Roller Skis Help Nordic Skiers Keep Moving In The Offseason

by Alex Abrams

Para Nordic athletes Drew Shea and Ruslan Reiter utilize roller skis for offseason training.

Kristina Sabasteanski still has a deformed finger, a few scars and plenty of funny storiesfrom her years of training on a pair of roller skis.

Sabasteanski, a two-time Olympian who has stayed in the sport post-retirement by working with adaptive athletes, stayed in shape in the offseason by running, hiking and lifting weights. But her roller skis allowed her to work on her skiing technique in the summertime when there was no more snow on the ground.

Best of all, she could practice year-round in the biathlon.

When the temperature got warmer, Sabasteanski just needed a rifle and roller skis, which are shorter than traditional skis and have a small wheel attached to each end for moving on roads and paved trails.

“The weight distribution is pretty good (with roller skis). I mean there’s definitely no replication 100 percent to skiing, but they’ve got it down pretty good with the advances over the years,” said Sabasteanski, who competed in the biathlon at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 and four years later in Salt Lake City.

Roller skis are meant to replicate Nordic skiing and use the same muscles. And while there’s a sense of danger that comes with skiing on hard asphalt instead of soft snow, Para Nordic skiers can use roller skis tocontinue training in the spring and summer.

Roller skiing shouldn’t be confused with skate skiing, which is a form of cross-country skiing. However, athletes can go just as fast, if not faster, going downhill on an empty road than on a snow-covered course.

“Running is poundingAlthough we run all year long, it does help to do some roller skiing,” said Sabasteanski, who now runs the Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training biathlon camp for wounded veterans in New Gloucester, Maine.

“… Skate skiing is kind of a different movement, so you definitely want to get the muscles in tune, get your technique down.

Wilson Dippo, who oversees the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s winter sports programs, said he gets asked the same questions anytime he’s out on roller skis with adaptive and able-bodied athletes.

People look at the roller skis and askhim, “What the heck is that thing? And where can I get one?”

Dippo said he doesn’t recommend roller skiing for beginners in Para Nordic skiing because of the danger of falling on pavement. However, he feels it’s a great training tool for athletes looking to improve in the sport.

“You’ve got a good chunk of the year where you’re not going to be able to be on snow, and roller skis do a really good job of modeling that,” Dippo said. “There are definite differences between skiing on snow. 

“You couldn’t do 100 percent of your training on roller skis and expect to ski well, but the balance transfers. The muscular input transfers. The timing and technique transfer.”

Athletes with spinal cord injuries can train using a roller board that replicates sit skiing.

One of the biggest differences between traditional skiing and roller skiing involves the poles used in each one. The tips of roller ski poles are made of carbide to help athletes push off on hard surfaces, and the tips need to be regularly sharpened.

Usually the pole tip will go into the snow easily. This is pavement,” Sabasteanski said. “… You have the soft pavement, fresh pavement, hard pavement, so your pole slips. … If you put the weight into your poles, you want them to stick into the pavement as opposed to sliding out.”

At the same time, athletes commonly wear helmets and gloves while roller skiing to protect themselves in case they fall on asphalt. Roller skiers don’t have the luxury of having a soft landing on snow.

There is an increased risk. Yeah, falling on roller skis usually ends up with blood, and falling on skis on snow usually doesn’t,” said Dippo, who serves as a development coach for U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing.

And that’s probably where I don’t recommend beginners using roller skis.

Sabasteanskisaid she still has a deformed pinky on one of her hands from a roller skiing accident when a rock got stuck in a wheel, forcing her to abruptly stop.

Another time, Sabasteanski was training in Vermont with roller skis when she decided to go full speed on what she thought was an empty stretch of road. As she was racing downhill, a farmer unexpectedly let his cattle cross the road ahead of her.

Sabasteanski said she immediately started looking for a soft place to bail out instead of running into the cattle.

“I’m sure pretty much everybody has stories of skin loss,” Sabasteanski said, laughing. “I guess we have scars for, you know, technical difficulties with the (roller) skis.”

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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