No snow, no problem

No snow, no problem

Eric Vetter’s ski race isn’t until February 2019, and it will be months before he’ll be able to ski on snow.

But he’s already training.

Blog PhotoSeveral times a week, he skis the country roads west of Champaign on his roller skis.

Vetter will ski the 29-kilometer (18-mile) Kortelopet race at the American Birkebeiner cross-country ski race held in northern Wisconsin in late February.

The American Birkebeiner is the largest cross-country ski race in North America.

Vetter grew up in Wisconsin and learned to ski at a young age with his father, who participated in the Worldloppet ski race circuit in Europe. Vetter skied the Kortelopet five times as a teenager, until at age 18 he was old enough to ski the Birkebeiner race (50 or 55 kilometers, depending on the ski technique used).

He’s skied it twice and the Kortelopet several more times. But he gave up ski racing after his last Kortelopet in 2008.

He was living in Illinois by then, and other things in his life took priority.

Blog PhotoBut watching the Winter Olympics this past winter sparked his interest in skiing again.

He watched all the broadcasts of the cross-country ski and biathlon events, including the gold medal race by American skiers Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins in a team sprint event.

“It planted the seed to get going and do it again,” Vetter said.

In late February, he started rollerblading along a path near Curtis and Staley roads.

He and his wife decided they wanted a rowing machine, so they bought one and he added workouts on it.

One of his biggest concerns in getting back into skiing was increasing his arm strength for propelling himself with the ski poles.

Vetter had tried unsuccessfully to sell his indoor bike trainer, but in March, he put his road bike on it and began riding.

And in April, he began working out on the roller skis.

Blog PhotoHe’s been skiing two to three times a week, between eight and 12 miles each time.

He’ll build up to longer distances, but not during the hot summer weather.

He has started some speed workouts, doing interval sets of double-poling with his ski poles.

Vetter bought boots specifically for roller skiing that are not insulated and lighter weight than regular ski boots, and that are also rigid to provide stability.

The roller skis have a frame with a binding for attaching the boot and a wheel at each end.

Vetter uses ski poles that are also specifically made for roller skis, with carbide tips designed for use on blacktop.

There is also a brake on the roller skis, but Vetter doesn’t need to use it other than at intersections or railroad crossings. Even an interstate overpass isn’t enough to require him to break on the downhill. He plans to do some roller skiing around Charleston in the fall for hill training.

He will also do some running at Kickapoo State Recreation Area and Lake of the Woods to get some terrain that isn’t completely flat.

Vetter said his training is similar to what skiers in more northern areas of the country are doing in the offseason -- endurance sports such as roller skiing, biking and running.

“The only real difference is not having hills here to train on,” he said.

One advantage Illinois does offer over Wisconsin: Winters here are generally warmer, so Vetter can roller ski in January if the roads are clear and there isn’t snow to ski on.

Vetter said the speed of the roller skis on pavement is comparable to that of cross-country skis on snow.

He has been skiing cautiously as he gets comfortable on the roller skis again “because it’s a whole other game when you’re falling on asphalt rather than falling on snow.”

He said the rigid roller ski boots help with balance.

“It’s still an adjustment going to regular skis on snow and having up to a six-foot-long piece of wood underneath your foot,” Vetter said.

He plans to do some early winter races that will help him move up to an earlier start wave at the Birkebeiner. The snow will be in better condition for those in the earlier waves, he said, and he’ll also be with faster competitors.

Vetter has turned 40 and his goal is to place in the top three in his age group and in the top 100 -- hopefully the top 50 -- overall among the skiers using the skate skiing technique in the race.


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

Photos: After putting on his roller skis (middle photo), Eric Vetter trained for a February snow ski race by working out Thursday on Rising Road in rural Champaign County (top and bottom photos). Photos by Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

 

 

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