The Best Ski Touring Version of Yourself — Fitness


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 14, 2016      

Paul Hamilton

Creating a strength and fitness foundation for a stellar ski winter begins in the off-season.

My off-season definition: the remaining days of a year that are unfortunately spent off the skis, where an unhealthy amount of potentially productive time is spent day-dreaming about accumulating snow and ripping skins and making those sweet S-turns which elicit oohs and ahhhs from our powder-caked throats as we descend what is sure to be a line worthy of a diary entry that night by the crackling fire-light.

So, let’s break down the off-season and pre-season techniques for developing strength and fitness that will allow you to drop the hammer, and drop your friends in the process.

A legitimate summer or fall strength training program is recommended, if not mandatory. For example, joining a gym like Ripple Effect Training out of Carbondale, CO.. The emphasis should be on creating a functional strength and mobility foundation that will keep you strong, supple and injury resistant. Working in a small group setting with a low instructor-to-student ratio helps with keeping you honest, consistent and accountable. Once or twice a week is all that is needed to elevate the strength levels to an all time high.

If joining a gym is out of the question, consider investing in a few pieces of equipment so you can get in your workout at home on your own time. I recommend a pull-up bar or climbing hang-board, a kettle bell or two (master the kettle bell swing and you will master life), gymnastic rings, and a slack-line (great for balance and developing those stabilizer muscles).

Work on the essential muscle groups, namely the core, hips and glute areas to build a strong foundation for all-day touring. Create a circuit of exercises that touch on the aforementioned muscle groups, something like a minute on, a minute rest, and cycle through the circuit two or three times for a proper burn and resultant adaptation.

Goblet squats are a fairly simple and straightforward exercise with benefits including increased hip mobilization, glute activation and learning to brace the core under load. Hold the kettlebell by the horns at chest height with legs a bit wider than shoulder-width, and drop the butt down as low as you can while keeping your chest up without rounding your back.

Goblet squats are a fairly simple and straightforward exercise with benefits including increased hip mobilization, glute activation and learning to brace the core under load. Hold the kettlebell by the horns at chest height with legs a bit wider than shoulder-width, and drop the butt down as low as you can while keeping your chest up without rounding your back.

The suitcase carry is a unilaterally loaded carry that is great for working the stabilizers in the core for athletes that change directions quickly. Hold the kettlebell at the side while pinching the shoulder blades together and bracing the core.

The suitcase carry is a unilaterally loaded carry that is great for working the stabilizers in the core for athletes that change directions quickly. Hold the kettlebell at the side while pinching the shoulder blades together and bracing the core.

Kettlebell swings, when properly executed, are one of the best exercises for building posterior chain strength and explosiveness. Pinch the shoulder blades together, brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and explode from the hips.

Kettlebell swings, when properly executed, are one of the best exercises for building posterior chain strength and explosiveness. Pinch the shoulder blades together, brace your core, squeeze your glutes, and explode from the hips.

This exercise is great for core stability and targets the glutes and hamstrings. Hold the kettlebell by the horns at chest height and step forward and drop the rear knee to the ground, making sure to pinch your shoulder blades together while bracing your core.

This exercise is perfect for core stability and targets the glutes and hamstrings. Hold the kettlebell by the horns at chest height and step forward and drop the rear knee to the ground, making sure to pinch your shoulder blades together while bracing your core.

Cardio should be developed in conjunction with strength. There are plenty of not-quite-as-fun-as-skiing activities to take up during the off-season for building that aerobic base. Trail-running, mountain or road biking, or my new personal favorite, bike-packing, are all wonderful options for creating a fitness foundation.

Bike packing is great for simulating multi-day ski tours and suffering. My boss Doug Stenclik prefers uphill pushing and just suffering.

Bike packing simulates multi-day ski tours and suffering. My boss Doug Stenclik prefers uphill pushing and just suffering.

