Even in the cold areas of Northern and Eastern Europe or in the areas of North America which are covered with snow for many months, cross country skiers need some way to practice their sport, even without snow, for long periods during a year. Roller skis were created to accommodate their needs.
Nowadays, roller skis are used by every elite level cross-country skier, as well as by many athletes whose goal is to improve their training or fitness level.
Roller skis are skis with wheels, which are used to practice various cross- country skiing techniques.
Currently, roller skis are made of two axles, usually built in a light-weight alloy, whose length varies between 53 and 70 cm. Wheels (usually one in the front and one in the rear) are mounted on the axles.
Many different models are available in the market. They mount two or sometimes three wheels (one front and two rear). They are used everywhere where cross-country skiing is practiced.
In the last few years, it has been widely recognised that cross-country skiing is an extremely comprehensive training, which symmetrically works all muscle groups in the body. Therefore, many athletes from different sports have started to use roller skis for their training. Roller skis can be used everywhere, in every season or climate (except snow or ice) and do not need any kind of infrastructure. For this reason, their usage is now extending to countries with little or no cross country skiing traditions, such as tropical areas, East Asia and South America.
Skiing started, most likely in the North European countries, as a mean of travel in areas covered with snow. The skis were two long axles, with tips slightly bent upward, which were used with the aid of a long pole. A very interesting museum of the history of skiing exists in Norway, which is further described in a different area of this site.
Skiing, in particular cross-country skiing, which was born as mean of travel, has subsequently become a sport discipline. As such, it has developed a specific type of training, even during the times of the year where snow is not available. Probably this is the time where roller skis were born.
The first known account of the use of this kind of equipment comes from Austria. It is a picture of an athlete, standing on two axles, about 1 meter in length, which mounted two large wheels, one in the front and one in the rear.
During the years, other cross-country skier built their own roller skis. The first record of some sort of mass produced roller ski came from Scandinavia. These were three wheeled roller skis (with a pair of wheels in the rear). They were appropriate for the only technique available at the time, which was the classical technique. Since the early times, the evolution of this equipment has gone a long way, especially in these last few years. The evolution of new techniques for the practice of cross-country skiing has been the driving force for the development of the roller skis. This has also been accompanied by the development of complementary equipment, such as shoes or bindings and by continuous technological enhancements.
Despite the fact that the first models were built with two wheels, the earliest developments involved three wheel models, commercially available between the early 70s and mid 80s. We are now back to two wheel models, especially useful for the practice of the skating technique. Thanks to the new bindings /boot systems and by varying the dimension of the wheels, these roller skis can also be used for classical technique. The materials used for the frame are mainly wood and aluminium. Some attempts have been made to use new materials, such as Fiberglass or Carbon fibre.
In the last years, both for technical and economical reason, the commercial production has been focused on aluminium alloys. The wheels were “full” at first, then inflatable tires were used for a while. Different materials have been tried through the years. Nowadays, the models for classical technique use mostly rubber wheels, while the models for skating use a plastic type material, polyurethane, which is very elastic and is available in different hardness and stiffness. The mechanical parts of the roller skis have also undergone fundamental changes, reaching the current ratchet systems. Sophisticated types of bearings are in use in the latest models.