirals out of control. I think every rollerskier has evaluated most of their regular skis for bailouts including driveways, smooth grass, and in extreme circumstances the ditch or hopefully soft shoulder. I have personally seen swan dives into grass, explosions in wood chips, as well as the dreaded collision with a vehicle.
So even though we push the margins sometimes, occasionally emerge with road rash, and rarely a more serious injury, rollerskiing is the most complete summer training for our sport. Thus we will continue (without brakes. Though you would think we just need to accept dorkiness since we already are out there rollerskiing.)