Summit youth Nordic skiers continue training in summer on roller skis, pavement
The bindings are the same. The boots are the same. The only difference is clipping into wheeled skis rather than waxed ones.
Oh, and a bicycle helmet rather than a skiing helmet.
Each summer, along the Summit County recreation path stretching from Copper Mountain up toward Vail Pass, it’s not uncommon to see a share of the county’s winter sports community making summer’s warmth and lack of snow work for them.
Typically beginning just after Memorial Day, the Summit Nordic Ski Club as part of its summer training incorporates extensive time on roller skis. Adventurous trips rolling up and down from Vail Pass are a part of the process, though Summit Nordic Ski Club head coach Olof Hedberg said the team trains “most everywhere” on the recreational paths all across the county.
“And there are a lot of interesting looks when you pass people going downhill fast,” said Summit Nordic skier Quinn Weinberger, 16, of Summit Cove. “… But it helps to build some of the same muscle groups (as skiing on snow) and it conditions our body, our lungs and our heart. Just to get ready for winter with a similar motion so you are not wasting time on muscles you won’t use while skiing.”
Weinberger makes a good point: When viewing Summit Nordic club members accelerate on their roller skis from, say, atop a neighboring bicycle on the county’s rec path, the sight can shock. On most recreation paths across the country, it’s not common to see what is, effectively, a herd of Nordic skiers working, with their ski poles in hand, on their classic- or skate-skiing maneuvers. But this is their recpath too. And, if anything, it’s this work put in during the summertime that may make or break just who will be the top Nordic skiers.
Keira Stabile, a 12-year-old Summit Nordic Club skier from Frisco, said Hedberg has made the statement to his athletes in the past that “skiers are made in the summer.” For Hedberg and the club, without the ability to ski on snow in the summer, roller-ski training comes down to using specific segments of the county’s terrain that the recpath rambles over to work on certain elements of Nordic skiing. For example, for a long-distance day last year, Hedberg led skiers from the Dillon Marina, 18.5 miles uphill, to the top of Vail Pass. To work on corners, Hedberg said the stretch of the recpath between Frisco and Dillon is ideal. And, to work on uphill skiing, Swan Mountain Road helps.
“But the issue is it’s never as steep as it is on snow,” Hedberg said with a laugh.
Hedberg would know the benefits of roller skiing. Growing up in Sweden, Hedberg said it was expected for young Nordic skiers like him to not only begin on roller skis at a young age (he was just 8) but to compete in roller-ski races as well. Back in Scandinavia, Hedberg said roller skiing has long been recognized as a crucial component of Nordic skiing. Here in the U.S., that emphasis is not as strong, though that’s starting to change.
“Nordic skiing in general has nine different sub-techniques,” Hedberg said. “So, two general techniques, skate and classic, then four or five sub techniques within those. That many techniques compared to swimming — which has four — with so many techniques, there isn’t enough time in the year to develop them over snow, even in Summit County. We have to do roller skiing to make sure we develop efficiency within all of those different sub-techniques.”
The roller skis themselves, between classic and skate, are slightly different. The classic roller ski has a thicker wheel while the skate roller ski has a thinner wheel with a larger diameter. Typically, young skiers are introduced to roller skiing only a handful of times during their first summer with the club. Generally during that time spent getting used to the roller skis, newbies spend time on classic roller skis as they are easier to learn. The more and more they practice on the set up, the more familiar they become before, ultimately, balancing on the skate skis with no problem.
Stabile and her fellow Summit Nordic teammate Weinberger and Hannah Knickrehm, 18, of Breckenridge, all said maintaining balance on the roller skis is more difficult than on traditional Nordic skis on snow. It can feel a bit clumsy and weird when you strap your regular Nordic boots and bindings onto the summertime setup.
“It definitely feels like Nordic skiing in many ways,” Knickrehm said. “In a lot of ways it’s not at all like it too, though. They are a lot shorter, a lot faster, a lot easier to fall on. But it’s a really good cross trainer.”
There is likely to be some fun on those roller skis before winter comes, though. Currently, efforts are in motion to bring a roller-skiing race to Breckenridge. Hedberg said, if approved, the event would be one-of-a-kind here in Colorado, something new here, but something similar to what he grew up experiencing in Sweden.
Hedberg said back home, in Scandinavia, summertime roller-skiing races are not only common but also highl competitive among Nordic skiers. That’s a notion Weinberger didn’t perceive at first. While Weinberger roller skied earlier this month, Hedberg explained to Weinberger that roller-ski races are plenty aggressive in Scandinavia.
In a way, Hedberg explained, roller skiing is kind of this happy competitive medium between winter and summer sports in that Nordic skiers are improving their Nordic skills all while receiving the benefits of racing on pavement, similar to riding a bicycle.
With less friction of the skis on the asphalt comes the increased ability to go fast and have fun — especially on the skate skis.
“These get ripping,” Knickrehm said.
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