Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Urban Rollerskiing

As a coach of junior athletes, I'm supposed to be somewhat safety-conscious when I rollerski, to set a good example or something along those lines. You know, use skis with speed reducers, wear an orange vest, always wear a helmet, don't run stop signs, walk down scary hills, wear your kneepads, elbowpads, buttpads... ok, maybe not the pads. Those pads are pretty useless, any time I've fallen on rollerskis I scrape up my hip or my face and hands. But if you polled elite rollerskiers and elite road bikers, I'll bet a larger percentage of road bikers get road rash than skiers. Probably because we aren't doing rollerski crits, but, well, my point is that you just don't fall that often on rollerskis once you know how to do it, and if you aren't some crazy teenager trying to set speed records down Watchusett.

Since moving to Boston, I found that I had to develop a style of skiing that would jive with my new environment. I started "urban rollerskiing". It involves bad pavement, lots of cars, and residential streets. Around Newton, its actually really nice to ski all over the neighborhood streets in the early morning. Unlike bicycles, rollerskiers have the distinct advantage that the cars have no clue what the heck you're doing, so they slow down. This isn't out of the goodness of their hearts, its due to the gawk factor. You know how traffic slows down to gawk at a bad accident on the highway? Same thing, except there is (hopefully) no blood, gore, or firetrucks to keep their attention, so they move on. They just don't know what to expect.

This might terrify some of the more timorous rollerskis out there. But really, its not so bad, downright tame, actually. After a while, though, I decided that I needed something a little more hardcore. I was going to rollerski to work.

I live 7.3 miles west of where I work, by the straightest bike-able route. I thought about my bike route for a while, and realized that would never fly with rollerskis. Due to the whole "no brakes" thing, the minor inconveniences on a bike (bad drivers, doors, red lights, pedestrians on cell phones, road work) became major obstacles. But! There is a multi-use path along the Charles! All I had to do was figure out the safest way to get to and from this path, and I was golden!

My first roll on the path found the path itself to be pretty nice, and several long stretches of the path had been recently repaved! However, the entry and exit from the river path takes nerves of steel. Actually the exit isn't so bad, you just clumsily negotiate cobblestone sidewalks in Boston and can ski in a couple of the smaller streets, plus I'm at my destination so that makes it all better. But getting from my house to the path... well, I almost shat my pants the first time I did it.

I figured out how to avoid the rotary of death using sidewalks, but then you have to get down charlesbank road. This is a road used by commuters (the type in the four-wheeled boxes of steel), with no shoulder, bad pavement, and a stop sign at the bottom of a hill, into what is essentially a highway. FUN! This is a spot where I thought I scraped my nipple off last fall, by trying to snowplow to a stop and skidding one ski over some frozen leaves and sliding for a while on my chest. After that, I've started trying to negotiate the even sketchier sidewalk and running down the hill. Luckily this is a short stretch, and then you're on the freshly paved, smooth, car-less river path. Oh heavenly fresh pavement. I'll do anything to dig my tips into your smooth yet porous surface!

sketchy bridge over the masspike on sketchy charlesbank road.

Do I hobble along on the sketchy sidewalk or do I brave the traffic and ski on the sketchy pavement?

This pavement almost makes it worth it.

After about 10-11 miles of smooth pavement interspersed with stops for the bridges, its time to get off the path. I take the footbridge across Storrow, and the "I rollerskied through downtown Boston!" part of the story takes place. My favorite part is always skiing past the homeless dudes sleeping on benches in Boston Common, they're always awed by the coolness than is rollerskiing. At least, thats how I interpret things.

checking out the city from under the bridge where the trolls live.

After crossing this bridge over Storrow, true urban rollerskiing begins.

Boston Common and what comes after.

And to all those people saying "Now doesn't that look like fun!", or, "Awwww, sweet!"--rollerskiing isn't nearly as cool as it looks.


Anonymous said...

Nice post. Gotta love urban roller skiing- the concrete, traffic, lack of space, gawkers etc.- lots of fun! Some pics of our similar experience in Pitt are at:


and at


happy roller skiing!

andy farry

Alex said...

Hey, great video on NENSA! Thanks for putting that up there!

Luke S said...

Urban rollerskiing is always a challenge....I don't like Concord center on rollerskis, I'm not sure I could deal with Newton. Or Boston.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. You are the definition of intrepid. One 1.5km ski over city streets to my old RS route in Minneapolis put me off RS'ing on streets forever - the gawking, the shouting, the idjits cutting in front...

Here in Northfield, I see a college team skiing through downtown (which sure ain't Boston) on their way from the RS route to their campus. They do not look to be enjoying themselves right then, and they haven't even reached the railroad tracks.

Anonymous said...

I hope your insanity pays off come winter...

Anonymous said...

I definitely saw you rollerskiing while waiting for the Silver Line outside of Boylston last week, and had to look it up. I'm a freelance writer -- I'd love to learn more about this (slash try it, which is less likely)! Shoot me an email if you get the chance: courtney.elise.cox@gmail.com

Ari said...

Next time you are in New York City, bring your rollerskis. Central Park has the best 10k rollerski route in the country that I know of. Rolling hills, great pavement, three lanes wide and generally no cars.