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Inline Skating Newsletter Article

Stopping Without a Heel Brake

By Liz Miller

Jim and Liz on Coyote Creek Trail(excerpts from Advanced Inline Skating.)

Jim Fink, a Get Rolling "graduate" from Seattle, visited me recently. Through his emailed progress reports over the years, I already knew that he had joined the NSP (National Skate Patrol) and had become a certified instructor, impressive enough! Even though he's nearly my age, I felt like a proud mom watching the way he moved on his 5-wheel, custom-built speedskates. I was even more impressed when he managed every hill on my local trails with aplomb and without a heel brake!

It's time I shared with Orbit readers the brakeless speed control techniques previously documented only in my third book, Advanced Inline Skating.


The snowplow ("slowplow" if you must) is a ski-style technique that can be used both for speed control and stopping. Swizzle both skates out to the side with equal pressure. The wider you can get them to start with and the stronger your outer hip muscles, the more you slow down. Keep your torso upright and hips low as you push against your edges so that your body mass stays behind both skates to compound the pressure. It's easier to stay low and wide if you concentrate on keeping the skates upright and off the inside wheel edges.


If there's enough room, and nobody is close on your heels, traverse the slope by skating across the fall line, spending as little time as possible with your wheels pointing directly downhill. Make sequential turns, preferably parallel turns, because all eight wheels are on edge creating friction. To stop downhill progress, prolong a turn until you are skating back uphill.


Moderate pitches are perfect for a long series of slalom turns. Depending on your edging technique, you can either enjoy a giant slalom ski-style run with very little speed control, or dig in with tighter, more edge-pressured turns across the fall line.


Slip into a T-stop position with enough pressure to prevent unwanted acceleration, but not so much that balance is compromised. Quickly switch feet if you get tired; for safety's sake, learn to drag either skate with equal balance and effectiveness.


When sizing up a hill, be sure you factor in the impact of environmental conditions that contribute indirectly to its steepness: overall length, bad light, surface conditions, and traffic, to name a few. If things look too dicey, dare to be a wimp. Some hills are just too dangerous for skating, no matter how good you are. Recognize the maximum gradient you can handle and be mature enough to hike down rather than risk injury.

Bailing Out

Skating brakeless, there may be times when your attempts at speed control have failed and you realize you've got to "bail" off a slope. Take immediate action: don't ever assume you can just ride out a hill lacking a safe run-out. This type of thinking is just cruising for a bruising while your speed picks up even more, and there are too many sad stories about skaters who unsuccessfully fell prey to it. I still have a scar from my own hopeful schuss during my innocent early days.

The moment you recognize a bail situation, immediately get into crouched scissors stance with hands forward and your weight evenly distributed on both skates. Then choose the safest spot to make one of the following (progressively dire) maneuvers:

May you never have to bail!