Living in small towns and attending small schools frees a person of that dreaded city slicker anonymity. It also means that when you tell anyone, anyone, that you are a cross country skier during the summer, they immediately connect you to the strange gangs of people they have seen careening around on those…. “Ski skates?…. Wheel skis?” “Yes,” you respond forcing a smile, “Rollerskis.”

So mysterious.
So mysterious.

About a year ago, I wrote about how rollerskiing is like the rebound girlfriend of actual skiing. I still feel that way but also realize that to the rest of the world, rollerskiing represents an activity with as much mystery and intrigue as stand up paddle boarding (really though, what’s that all about?) As Nordic skiers, we will inevitably run into several types of interested onlookers, many different times, to whom there are wrong and right ways to react. In the infinitely wise words of Mike Birbiglia, “that’s the difference between decent people and [indecent] people: [indecent] people do the things that decent people want to do but have decided are probably not a great idea.”

Thus, in my typical self-given authority, I have organized the onlookers into categories and suggested ways to treat them, because treating outsiders the way we initially want to is probably not a great idea:

The Tourist:

Do you have the camera ready? (via
Do you have the camera ready? (via

This is the one you’ll run into in fancy places like Sun Valley or Stratton. They’re visiting in the summer and know it’s a ski resort, but probably haven’t ever gone skiing, definitely not cross country skiing. They oftentimes will take photos out of their car windows, and are completely comfortable stopping you on the trail to ask what you’re doing. Typical tourist questions and comments:

“That looks like a good workout.”
“Did you go to Sochi?”
“Do you know Lindsey Vonn?”

Now, if you’re like me, you’ll likely want to respond: “No, I did not go to Sochi, that’s why I’m doing this good workout so that I can go to the next Olympics and maybe meet Lindsey Vonn, if our paths cross off of the course, because, in case you didn’t know, we ski on different courses (start watch, turn and ski away really fast so if they take a picture it will be blurry)!”

You may have already guessed this, but perhaps that is not the right way to react. We’re just obscure enough to still need people to like us, we haven’t quite hit the spot where we can be mean and still be cool (hello, hipsters). When dealing with the tourist, sometimes it’s easier to fib. My example: “Yeah, Sochi was so hot! Lindsey and I rollerski together all the time, that’s why she’s so fit! If you want to learn more about these things, here’s the web address to Fasterskier, I’ll sell you all of my old gear at a wicked great price! Have a great day!” Smiles and money. Win.

The Middle Aged Fitness Fanatic: 

vie uwmed
vie uwmed

You’ll find these guys running, not strolling down the path. They have tan skin, shiny gear, compression socks and one of those marathon water belts. They have done 2-3 triathlons and are prepared to discuss/argue the best training techniques for peak endurance fitness at a moment’s notice. Typical fitness fanatic questions/comments:

“That looks like a great workout. Are you cross training for something?”
“Where can I order some of those? Do they go any faster?”
“Have you tried cross fit?”

Again, if the world were honest and a little less decent, I would be inclined to answer as follows: “I am cross training, the reason I’m going so slow is so that I can be fast in the winter, and even this speed would not fare well for you because they have no brakes and require practice and training which your reference to cross fit tells me you don’t have the patience for.”

Yeah. Yikes. Turns out, I’m just as competitive and defensive about training as my middle aged friend. What would be better would be putting down the shields and conversing with your fellow athlete: “It is a great workout, I do it for cross country skiing! They’re pretty fast on the downhills but I bet with a little cross fit agility training I would be just fine!” Again, a little fib never hurt anyone. These guys are like a needy cat, stroke their ego and they’ll go away.

The Master Skier

Similar to, but not altogether the same as the middle aged fitness fanatic, the master skier knows all about rollerskis, skiing and summer training. They will be very excited to see you. They want to know your secrets. They will be able to keep up with you while asking you these kinds of questions or comments:

“What number wheels do you use?”
“How much threshold training have you done this week? What’s your resting heart rate?”
“Have you skied the Birkie?”

Instinctually, when faced with the master skier, I opt for flight over fight and respond “DOESN’T MATTER I’M STILL FASTER THAN YOU (up tempo two zones and sprint away)”

Two reasons this won’t work. 1. Master skiers can ski at L4 for hours. HOURS. That’s just how old, fit people work. While I can outsprint one for thirty seconds, when I bonk, he’ll be right there, cruising, like it’s not even hard. It’s science. 2. Master skiers are people too. For whatever reason, when younger skiers hear the word “master” they roll their eyes and feign disgust, like Mom just told them they look handsome before the big dance. In reality, they are really freaking fit people (refer to number 1) of whom (like our parents) we will someday be one.

In all honesty, my initial resentment towards master skiers has mostly to do with them knowing more about skiing (at least equipment) than me (and having more money to buy it). Instead of trying to defend my youth, perhaps talking training with these guys could be beneficial. “I’ve always wanted to ski the Birkie” isn’t even a lie. But I will not talk about resting heart rates. Ever. (Because I don’t know mine…)

The Angry Driver

Don't mess. (
Don’t mess. (

We’re most likely to find these ones on back roads with small shoulders. They honk, yell profanity and zip past you leaving little to no space. They are angry and you don’t know why.

For this one, my instinct response is to get mad, yell some swear words and throw up my poles. The reality of it is, with the angry driver, the best way to win is to overcompensate in not making him or her angry. Wear bright colors, stay to the side of the road, double pole when they pass and tell your teammates if one is coming. My teammate Annie Hart put it perfectly in her blog (I know, right? So cute that we both wrote about rollerskiing). Please stay safe, remember that roads are built for cars.

Oh, and smile when they don’t hit you, a little positive reenforcement never hurt anyone.

So what have we learned? Lie, be nice, and wear a helmet. Well…I hope at least the last two stick.


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