Is Roller Skiing For The Rest of Us?


Roller skiing for The Rest of Us?

Elite nordic racers and Olympic hopefuls train on roller skis during the off season to prepare for their transition to snow.  Are they for us mortals who are recreational skiers or occasional citizen racers?

I decided to find out.

What are they?

Mark Vosburgh

Mark Vosburgh and his roller skis.

Roller skis are basically skis with wheels that are designed to simulate classic and skate styles of Nordic skiing.   They are mounted with ski bindings and so you “roll”  in your regular ski boots

Most have aluminum shafts but I bought a pair of skate skis made of wood from a company called Woodski.  My skis had a trial period of 30 days which was good, because I really wasn’t sure if they would work out for me.

What about poles?

Mark Vosburgh Glacier 2

Roller Skiing in Glacier National Park. Photo by Mark Vosburgh.

Regular ski poles are fine but you’ll need to buy some hardened steel ski tips ($15) without a basket and install them.   I bought a spare set of carbon fiber poles for $65 that I reserve for dry land training.  You’ll also need a diamond file to keep your tips sharp so they “stick” in the pavement.

Woodski President Peter Breu was very helpful in answering my questions and setting me up with gear.  He has some great videos on his website about how to file ski tips etc.

Mark Vosburgh Roller Skiing in Glacier Park 2

Spectacular views abound in Glacier National Park. Photo by Mark Vosburgh.

Where to roller ski?

This was my main concern.  Could I find enough places to ski?  This has taken some creativity and exploration but I’ve discovered that while smoother pavement is better, my skis can handle a bit of roughness and bits of small gravel.   I’ve skied in subdivisions, on frontage roads, paved country roads, paved forest roads,  bike paths and just recently, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

I look for low traffic areas (the Going to The Sun was closed to cars when I went), and I wear bright yellow shirt or jackets.  I’ve been treated really well by cars and I’m sure the high visibility clothes are the key.

Mark Vosburgh Glacier Park

Going to the Sun Road is/was closed to automobile traffic. Photo by Mark Vosburgh.

How do you stop?

My skis came with a simple break system that vastly expands the places I’m willing to ski.  It takes practice to learn how to use them and learn their limits.  (Watch the video that demonstrates the break system.)

What’s the final verdict?

I love these things!  Its amazing how well they simulate skiing on snow.  I’ve had some blissful days “skiing” in beautiful locations this summer and fall.  I have no doubt I’ll be WAY ahead of the curve come ski season.

Mark Vosburgh Roller Skiing in Glacier Park

The break system on roller skis is pretty important for this adventure. Photo by Mark Vosburgh.

Any caveats?

Oh yeah.  Falling on pavement REALLY hurts.  I still have memories of a painful fall when I borrowed a friend’s skis few years ago.

There is a learning curve.  I’ve cross country skied for years and it took me about a month of roller skiing to feel comfortable.  I started very slowly with full knee, elbow pads, helmet and gloves on flat terrain and built gradually. You can Continue Reading to see more about safety gears and precautions.

World class athletes have had career ending injuries and a friend of mine suffered a broken wrist on them.   Roller skis deserve respect!

Mark Vosburgh Roller Skiing in Glacier Park 3

Glacier National Park. Fall, 2013. Photo by Mark Vosburgh.

Final word.

I’ve found roller skis to be a great ski training tool, which I expected.   There’s really no better way to train up all those balance stabilizer, arm, back, core and leg muscles you use when Nordic skiing.

What I didn’t expect, was that my roller skis are so enjoyable to ski on that I love to do it on its own merits.    Cruising along on a quiet country road on a crisp fall day is a blast.

I highly recommend them for people who love to ski and/or who want to knock some time off this year’s ski races.


Mark Vosburgh is a fourth-generation Montanan from Boulder and a 26-year resident of Missoula. He’s worked as a chemical engineer, backcountry ski guide, and wildfire scientist. He plays in several local bluegrass bands and enjoys the usual assortment of Missoula’s great outdoor opportunities. Check out the Ski It Missoula archives for more ski posts by Mark and more local skiers.