Being safe on rollerskis can be a challenge. Any fall on pavement has the potential for serious injury and this is not what a skier wants or needs in the summer training season. I have seen many articles and videos on technique drills, interval workouts, races, and long endurance workouts. These are all focused on moving forward. But there is little on slowing down. That makes me think about the “snow plow”.
Gravity and momentum can be your friend. They can also transform you from a training athlete into a physics experiment. I often tell people who are just getting started in rollerskiing that the best safety feature is the brain. Decision making is the first line of defense when it comes to avoiding injury. You must choose terrain that is appropriate for your skill and the intended workout. You have to think ahead and consider the “what if…” phrase. There are times when it is best to take the rollerskis off and walk down a steep hill, and at the bottom continue on to the end and a nice dinner at home. Controlling your speed with a snow plow is another way to plan ahead.
The term “snow plow” is used in skiing to describe a technique of controlling speed while gliding by pushing the tails of the skis apart by lowering the hips, keeping the knees bent and the tips together and equal weight and edge on each ski. Your body will continue to move forward more slowly while the skis slide at an angle to the direction of travel providing resistance to forward momentum. It has worked for many years, on snow. But rollerski wheels don’t like to slide sideways at an angle to the direction of travel. So, a real snow plow is not possible (unless there is ice on the road, but that is another story). There are, however, a couple of ways to use the snow plow concept to slow yourself on rollerskis.
The first way I will call the STEP PLOW. It works if you are not going too fast, but are moving along a flat or very gentle hill and want to come to a stop. It involves weight transfer from one foot to the other foot with the front of the rollerskis pointed toward each other about a foot away from the center line of movement like a snow ski in the snow plow position. Keep the hips and shoulders in the center between your feet and transfer weight first to one foot and then to the other in a quick back and forth rhythm. Be sure to keep the knees bent, hands forward and the weight on your whole foot. By stepping back and forth you will slow down and can step turn to a stop.
Now, when you are presented with a descent that could induce more speed than you wish, it is good to stop at the top and access the options. This is where the wide-stance snow plow can work. Practice this first on a gentle hill with a good long runout onto a flat. Here, from a stop, you will assume a balanced position with your feet about 3 to 4 feet apart. The rollerskis are parallel (or nearly parallel with the front wheels turned ever so slightly inward toward each other). Keeping the knees bent, hands forward, weight on the whole foot, start gliding while pressing your feet away from the center line of travel. You will be putting pressure against the top of an edged rollerski by lowering your hips and pushing away. The friction of the rubber wheel on the pavement with the sideways force applied by you, will keep the rollerskis going slowly. It is important to practice this on very low angle hills and move to steeper grades only when you are confident on the shallow slope.
Using this snowplow, you can slowly descend some pretty steep grades. If the hill is long, beware. Significant quad and glute quiver can occur. This can result in abandoning the snowplow and an unwanted increase in speed. If this happens the wide stance can be maintained along with a verbal plea for support from whatever powers that may be.
It is good to practice this skill on both skate and classic rollerskis. The feeling is a bit different.
I have used the snowplow to go down some fairly steep inclines in my summer training in Bend, Oregon. My first sessions are devoted to fairly flat terrain as I regain my rollerski legs. I get to roll in a place that has loops and I can climb up the steeper grades and descend on the longer, less steep streets. As always, I wear a good bike helmet, gloves and a hi-visibility vest.
Keep in mind that rollerskiing is not completely safe. Life is not completely safe. We take calculated risks every day. We can approach these risks sensibly and do our best to control our own actions and influence the outcome. So, now I am off to embrace another challenge and paddle my kayak on the river.
Have good training and be safe.