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It’s starting to feel like spring! My coworkers cheer and curse the cold weather that has plagued them since December. I secretly cringe.

Every degree warmer means another inch of snow that will mercilessly be converted into useless liquid water. As a winter-loving cross-country skier, it’s not a popular sentiment, but it’s one we all share.

Thankfully summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and get ready for the next ski season!One of my favourite things about summer is the endless number of cross-training opportunities for those who want to stay in shape for winter. Running, swimming, hiking, cycling, canoeing and weight training are a few of the excellent activities that can help skiers get ahead with their physical fitness. These all develop a healthy balance of speed, core strength and endurance. However, there is one activity which trumps all others in providing maximum benefit during the non-winter months.

Roller-skiing is the off-snow equivalent of cross-country skiing and should be the centrepiece of skiers hoping to maintain a high level of ski-specific fitness.

Ten years ago I had barely ever heard of it. Nowadays though, ski communities are introducing kids to roller skiing from an early age. It’s a fun, challenging way to stay in shape (and a great excuse to get out and socialize with your ski buddies).

I do a little of each of the activities listed above, but most of my off-season training involves running, cycling, roller-skiing and strength workouts. Diversifying your training load is important as it allows you to develop different muscle groups and helps minimize the risk of stress-related injury. Roller skis are usually made from a lightweight aluminum shaft or “ski” with two wheels one on each end to allow for movement on pavement or other smooth surfaces.

The smoother the better, as roller skis do not provide any shock absorption and are not very forgiving. I usually try to roller ski about twice per week.What do I need to get started?

Quick Note: Before we get too far, I should explain the two distinct Nordic Techniques – Classic and Skate (or Freestyle). Classic trails are groomed with two parallel slots or “tracks” in the snow which allow for a diagonal gliding motion which might resemble a runner moving in slow motion. Grippy wax is applied to classic skis to allow for a powerful forward push each time you take a stride. Skate technique is exactly as it sounds – the legs performing a forward skating motion combined with a powerful push from both poles. Most good skiers do both techniques – I personally prefer classic!


Roller Skis: Once again, classic and skate roller skis are both used to mimic the winter techniques. Classic roller skis use a ratchet system to provide a one-directional movement on pavement and replace the grip wax which allows for a powerful push on snow. Skate roller skis use narrower wheels which sacrifice balance for increased speed and a more fluid skating motion.

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A reliable pair of roller skis will start at $250 USD. Remember that you can save big by buying used skis – there is probably someone in your area selling a pair! When it comes to roller skis, there are no distinct “sizes”. Kids and adults can usually use the same pair of roller skis interchangeably.

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Poles: Classic poles should fit snugly in the pocket of the armpit and skate poles should reach the chin when standing. An important difference is the pole tip. Winter pole tips designed for snow cannot handle the stresses of pavement and will more than likely break on your first outing. Proper roller ski pole tips can be purchased from most cross-country ski shops.

Boots: The sad reality is that kids will quickly outgrow their equipment. However it is still important that you get equipment that fits properly. Skate boots and bindings are made to provide rigid support to the heel and ankle and limit movement between the sole of the foot and the ski. Classic boots provide more flex and allow for a wider axis of movement between the heel and the ski, allowing for unhampered striding and gliding. The same boots you used in the winter can also be used on your roller skis (as long as the bindings are the same).

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Protective equipment: Roller skis do not normally have brakes and there are no overrides. It’s important to wear a helmet and bright/reflective clothing. Gloves are important to minimize blisters which will be an inevitable outcome your first few times. Knee and elbow padding are also a good idea, both for new and more experienced roller skiers.

Extra Pointers:Don’t start too soon: Fifth grade kids and higher may be ready to learn how to roller ski. Sometimes it’s best to give roller blades a try first before graduating to skis. If you or your kids have no skiing experience, it might be a good idea to learn how to ski on snow before learning on pavement. Asphalt isn’t very cushioning!

Time to hit the pavement! Wait till the weather has warmed up before heading out – roller skiing in cold temperatures is not very rewarding as your poles will not properly dig into the pavement. Find a quiet country road or roller skating park to get started. My favourite place to roller ski is on a calm road on the outskirts of town which runs along the water.

Make sure to be aware of commuters around you – most people will give you lots of room if you have bright gear on.

Getting lots of roller ski practice in during the summer and autumn months will make you a much better skier come snowfall.


Petri Bailey
Nordic Ski Athlete

Petri Bailey is a former member of the Ontario Cross-Country Development Team and has been skiing for nearly 20 years. Petri has competed in events across Canada, and most recently came off a win at the Gatineau Loppet – the biggest international ski event in Canada. In his spare time Petri coaches the Jackrabbit Ski Program, which develops essential skills and encourages fun for young skiers.

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