Pro Skimo Training. . .for the Masses

Post by blogger | November 9, 2015      

By Rob Coppolillo

Ski touring in the age of smartphone apps, climate forecasts, and social media — we’ve come a long way from the 210cm skinny skis of our forefathers. Or have we? Lungs still work on the up. Legs still burn on the down. Stoke factor increases as fall arrives. Brain chemistry goes wacko as snow piles up. Same old, same old?

Most of us have found a nice balance between 21st-century innovations and our beloved activities in the mountains, and training is no different. Cascades of new training plans and options bombard the ski-tourer, but it is still old-school work in the gym, on trails, and in the mountains that helps us ski better, longer, and more safely.

I’ve noticed WildSnow readers swapping ideas back and forth over the past few seasons about training for everything from local days in the backcountry, to skimo races, to week-long binges in faraway locales. If you’re looking to pull on the Lycra and slay the Euros in skimo comps, you’re probably working with a private coach. But for the rest of us, we have an interesting option for world-class coaching without breaking the bank or quitting our jobs: Trainheroic and The Alpine Training Center.

Weighted lunges...ouch.

Weighted lunges…ouch.

TrainHeroic is an online platform offering custom training programs for everything from Olympic powerlifting to endurance running, and now ski touring and ski mountaineering. The Alpine Training Center (ATC) has a lone gym in Boulder, Colorado, where climbers, skiers, cyclists, and sundry mountain athletes train under the watchful eye of Connie Sciolino, MS. With her new online platform, TrainHeroic, Sciolino now offers daily workouts for the motivated ski tourer, allowing anyone to benefit from her tough, effective workouts without having to go to her Boulder gym.

I began training with Connie in 2010, right about the time my wife and I sprouted identical twin boys. I took the year off of guides course around that time, too — I had my sights set on full international certification, but with newborns and writing to shop around, I was nervous about balancing it all. I had run into Micah Dash, a professional climber, in Ouray that winter and he’d described some sadistic madwoman in Boulder who was training him. From my foggy memory I remembered something about hour-long workouts designed to help an average climber (like me) pull harder, climb better, and remain injury free. I sought out Connie that year and have used the ATC ever since, maintaining fitness year round, which helps my guiding tremendously.

The "ski erg" simulates double-pole technique from Nordic skiing, but's just a way to get your heart rate up. Way up.

The “ski erg” simulates double-pole technique from Nordic skiing, but really…it’s just a way to get your heart rate up. Way up.

I raced road bikes through my 20s, so I have a sense of how to structure a yearly training program or “periodize” my training. That is, when to do long, steady hours and when to ramp up the intensity, when to rest, etc. Sciolino can help with those concepts if you’re not familiar with them, or a book, like Scott Johnston and Steve House’s excellent Training for the New Alpinism will get you started.

Sciolino opened her gym in 2009 and offers small-class, hour-long workouts tailored to rock and ice climbing, ski touring, as well as general mountain fitness. Professional climbers like Sam Elias and Aaron Montgomery, internationally certified mountain guides, and badass recreationalists all train there.

“The most common email or phone call I receive is one stating that an athlete wishes they lived in Boulder so they could train at the ATC or at least follow our programming,” says Sciolino. “It becomes time consuming for me and costly for the athlete for me to do individual programs. TrainHeroic offers me a platform to share my training programs with everyone and it offers the athlete a program and a coach for them to pursue their goals.”

It ain't just the legs: the Alpine Training Center builds symmetrical, all-over strength.

It ain’t just the legs: the Alpine Training Center builds symmetrical, all-over strength.

Plyometrics build explosive power.

Plyometrics build explosive power.

For starters, one registers on TrainHeroic, then browses all the different training programs in their “Marketplace.” Get ready, there are dozens. Among them you’ll find the ATC—at a cost of $25/month or $300 for the year. Not cheap, but at the same time, ask yourself when the last time you had access to a professional coach was.

And the access is key, too. There’s a message board on which you can comment about workouts (save the complaining, Sciolino will have none of it) and ask questions. Sciolino moderates the discussion and dispenses advice daily. Now you’ve got professional coaching with feedback. If you need advice about how much training you’re doing, recovery strategies, setting goals, you’ve got an expert and second opinion at your fingertips.

Her online workouts forego most specialized gear, helping home users accomplish workouts without much adaptation. The volume and intensity remain from her ATC suffer-fests. Trust me; it’s a packed hour, highly effective as part of an overall training program.

Sciolino puts the TrainHeroic/ATC work in its context: “The programs on TrainHeroic are the strength portion of a training plan, all the gym-based work. It is assumed that the athlete will spend the other days training for their sport. For example, a backcountry skier would use the weekend to train on skis for longer periods of time in varying terrain. The plan includes suggestions as to what the athlete should be doing on non-training days, but it also gives them some wiggle room to incorporate their sport in their own way.”

