Should kids rollerski? What is Skiwerx?
The Minnesota Youth Ski League has been introducing young skiers to rollerskiing through our Skiwerx: Ski for Sport program for almost a decade. More information on Skiwerx, can be found here. We provide rollerskis for our spring, summer and fall programs.
Getting young kids on roller skis is a worthwhile endeavor for a variety of reasons. Physically, there are specific rollerski skills that take time to master and kids (9-13 year old) are in their optimal movement learning and skill development window. Rather than focusing on cardiovascular and specific strength training, these years should develop balance, technique, safety and “rollerski etiquette”. This can be accomplished through games and obstacle courses to build confidence.
Psychologically, there is a coolness factor to rollerskis that can really motivate kids and allows them to identify with skiing as sport. Teaching skills during the development window, when skiers are “skills sponges”, also instills confidence because technique is acquired quite easily and there is less fear of falling.
We introduce 9-13 years olds to rollerskiing using lightweight skate rollerskis. The child should have experience classic skiing in the winter, but not necessarily skate skiing. A coach’s presence is important in order to steer the technique in the right direction through games and drills. We start by focusing on leg technique (basic motion of skating) and safety (grass breaking and other stopping strategies). Then we move on to obstacle courses, follow the leader, and all sorts of games (even basketball on rollerskis).
Here are specific tips about the equipment from the bottom up.
Rollerskis: The weight of the rollerski is very important for the smallest kids. We recommend a junior rollerski with a smaller diameter wheel for kids under 75 pounds. When the child grows, we move to a bigger diameter wheel (which is safer on cracks and rolling over debris), but are careful to observe if the child is struggling with the weight of the rollerski. Some brands come in "short shaft" versions that work really well for kids (or adults with small feet). Everyone is happier on models that have a drop axle (shaft is slightly below the wheel axle), which greatly improves stabilit.
Boots: We use only the very best skate or combi boot. A good cuff in critical. We are looking for a cuff that has limited lateral movement. There are many, many new and used combi boots in the world that have a cuff that is not sufficient for roller skiing. A boot that works well for your child on snow, may not work as well on rollerskis. Additionally, wearing calf high socks (ski socks) is a good idea to prevent rubbing and to fill out the cuff for a proper fit. We ask parents to help tie the boots tightly and snug-up the ankle strap. Teach the kids to do it themselves, but also check their work. Properly tied boots make a difference! If boots are too large or not tied tightly, we notice a lot of lateral movement when they are standing on the rollerskis (test this standing still).
Poles: Moving on to the poles. If a child has skating poles that they use in the winter, those will work for rollerskiing. However, these target years are “peak growth velocity” aka “growth spurt” for kids and we are always adjusting pole heights. Poles should come to a child’s lower lip when they are standing on their skis. Poles should have a velcro strap (not just a loop). If a child rollerskis more than once/week, parents will want to get pole ferrules (tips), which are harder and hold their sharpness. We sharpen the tips with a handheld diamond file (most coaches will have this).
For protective gear, we require helmets. For additional safety, knee and elbow pads might be a good idea. We leave this up to the parent/skier to negotiate.
We start our season without poles if kids have wrist guards. This allows us to focus on legs. But if no wrist guards are available, we have kids hold poles to start with, even if they are not “using” them. It is safer to fall with poles on, to protect your hands. We take the time to tighten pole straps. Poles can become tangled if the straps are loose and this causes a little fumble to be a much bigger incident. It can be hard to find small straps for kids, so parents will want to look at the poles before heading out.
Coaches need to know the route. For youth, we ski 100% on paths and parking lots/paved courts, etc. We do not take kids on roads. You still need to be aware of pavement quality, debris, road crossings (which take practice), and hills.
Work on trail etiquette skills. Roller skiers look intimidating (even 10 year olds) because of their sharp poles. So teaching good etiquette keeps the trail community happy. Ski single file, double-pole when being passed and call out when passing.
With attention to detail, proper equipment and enthusiastic coaching, we make sure that kids enjoy their rollerkiing development. If they continue as skiers into their junior years (we hope they do!), they will have a great platform of skills to build off of.