The Skinny on Skinny Skis with Wheels
Master blasters. They’re everywhere. Go to any groomed area in the winter and there will be quite a few of us “older folks” out there. We’re obvious because our form doesn’t look like the kids; maybe we were close to forty when we learned. Our speed is usually pretty good from a lifetime of other endurance sports like running or cycling. In fact, most masters compete at other sports over the summer.
Some of us love skiing so much, though, that we have braved rollerskiing. That usually means buying a pair of skate skis, often the ones with brakes, and gripping our poles with white knuckles for an hour. We kiss the ground at the car upon returning without a career-ending injury. If we make it past the first year, perhaps brave enough to ski fast, it might come to light that it is easy to be fast on rollerskis without good technique. At this point a few brave souls slow down and concentrate on getting all the way on the ski, gliding a bit more, getting hips more forward, and working on some technique above the ankles. After all, that’s the part that’s transferable to the snow.
For me, it was the transition from bad-form rollerskiing to thinking about technique that led me to a conclusion; it was time to stop training like a master’s skier and start training like a skier. It’s inmportant to distinguish between just training on roller skis and mindful roller skiing; mindful roller skiing means working on form first. Don’t worry, the heart rate will go up. For me, working on ski form meant getting on some classic rollerskis. Here’s why:
1. Perfect kick. Sure it feels like cheating, but there are so few days of the year where you can throw on a layer of Blue and practice the positions of classic skiing. If you’re always trying to get out after work, the idea of dealing with kickwax and the setting sun isn’t always appealing either. On rollerskis you can practice the positions, weight shift, and quick hands all summer so you can make efficient use of your time on snow.
2. They used to call it skiing. After all, before alpine, backcountry, cross-country, slopestyle, and snowboarding, there was just skiing. Classic is the history of skiing, and being on classic skis actually improves your technique for classic, skate and even alpine.
3. It’s narrow. If you do any of your summer training on roads with cars, skating can be daunting. You have to be very conscious of traffic, which is no fun in the middle of an L4 interval or the rest in between. Classic skiing takes up about as much room as a bike.
4. Lazy skiing. This is that skiing you do when you’re warming up, or between intervals, or just want to drop your heart rate. Take note the next time you’re on skate skis how much of your “lazy skiing” time is spent no-poles skating. Then try classic skis. You’ll automatically spend your slow time double poling. If you’re paying attention, double poling is the buzzword of the year. If you come from cycling or running, let’s face it, those t-rex arms could use any help you’ll give them.
5. More time on skis. Rollerskiing is great training for skiing, but too much rollerskiing, especially of all one type, can lead to all kinds of overuse injuries. Splitting between classic and skate means you can spend more total time on skis and less time on just one type. At the very least, setting up a shorter pair of poles to use for double pole workouts can save your back from the extra leverage of skate poles.
6. It’s easier to go easy. Let’s face it, skating uphill isn’t easy for anyone. If you’re actually practicing good form, it can be difficult to keep your heart rate down. Classic skis are more forgiving uphill when you’re trying to get in that long OD workout.
7. Mental freshness. Who has spent so much time on rollerskis in the summer that you’re sick of skiing when it finally snows? Ok, almost nobody. But having two kinds of skiing keeps your mind fresh because you actually have to think a little.
8. Real skiers do. Just because you’re a master who competes 95% of the time in skating, doesn’t mean classic isn’t valuable. If it weren’t, why does the US Biathlon team do it? Exactly.
So now that you’re convinced you can’t ski another winter without summer rollerskiing, which rollerskis are the best? I can’t answer that. What I can do, though, is offer my opinion on the Swenor Skate Elite and the Swenor Fiberglass Classic skis. Prior to these skis I had been on another brand of carbon skate skis and some aluminum combi skis with varying levels of success. I got my hands on the Swenor Classics at the beginning of the summer in 2015 and those made me immediately want to upgrade my skate skis too.
Swenor Fiberglass Classic
This is the top of the line model classic ski from Swenor. They bill it as their most popular ski, and their claim to fame is that their skis have “on snow feel.” I received mine pre-drilled for my Salomon setup, easily mounted some bindings, and immediately took them out for a spin around the neighborhood.
Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I hate new equipment. At least for a period of about two weeks. After that, if I have done my research and adjusted to a ski or bike I have a better opinion. These skis were the first piece of equipment that I have loved from the moment I clipped in. Right away the ski gave a little under my weight. Just like a classic ski. That’s because Swenor’s design looks like someone just cut a piece of ski and put wheels on the end. Sounds simple, but I think other brands have over thought the rollerski. The Swenor is a piece of ski; fiberglass-wrapped wood. It is extremely low to the ground and the wheels are wide. I was instantly a better classic skier.
Sure, I have lots of room for improvement, but most rollerskis are much higher off the ground than skis. With a floppy little classic boot, that means it’s often difficult for the less initiated folks to commit to a solid kick and glide on wheels. Swenor Classic’s wheels are nice and wide and super stable. So yes, instantly I was a better skier. And that meant I felt like going for longer classic skis, which allowed me to find out that these skis also soak up road shock. Much more than the carbon skis of other designs. Certainly more than aluminum.
The included wheels are medium speed, and they roll fast enough that double-pole workouts uphill aren’t a total slog, and those fearsome little rocks don’t stop them short. If you’ve spent any time on rollerskis you know to fear the little tiny rocks, and if you’re old like me, they’re hard to see.
I used to classic rollerski about 20% of the time. With these skis that number immediately jumped to 50%. They became my favorites and made my skate skis look so bad, I had to upgrade to…
Swenor Skate Elite
These skis appear to be built from pieces of ski as well. They are also wood wrapped in fiberglass, but like a skate snow ski they are noticeably stiffer than their classic counterpart. The first thing I noticed was that the ski, outfitted with medium speed wheels, seemed slower than the medium wheeled skis I had been using. I did a rollout, much like a wax test, and discovered that they actually accelerate fast, but the speed decays earlier. These behave more like a pair of snow skis than my previous roller ski.
The Swenor Skate Elite roll smoothly over the little rocks as well, and actually mimic the speed and resistance of a snow ski.
On long days I noticed less fatigue from road shock than from my previous pair of carbon skis. I believe because the Swenors use the same materials as a ski, rather than a solid carbon shaft, they are stiff in the right places and more forgiving where appropriate. I have always been a little frustrated the first skate of the season because my snow skis are so much slower and harder to ski than my rollerskis. The Swenors take me a little more strength to move, which made the transition to snow this year almost seamless.
After a summer of real ski training of all types (strength, cycling, running, bounding, lots of rollersking with attention to good form head-to-toe), I had my best season yet. I even topped my age group at the AXCS Master’s Nationals. Did I mention I had a baby nine months before the season in May 2015? That made no difference at all. The most noticeable change for me was that when I showed up for my first on-snow training in West Yellowstone, I stepped into my skis and continued my summer’s work. There was almost no period of feeling wonky and awkward and a little sad about the slowness of snow. Instead I was able to take all the hard work on body position and immediately hit hardwax kick on snow in a way I hadn’t before.
The take-away here is that roller-skiing is good, mindful roller skiing for form over speed is best, and Swenor roller skis are so close to snow that I even used them a few times this winter when snow was hard to find. I’ve never done that. Check out a pair as Rest Month rolls to a close and May 1 brings on the long days!