In addition to the coaching, there are instructional videos attached to specific exercises. Not sure what a lateral lunge is? Bam — a quick video and you’re ready to blow up your quads. (Pay attention, though, proper form is critical in protecting your joints.)

Each day Sciolino offers a different workout, then the ball’s in your court. Complete the workout at home or your local gym, and track your progress, take notes, etc. There’s also a “leaderboard” function that works similarly to a service like Strava. Doing a hut trip with buddies in March? Chances are you’re spread out across the country, so sign up, compete with each other, heckle from a distance, keep in touch with your team as you prepare.

If you’re in reasonable shape or you’ve just completed a base and preparatory phase of your training, then rolling into intense, hour-long exercises from the ATC makes great sense. While you probably don’t have a professional coach available nearby, you certainly have a gym with some weights, a bit of space in which to work, and hopefully the psych to make it happen! Give TrainHeroic and the ATC a look if you’re in the market for some pain, suffering, and better skiing.

Step ups, while holding kettlebells, build strength and coordination. Great work for booting couloirs.

Step ups, while holding kettlebells, build strength and coordination. Great work for booting couloirs.

(WildSnow guest blogger, Rob Coppolillo, is a writer, an internationally certified mountain guide (finally!), and the co-founder of Vetta Mountain Guides, based in Boulder, Colorado.)


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22 Responses to “Pro Skimo Training. . .for the Masses”

  1. Dirk November 9th, 2015 10:20 am

    BTW here’s the link to the ATC plan if anyone is interested-

    I’ve been following the plan for a few months now and can’t wait to finally apply the new found strength to the snow soon!

  2. Skimo November 9th, 2015 12:31 pm

    Do you know of any training centers like this in the Seattle Area? I’ve looked around a bit , but found nothing. A ski specific workout program like this would be rad.


  3. Aaron November 9th, 2015 1:00 pm
  4. Lisa Dawson November 9th, 2015 1:37 pm

    Dirk, good to hear you like the program. I updated the post with the link.

  5. Lisa Dawson November 9th, 2015 1:39 pm

    Aaron, thanks for the additional resources!

  6. Arnie November 9th, 2015 2:37 pm

    Ahhh…my secret training made public!
    I did the Mountain Athlete Backcountry ski plan last year and was hooked!
    Seriously could barely walk after my first session, a complete wake up call. I suppose like many amateur athletes I’d fallen into the middle of the road training, hard sessions not hard enough, easy sessions not easy enough.
    I also did the skifit app, it’s not as hard but has lots of balance stuff, I felt it complemented the harder Mountain Athlete plan. This year the skifit app is available for phones and there’s an 8 minute version ( skifit8) which I’ve been tacking onto the end of my workout as a warmdown.
    There’s also, on the Mountain Athlete site an AMGA ski guide training program which has more cardio, 3 days in the gym,3 bike/hike/ski. I did the first three weeks before a hut to hut trip last year.
    This year I am far more organised! Have just completed Mountain base bravo (base training) and did my first day of dryland ski today. ( sport specific), will then go onto backcountry ski and theAMGA plan before next years hut to hut trip to the Grand Paradiso just after Easter. Oh and I’m saving the weissbier for high days and holidays.

  7. Rob Coppolillo November 9th, 2015 3:22 pm

    Great info, everybody. Dirko–indeed, Lisa repaired those links in the article, so they link to the page in your comments.

    Arnie–Gran Paradiso, hut to hut. A-ha, wonderful. I was up there in early September and man–that north face looks like a beautiful ski. I began scheming of a Cogne-based trip there. Let me know how it goes!

    I’ll check out everybody else’s links to training plans and Skimo–you could easily take the TrainHeroic/ATC info and incorporate it at your current gym…or I can ask around about Seattle options. Stay tuned.


  8. Aaron November 9th, 2015 3:59 pm

    Arnie, with Mountain Athlete do you get a subscription or the full program you bought? I’d like to recycle yr to yr.

    I’m interested in some of their ski related plans that do not require gym, but perhaps just a few accessories (sandbags, plyo box, dumbell/kettle bell).

    I agree on the Skifit: makes a good warmup, hotel routine, transition period or lighter recovery day and complements heavier routine pre/in season.

  9. Armie November 9th, 2015 4:14 pm

    I’ve just bought the plans, not the subscription, for that very reason.

  10. Dirk November 9th, 2015 4:19 pm

    Arnie- The Gran Paradiso was my biggest skimo day this year- Here’s some files to check out-
    8-mile uphill portion:
    10-mile downhill portion:

  11. Aaron November 9th, 2015 4:47 pm

    @Armie, thanks. One more question: I won’t have gym access but own or will buy basics such as dumbell/Kettle bell, plyo boxes etc. How adaptable did your plans seem to not having full gym gear?

