Tim Jones is the Editor of www.easternslopes.com and lives out in New England. All photos by Tim Jones.
The last couple of unreliable winters have frustrated avid cross-country skiers. Last year we never had any real snow until well into February. If you're like me, you want your cross-country season to start, oh, right about now, and last at least into April, if not May.
Recent Novembers and Decembers have left cross-country skiers feeling like second-class citizens. Alpine ski resorts have snowmaking to cover the slopes; most Nordic areas don't.
Take heart, oh fellow X-C Ski Buffs! You can now ease your way into winter on the newest generation of roller skis, strengthening all the muscles you use to ski and polishing your technique at the same time.
Roller skis are nothing new. You've probably seen skiers out on the smooth shoulders of busy highways kicking and gliding or skating and poling along.
I'd tried it. Didn't like it. The tiny wheels on most roller skis didn't do very well on the rough roads of New England and northern New York. As with rollerblades, at any moment you could (or at least felt your could) be stopped by a random road crack and pitched headlong onto the pavement.
Still, I thought, good roller skis would be the final piece of the puzzle that would let you have fun and stay fit all year round. In the winter, you could cross-country ski if there was snow, or Nordic skate if there was ice. The rest of the time, you could just roll along.
Jamie Hess, who has built a business called Nordic Skater (866-244-2570; nordicskater.com) first clued me in that roller skis have finally evolved into a form that works easily, comfortably and safely on the rough back roads and even dirt roads of our region.
The other day, he had me out on the latest generation of roller skis, made in, of all places, Milford. The V2 Aero Skate skis made by Jenex (jenex.com/index.html) were almost everything I'd ever dreamed of. They also have versions to mimic "classic" kick-and-glide skiing, if that's your preference.
The V2 Aeros have big (5- or 6-inch diameter) wheels that roll easily over any road roughness, with inflated tires that provide cushioning for a smooth ride. They also have easy-to-use, multi-position, lever speed governors that allow you to stay in perfect control down hills, and can even be fitted with training wheels and an emergency brake.
When I say they were almost perfect, the only flaw I can think of is the price - they retail for about $400 a pair with speed controls and bindings installed. Actually that's not a bad price for something this highly engineered that you can use almost year round.
Like any other form of skating, roller skiing takes some getting used to. I'd highly recommend wearing a helmet, gloves and the elbow and knee pads used by skateboarders. Hitting the pavement or the gravel is not something you want to do unprotected.
But once you got moving, the sensation was almost exactly the same as using skate skis on slightly crusty snow or Nordic skates on slightly bumpy ice. You just glide along with your legs and poles providing the impetus. Actually, the speed governors made this even easier than skate skiing since it was easier to control your speed down hills. If you start to go too fast, you just bend down and click the brakes up a notch and you instantly slow down. Way cool design!
If you'd like to try this for yourself, Nordic Skater will let you try them for FREE out of their shop in Norwich, Vt., or you can pay $50 plus shipping costs for a two-week rental (not a bad price to get yourself ready for snow and ice season).
One warning: roller skiing along a quiet back road in late fall is almost as much fun as cross-country skiing. Or Nordic skating. Once you try it, you're gonna want to own a pair. I've already got 'em on my list for Santa.
Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!