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.
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.
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.”
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.
(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.)