  12. Rob Coppolillo November 9th, 2015 5:00 pm

    Hey Aaron–Not sure on Mountain Athlete, but the ATC/Train Heroic program deliberately leaves out some specialized gym gear, so you don’t have to buy it/be at a gym to take advantage…good luck!

  13. John November 9th, 2015 10:14 pm

    I’ve used Mt Athlete for several years (now called Strong Swift Durable). I HIGHLY recommend them. I move from their dryland ski training program (Sept- Nov 4-5x/wk) to their in-season ski maintenance program (Dec-Mar, 3x/wk) and then into one of their summer programs for overall strength to get ready for summer biking/backpacking. Looking for a backcountry ski-specific dryland program? They have it. If I get bored and need a quick refresh to my workouts I can switch to any other training program they offer- any one-at any time. You can buy a monthly access to any of their training programs (there are all types of training for all types of athletes/outdoors folks) or buy individual training programs. The individual programs will tell you what equipment you’ll need before you buy. Get ready for some pain…

  14. Armie November 10th, 2015 1:04 am

    The programmes that I’ve got do say you need a gym full of toys and that’s how I do them. However, you could easily get away with a lot less. There’s a huge exercise menu with videos, anything which needs a barbell (usually the most expensive bit of kit) can be subbed with dumbell , kettlebell or even a sandbag, which you can make yourself. (I use a drybag with- call me traditionalist -sand in it)You’d lose some ability to increase the weight and progress an exercise depending on the range of weights you bought. A sandbag with pre weighed filler in small bags that you could add into a bigger bag would do. One of Robs’ quotes in the blurb you get is
    “…you are not helpless, be resourceful..”
    I think my children are bored of hearing that one!

  15. Armie November 10th, 2015 1:11 am

    @Dirk and Rob
    Yes totally “stoked” to be going. I did a 3 day trip there last year based at the Benevolu hut
    (excellent coffe and cake..ummm). In the crowded alps the terrain just swallowed tourers and Italy is relatively inexpensive and they are very friendly.
    It’s just a long way off!

  16. Green November 10th, 2015 6:48 am

    This looks like a great program, thank you.

  17. Rob Coppolillo November 10th, 2015 8:31 am

    No surprise folks are seeing parallels between the ATC and MA. Connie trained with Rob up in Jackson before coming to Boulder and starting her ATC.

    @Armie–indeed, those Italian huts do spoil you with food! I was at Chabod (NW side of Gran Paradiso) this fall–real espresso in the morn–yes! I’ve not been to Benevolu yet…will check it out. I’d love to put together a tour that starts/ends in Cogne, with a couple days of ice climbing on the end–add in excessive eating and that’s an alpine triathlon! Ski, climb, eat…repeat.

    Just home from an ATC at 6 a.m. Ouch. It’s going to leave a mark!

  18. Fredrik November 11th, 2015 2:28 am


    Here are some videos and instructins for free 🙂

    Regards Fredrik

  19. Rob Coppolillo November 13th, 2015 9:25 pm

    Hey Skimo–

    OK, apologies for the delay, but got a name for you in the Seattle area: Joe Holmes, certified Gym Jones instructor…look him up if you’re into hitting his gym….

    Good luck….

  20. Rod May 8th, 2016 12:20 pm

    I mountain bike in the summer, some hiking and heavy weight training for my legs, mostly leg press and hamstring curls.

    In the winter i resort and bc ski.

    A lot of my bc skiing involved hiking a couloir to ski it.

    I noticed that in the beginning I felt that I almost did not have enough strength to step up, about 30 lbs on my back, skis and pack.

    After doing it for a couple of months, it got much easier.


    Is my weight training not specific enough?

    Or it’s the muscles learning how to be more efficient and balance better while bootpacking?

  21. Lou Dawson 2 May 8th, 2016 1:02 pm

    It’s really difficult to design weight training routine that is specific enough for steep snow climbing, but most helps if a least some thought is put into design. Try to visualize what you do on snow and match as close as possible in gym, only with low reps and added weight, while being careful of injury.

    Anyone else?


  22. Arnie May 8th, 2016 1:34 pm

    I suggest weighted step ups. I start at 500 and add 100 each week to 1000. Use your expected pack weight so 30lb. If thats too daunting start at a weight you feel comfortable with and work up to 30. Probably best not to increase weight and reps in the same session. Once I’ve hit 1000 I add boots(tofeet)and skis (to pack!). I used to do a session on a short hill near my house but found I got too much “rest” on the way down. I feel this is more specific.
    check out Rob Shauls Mountain Athlete site for videos.
    Good luck!

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