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Rollerskiing Safety

By David Chamberlain

A few years ago I was skiing on a rollerski track in Northern Italy. When going down one particularly nasty downhill, a man on a bike who was unaware of the direction of travel came around the sharp corner at the bottom. I swerved to the right to avoid him and went straight off the track at 30mph. After hitting the dirt I launched into a series of ‘head over heels’ that left me flying head-first into a pile of rocks. After a brief period of unconsciousness, I came to with the man yelling at me in Italian. My helmet had completely split in two when I took the sharp point of a rock straight to my head. Even with my helmet on, I was left with a concussion and a nasty gash in the top of my head. What makes the story so extraordinary to me is that an hour before, as I was leaving my hotel, I turned the rental car around after a few minutes of driving to fetch my helmet. This was a close call for me and one that left me thankful that I took the extra steps that day to stay safe.

At this point in the spring, many skiers are starting to dust off their rollerskis from the back of the garage. Or if you are like the many elite skiers in the country, you have already been skiing for weeks. Rollerskiing is a great tool for keeping in shape for the winter, working on technique and doing specific interval training. It can also be hazardous and dangerous. Below is a short list of things that can help you stay safe and get the most out of your rollerski sessions.

1. Always keep your rollerskis in good repair. Rollerskis and replacement wheels are not cheap, but the difference between having new wheels and two year-old wheels that have worn down to the rim can be significant. My advice is to spend the extra cash to keep your skis and wheels from contributing to a crash that could knock you off your training plan or worse.

2. Keep your rollerski pole tips sharp. There is nothing worse than a long distance ski with dull tips. To ensure good morale throughout your sessions, keep a diamond stone handy to sharpen tips whenever needed. While this may not seem like a safety issue, a missed pole plant can easily lead to a crash.  Tips can also be replaced easily and cheaply. 

3. Pay attention to technique. Many rollerski crashes that I have seen are due to sloppy technique and lack of attention. Keeping your hips up and centered over your leg will allow ski wheels to roll through small stones on the side of the road. A strong focus on good technique also ensures that a pole will not accidentally end up between the legs or clipping a wheel. I have seen some very nasty road rash from crashes that have happened on flat ground and clean roads.

4. Try to use only the amount of road you need, double-poling when cars are passing you. Being courteous and mindful of other roadway users can go a long way.  During the thousands of kilometers I have put in on the road I have been honked at, yelled at, spit on, run into the ditch, clipped by a fender, hit by a bottle, hit by a bottle rocket and have even had a gun pulled on me. There is nothing like the site of a rollerskier to induce road rage, don’t push it by taking up too much road. The more conscientious we are as rollerskiers, the better our reputation and the less likely we are to have unpleasant encounters with drivers.

5.  Know your route before you begin.  Unfamiliar downhills and intersections can be hazardous.  If you live in an area with a local ski club, ask around, if not, driving a possible route before you ski is a good way to scope out potential hazards.

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5. Always wear a helmet! For me this is a must. A nasty head injury can result even at low speeds. Some people also use knee pads and elbow pads. These things are not a bad idea, especially if you are a beginner. Some feel they are excessive. Just remember, skin is expendable, your head is not!

Rollerskiing can be a great addition to your summer training plan. Throughout our country, there are plenty of roads to be found with good quality pavement, low traffic and great scenery. Keep your wits about you while rollerskiing and you can ensure a good training session.  Good luck this season!