Rollerskiing with the Manchester XC Ski Club...
To the bystander on a cycle path or country lane, seeing a group of people replicating cross-country skiing with rollerskis could be seen as one of the best examples of British sporting quirkiness in action!
Whilst first impressions are slightly bemusing, once you look beyond the long ski poles, soft ski boots and the wheeled ‘skis’, you would find a serious sport that requires high levels of stamina, endurance and technique.
Rollerskiing is an art and I went out with the Manchester Cross-Country Ski Club to find out more on my inline skates...
Out and back to Chester along the Deeside Cycle Path...
I have been rollerblading since I was 12 years old. I love the feeling of gliding along smooth asphalt on a sunny day. My skates have taken me to the famous Le Mans racing circuit in France, from Paris to London for charity and around the world renowned Goodwood track in Sussex.
However, despite sharing many of the techniques linked to inline skating, rollerskiing has always intrigued me.
16 miles rollerskiing in an unlikely setting...
We went out along one of the best skating places in the North West region along the 8 mile Chester to Connah’s Quay cycle path that runs along the River Dee and forms part of the Wales Coast Path.
The reason why this place is excellent is that it is very close to being in a country ideally suited to skating such as Holland, Germany or Sweden with smooth tarmac, long straights and waterside views.
I have spent many hours down this path on my own and rank it as one of my favourite places in the country for active recreation.
Setting off from Connah's Quay, North Wales...
We set off from Connah’s Quay with a pre-ski briefing from club officials Ros and Alison who are keen snowsport skiers and two of the best rollerskiers in the UK. We were following the riverside path for much of the route as 16 of us from around the north headed down the Dee Cycle Path to Chester City Centre.
There were a mixture of skate and classic technique skiers. Skate technique is similar to ice skating in motion whilst classic requires a rocking and balancing motion on each leg to propel yourself forwards.
The poles used have special tips that grip against the ground and are used to propel the skier forward as well. When the poles and skis work together, rollerskiing can be a very elegant physical exercise and the best rollerskiers such as Ros and Alison make this look effortless.
Mid-ski lunch stop at Telford's Warehouse...
The group set off along the path towards Chester and immediately everyone picked up speed and honed their techniques. Cross country skiing and rollerskiing are full body workout sports and bulk up your upper body as well as your legs, so this 'tour' offered everyone a decent physical exercise.
At the halfway point on our 'out and back' route, we took off our equipment, unclipped our cross-country skiing boots and had lunch at Telford's Warehouse on the canal.
A pub next to a canal basin is not a conventional place for a stop mid-ski, but the good thing about rollerskiing is that it is a very social activity. Everyone chats about their plans for the winter season, their training for an hour race or a rollerskiing location where they found that elusive 'perfect' skiing surface.
Despite being a fairly unknown activity outside of the winter sports world or the military who use rollerskiing to train for military skiing fitness, there are a wide choice of rollerskiing clubs around the country from London to Scotland and many have good inter-club relations. On our Chester tour, there were several members from the Yorkshire Dales XC Ski Club and others who had travelled from around the North West.
I love skating, it's a shame I don't do it more often...
After a good Sunday lunch at the pub, we headed off back into Wales at pace along the same path as the sun shone over the River Dee, the Airbus factory and Hawarden Bridge. Cruising along and skating at speed in a peloton is such a great feeling and made me realise why I love skating so much.
It is a shame that there are not more places like Chester to go out and skate like this, but you need smooth surfaces and sadly many of our cycle paths are not suitable for the small skating wheels!
We arrived back into Connah's Quay and had a great day out along the River Dee where we all enjoyed a post-tour picnic with homemade cakes and talked about the day. Everyone was really pleased with their respective efforts. The good thing about rollerskiing compared to other wheeled sports is that it really doesn't matter if you are the fastest or the slowest on rollerskis as good technique is valued as much as speed.
If you ride a bike or run, you should try this out...
Rollerskiing might appear to be strange or unusual, but if you are a keen cyclist, runner or walker then rollerskiing is a great activity to do to mix things up or to boost your training for your a winter holiday on snow. Physically, rollerskiing is as demanding as you make it and the 'skate' technique is easier to learn (in my opinion).
However with the right club to lend you equipment, advise you on technique or coach you with the basics, it is surprisingly accessible to take up rollerskiing and it is a great social activity too.
You'll even have a story to tell to intrigued strangers when they inevitably ask you..."Where's the snow?!'