Roller skiing, the non-snow equivalent of cross country skiing, was developed as early as the 1930s and it was used as a way to train for cross country ski racing as early as the 1950s. Today roller skiing is a low-impact high-intensity workout that is a full body exercise and easy on the knees.
Roller ski gear uses short skis on wheels with mounted bindings that enable a cross country ski boot to connect. Factors in selecting roller skis include durability, smoothness of the ride, matching skier ability, the road condition and the type of training that is desired. There are different products for classic and skate roller skiing and prices for skis range from $99 - $500.
Roller skis are much improved compared to the old products. Cami Thompson Graves, head women's Nordic Ski Team at Dartmouth College stated that "roller skis closely simulate cross country skiing, especially skate skiing."
A local retailer commented that "after the last winter Olympics, there was a worldwide recreational enthusiasm for roller skiing." He also said that the fastest growing region for product sales is the American Sunbelt. There are more than 50 roller ski models for different uses available for every budget and ability level. Roller ski enthusiasts are mostly cross country skiers who want to continue training after the snow melts.
Classic roller skis usually use wider small diameter wheels while skate ski wheels would have narrow large diameters. The difference involves speed, wear ability, handling rough road conditions (cracks or debris), and getting a similar feel to skiing. Roller ski construction involves weight, flex, and durability and are available in aluminum, wood, or composite materials.
Softer and wider wheels provide a smoother and slower ride. Hard wheels will be faster but can vibrate excessively on rough pavement. Ski poles have rubberized tips that resist slipping when planted on pavement rather than the metal tips used to dig into snow. Accessories are available for speed reducers and brakes to control speed on steep downhills, but not all models are compatible for adding them.
According to Coach Thompson Graves, "for safety on the pavement, it is important to wear helmets and high visibility clothing and be aware of the road conditions particularly at the bottom of hills."
Learning to roller ski can be a challenge even for advanced skiers and it is reported to be more difficult than inline skating. First timers should expect it to take some to get comfortable on roller skis but once you get the feel, you'll emulate sliding on the snow while you wait for the flakes to fly once again. Here's a primer on roller skiing techniques for first timers:
A video from Gear West provides more information including what is needed to get started roller skiing and one of the most important aspects - how to slow down: