Roller Ski Training for SkiMo Racing

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By Sam Naney, Uphill Athlete Elite Coach

Over the last decade the sport of ski mountaineering racing, or Skimo, has seen a dramatic increase in participants, most notably in North America where it captures legions of trail and mountain-runners seeking winter challenges in the mountains. With rapidly-improving equipment choices, moving fast on Skimo race gear has started to look more and more like X-C ski racing of yesteryear. And so it’s no surprise to us that we’ve seen several skimo athletes reap huge efficiency gains in their skimo racing by adapting a number of nordic ski training methods. The most valuable discovery has been to train on roller skis. Roller skis closely mimic the movements of skinning, can be used off season and on dry land, and help you improve your skinning technique, especially relevant on today’s fast paced races taking place after-hours on hard-packed ski area pistes.

Roller skis are designed to simulate both skate and striding X-C ski techniques on smooth pavement. With many different options and methods for getting strong training responses from roller skiing, we’ve distilled it down to a few basic guidelines. Follow these to get yourself on solid footing for your ski-mo training well before you can start training on-snow. It also works great for racers living far from the slopes.

Equipment choices:

  • Roller Skis come in two basic models: skate and classic. For ski mountaineering you need a classic model, which feature a ratcheted wheel which will roll easily forward but catches when you “kick”, simulating the grab of a skin underfoot.
  • Poles should be roughly the height of your armpit to allow for good power application. Use a light aluminum or composite Nordic ski pole, and purchase special rollerskiing tips (known as “ferrules”) which won’t break or shatter on pavement.
  • Boots/bindings: While you can certainly mount a tech binding on rollerskis and use your ski-mo race boots, we recommend starting with a standard Nordic classic ski boot which offers much more ankle mobility and foot flexion. The advantage of this is that training in a light boot will increase your single-leg stability and strength for climbing and descending. It will also be more comfortable.

 Technique: Consider these two basic tips when beginning your rollerski training:

  1. Weight Shift: The first and most important part of developing an efficient kick-and-glide for fast courses often held on hard-packed, groomed ski slopes. Learn to shift your weight from one ski then the other when striding. This will ensure that the majority of the power you apply to the ski for kick and glide will work toward forward motion, and not get spilled out in between the skis. See photos below.
  2. Hip Extension: Crucial to long glide and powerful leg drives is hip extension: use the cue of weighting your forward heel each time and “pulling” yourself up onto the ski like you would step up onto a box. This ensures a long glide and that you cover the most ground with each stride. See photos below.

Workout Ideas:

  • Begin your rollerskiing regimen with your low-intensity, short outings in a quiet parking lot or low-trafficked roadway. It takes a bit of practice to learn starting (and stopping…no brakes included), as well as the balance on each ski.
  • Once you have your roller-ski-legs, look for long gradual uphill roads to stride out and build your specific strength; again at low intensity.
  • Finally, once the base is laid with four to eight weeks of the above progression, consider adding in some workouts at and around your lactate threshold as described in Training For the New Alpinism and discussed here. These workouts will provide more specific fitness for racing season as you’ll be racing at high intensities.

 Adding roller skiing to your skimo dry-land training regimen will be sure to increase your specific strength in advance of the racing season. Plus follow the technique tips below and we’re sure you’ll see a significant boost in efficiency when you do get on snow.

Nose over the big toe: This is what it should look like. Shifting your weight fully from one ski to the other when striding ensures a powerful rear-leg drive and better skin adhesion on forward ski. This will be specially helpful on steep terrain, hard-surfaced race courses, and in icy conditions.

Shift your weight fully from one ski to the other when striding to ensure a powerful leg drive and solid skin adhesion on steep terrain.

Note the inadequate weight shift in this photo. The skiers center of gravity is in between the skis, making it much more difficult to powerfully drive the front ski forward or attain strong grip with the skin he's going to be weighting.

Note the inadequate weight shift in this photo. The skiers center of gravity is in between the skis, making it much more difficult to powerfully drive the front ski forward or attain strong grip with the skin he’s going to be weighting.

A strong hip extension puts the center of gravity over the forward ski, making the movement more dynamic and weighting the ski over the height of the camber for the best grip-and-kick. This is especially important if you're using shorter kicker skins or very narrow skins for faster and/or flatter courses.

A strong hip extension puts the center of gravity over the forward ski, making the movement more dynamic and weighting the ski over the height of the camber for the best grip-and-kick. This is especially important if you’re using shorter kicker skins or very narrow skins for faster and/or flatter courses.

Don’t “leave the hips behind”! This results in a sluggish leg drive and meager kick with the forward ski’s skin.

Don’t “leave the hips behind”! This results in a sluggish leg drive and meager kick with the forward ski’s skin.

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