That's an Excellent Question: Use of Fast or Slow Rollerskis?
By: Craig Storey (2006/10/19)
It was clear that people were racing (during the Keski Climb and Canadian Rollerski Championships) on training wheels against some people who likely had converted to much faster wheels and bearings. My thought was that "Fast wheels will take you farther away from the effect of simulating on snow skiing and that is where the focus of roller skiing should be." So in effect I discouraged racing on fast wheels. What are your thoughts about all this?
This is something I've experimented with personally, as well as discussed and debated with teammates and coaches. Firstly, I'll discuss my experiences with racing on fast vs. slow wheels.
I've raced the Keski Climb 4 times now. The first time I used my (slow) training skis and was ~10minutes back. I was out of the race after 200m! I worked like a dog and was all alone the whole time. That was fine, but I could have done the same type of workout on my own. So the second time I decided to use faster skis, and skied with a pack of skiers - many of whom had even faster skis that made it look effortless. That time I worked even harder than the first time. I wanted to stay ahead of the gang of Masters guys who were likely going to rub it in if they beat me.
Then last year with the Coupe Elpex underway it was obvious that you needed fast wheels to compete so a few of us sought out in-line wheels that were quite easy to fine. I didn't train on the wheels. I just put them on and tested them the night before and found them to be 'scary' fast. The next day in the race I got dropped early. I found the pace was too fast right from the gun. What I realize looking back at that race is that I wasn't comfortable on the skis at that speed and was wasting energy and skiing poorly. I did recover, became comfortable and hung on for a great battle with my teammate who was on similar speed skis. This year was pretty much a repeat of last year, but I was more comfortable on my skis at race speeds.
Of all these races, I learned more about racing the times I had faster wheels and skied the race in a pack. I think as mass start formats become more important tactics are as important as hard efforts, but the opportunities to learn and test them aren't that frequent. So for racing, I think wheels that put you in the pack of your peers of slightly faster skiers is the best idea.
With that said, I don't train on fast wheels. I train on wheels that are much more 'ski-speed' or perhaps a little slower. But I can still see some benefits of training on fast rollerski wheels:
Using Fast Skis: I have experimented with training on fast rollerskis. I find that using them works a different aspect of training - rather than a muscular/strength training effect, it's an excellent way to work on your balance and coordination. Skis shouldn't be as fast as possible so that you can't stand up, but fast enough that 1-skating up hills is relatively easy. When I was using faster rollerskis, I was only training on them 1-2 times a week for 30minutes - 1.5 hours. I would do technique specific strength, legs only skating and classic double poling at high speeds and short sprints. I usually did these after work and was pressed for time, and daylight. I would save the really hard efforts for running with poles on the weekend and I also kept a slow pair of rollerskis for longer double pole or zone 1 efforts. I did all my other longer workouts running. What I liked about the fast skis was that in a short period of time I could push my technique comfort level at above race pace in the sprints, but not worry about wearing myself out. Also, it's sometimes hard to train right after work - there's a certain lethargy that sets in at 5pm and the fact that the warm-up for the workouts wasn't too hard worked well.
One interesting thing is that Elpex no longer stocks the really slow wheels since the National team decided they were too slow for training. The word is they think skiers should work on speed and turn-over, rather than slow speed roller skiing.
For younger skiers I think fast rollerskis could be a way to make sure they don't train too hard in zone 1. They get the specificity benefits in of skiing - balance and using skiing muscles, but they are also able to emphasize quick turn-over and good technique. On slow skis this would be hard for younger juniors that aren't yet strong enough and often sacrifice technique for speed. There's obviously a balance here between wheels that are too slow, meaning they struggle, and too fast, meaning they can't ski properly since it's too easy to go fast.
Using Slow Skis: Once your balance is good or if you can't run due to injury and rollerskiing is your primary training method or you rollerski pretty much exclusively on flat terrain then wheels that simulate 'ski-speed' or slower are probably best. Right now I'm using rollerski wheels from SkiSkett (similar to Elpex) with medium-hard rubber and slow bearings which makes them medium-slow overall. The speed feels very similar to skiing speeds. I barely notice the speed difference when I get on snow, which is great in late snow years.
Slow wheels are excellent for doing ski-specific strength work on rollerskis - double poling up hills, legs only skating on either flats or hills. No other form of dry-land strength training is as effective, and the extra resistance of slower wheels is a good tool.
But, I think you have to be careful with slow wheels and younger skiers. I've seen a lot of juniors out rollerskiing on wheels that are far too slow for their strength level. They just seem miserable, flogging themselves to get up hills, and at the same time developing bad technique habits. As a rule, I think a skier should be able to 1-skate up most hills in Gatineau Park at a relatively controlled effort (low zone2), otherwise they need faster wheels.
Throughout the summer XCOttawa does a series of time trials, once a month, using training speed rollerskis to track our training progress. We use our regular training skis, which tend to be slow relative to racing wheels. For time trials, it makes sense not to switch to fast wheels. We stay with what we do our intervals on, and can gauge our fitness and fatigue as a result.
So to sum up both fast and slow rollerskis are of use in training and hard race efforts. Personally I would keep fast skating skis and slower classic skis, if I were limited to one set for each technique. That way I could do hard short double pole efforts on the classic skis, longer easier double pole efforts on the skating skis as well as intervals of both techniques at different speeds.
For your information, at the Keski Climb I used the K2 Radical 100mm wheels available at Tommy and Lefebvre in Ottawa. You can also get in-line skate wheels that will fit on most rollerski over the internet. Here are a few good sources...
The ones I used weren't expensive as far as rollerski wheels go. I've raced on them twice and there isn't much wear even though as a bigger guy I tend to wear wheels faster than most. So they are a good investment as they should last quite well.