Is the thin-wheeled skating roller ski an endangered species?
Certainly, it seems to be under attack from all sides. First of all, the FIS Roller Ski Sub-Committee, meeting in Zurich in October, held over for further discussion the question of whether narrow wheels should be allowed in international roller ski competitions in the future. Salt was rubbed into the wound by the published results of “Nordic Sports” (Europe’s best-selling cross-country magazine) and xc-ski.de’s biennial tests of nearly 30 different types of roller ski. These tests, which were carried out on the Oberstdorf roller ski track, were published in September and are the equivalent to a “Which?” report on roller skis available on the European market.
Why do we roller ski?
The question that lies at the heart of the problem is: why do we roller ski?
- for roller skiing’s sake
- as a sport on its own,
- or as off-season training for the winter’s cross-country skiing?
If the former, then the thin-wheeled ski is perfect: it is fast, fun and appropriate to racing on tarmac. But it provides neither technical nor physiological benefits to the cross-country skier.
Consequently few, if any, of cross-country’s elite racers attend the roller ski World Cup and World Championship races.
The dilemma now facing FIS is: do they want to attract the world’s cross-country elite to these races, in which case they will have to run the races on “barrel” rollers, or do they want the world’s best roller skiers, which would leave them with the status quo in terms of equipment.
Why will the world’s elite not use these thin-wheeled roller skis?
There are a number of reasons, including:
- the vast majority of cross-country training (generally about 70%) is carried out in classical technique, for which wide-wheeled skis with ratchets are essential;
- summer is a time for endurance training, which demands slow skis to provide maximum resistance;
- technique training must be carried out at slow speed, something that is impossible with thin wheels without ratchets.
How to assess skating roller skis?
The Oberstdorf testers concluded that they could not assess the skate racing models under the heading of “similarity to skiing on snow”. The behaviour of the roller skis and the techniques needed to use them were so dissimilar to cross-country skiing on snow that a comparison was not possible. Instead, they assessed them simply on speed.
Where will this roller ski debate end?
When roller skiing was first taken on by FIS as a skiing discipline, after considerable opposition from those who thought that it should be aligned with roller blading, roller skating, roller hockey and similar sports, it was on the basis of an undertaking that the sport would be developed specifically for cross-country skiers. That has not happened.
Few top cross-country skiers take part in roller ski competition, where specialists have emerged with no particular provenance on snow. Yet it is hard now to see FIS being successful in implementing a ban on the skis favoured by the leading roller ski racers. The probability is that the sport will continue to diverge and specialize: top roller skiers will carry on using thin wheels and top snow skiers will stick to their favoured barrel rollers. While the debate drags on, we must wait and see.
Which roller skis to buy?
Meanwhile we will want to buy new or replacement roller skis ourselves. For the record, the leading brands and models of ski in the Oberstdorf tests were:
|Best Buy||SRB KR02||1.315 kg||295.00|
|Best Buy||Marwe Classic 700 C Cap||1.150 kg||295.95|
|Recommended||Globulonero CS2 Composite||1.110 kg||310.00|
|Best Buy||Marwe Skating 610 C Cap||1.050 kg||295.95|
|Value for Money||Nordic Pro SG24-1||1.125 kg||195.00|
|Best Buy||Globulonero B1 Carbon||0.810 kg||310.00|
|Value for Money||Ski Skett Cobra Pro Gold 84||0.850 kg||155.00|
Roller ski review
Top skis for ‘Comfort’ and ‘Compatibility with Skiing on Snow’ were Marwe and Ski Skett. Best for price were Nordic Pro and Ski Skett. Aluminium is the favoured construction material, although Marwe use wood and plastics and globulonero carbon - hence their exorbitant price!
Only one ski – the Marwe 610C Cap - achieved a ‘perfect’ score in all areas of assessment, but it does of course need to be complemented by the Marwe Classic 700C Cap, giving a total outlay of around £500. Perhaps this is still cheap, compared with, say, a top-of-the-range cycle. Cross-country skiing is still a relatively cheap sport! Enjoy it while you can!
Where to buy roller skis in the UK [Editor's note]
RMA sports also stocks Pro-ski.