Building an aerobic base begins with easy, slower efforts, with the goal being to keep the heart rate at a comfortable level. If you can’t hold a conversation while you’re getting after it, you are likely going too hard for much real benefit occur (indeed, this is one of the great mistakes of self coached training). The slow and steady methodology is essential in adapting your body to fat-burning, the essential prerequisite for all-day ski tours.

Other beneficial adaptations that occur during the base-building phase include increased stroke volume of your heart, and increased mitochondrial and capillary density. All just fancy words and phrases that can be summed up in a simple sentence: keep moving and playing in the mountains, no matter the season, the reason being to become a better, stronger version of yourself.

Find a steep pass, roller ski uphill and hitch hike back down. The nice thing about going uphill only is you can use your oldest toe piece, no matter the condition, and throw them on a the worst pair of roller skis.

Find a steep pass, roller ski uphill and hitch hike back down. The nice thing about going uphill only is you can use your oldest toe piece, no matter the condition, and throw them on a the worst pair of roller skis.

I work at Cripple Creek Backcountry in the WildSnow home town of Carbondale. At the shop we had the chance to sit down with uphill skiing training guru Joe Howdyshell. Check the Totally Deep Podcast we did with him, for a closer and perhaps irreverent look at pre-season training.

(WildSnow guest blogger Paul Hamilton is the nicest guys you’ll ever meet — and will transform you into a mound of snow caked quivering protoplasm if you want a race. He and his partner Paul Scott Simmons won the Grand Traverse, Colorado 2015. Last winter he and friends skied the Hardrock 100 mile race route. He can podium in nearly anything endurance related if he puts his mind and legs into it, but seems to be more interested in bicycle packing these days. That is, until winter hits. We should also mention that WildSnow.com recommends heavy logging work as core strengthening, and invite anyone who needs a workout to show up for some round tossing at WildSnow Field HQ over coming weeks. More, if you’re a local don’t forgot Cripple Creek’s season opener party tomorrow, Saturday October 15 at their Carbondale shop, FREE BBQ. This post is sponsored content, done in partnership with Cripple Creek. We’re experimenting with this instead of banner advertising. Should be interesting. Ever onward!)



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Comments

24 Responses to “The Best Ski Touring Version of Yourself — Fitness”

  1. Matt Kinney October 14th, 2016 10:16 am

    Been at it since August 1st. Jump rope is the ticket for those to us who can’t run and need some solid cardio. Been doing this three-four times a week and of course waiting for snow to prove the results! Not sure twice a week is good enough.

    Dirtbag routine for tele markers, but works for anything.

    http://thompsonpass.com/chugachfit-v-7/

  2. Andy Carey October 14th, 2016 9:05 pm

    The best 15-minutes one can use for conditioning and as prep for other workouts or the days bc endeavors that I’ve found was put on utube by Twin Cities Orthopedics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZolGpjfjIc

  3. Owen October 15th, 2016 12:14 am

    The best b.c. skiing workout I’ve experienced is trail running with big vertical, both up and down. I also cycle during the summer, both road and mountain, and it’s great for building endurance, but cycling fails to build the quadricep strength required for skiing. So, by September, I transition from cycling to mostly trail running.
    I keep hearing that running downhill is terrible for the knees but that has not been my experience. I’m 54 and I’ve run trails consistently for about 30 years and, so far, my knees are as pain free as when I was in my 20s. Perhaps this is due to favorable genetics but I’m also convinced it’s due to consistent use, a case of “use it or lose it.” My 50-ish friends who have not worked out consistently (3-5 times per week) over the years are now suffering significant knee issues. Plus running mountain trails keeps your head in the game even when it’s dirt, because running down hill over rough terrain is strangely similar to skiing. It sharpens speed and reaction times in changing terrain and refines your balancing skills (like a major tuneup of your internal gimble and gyroscope), benefits not as readily developed in a gym.

  4. Rich October 15th, 2016 2:18 am

    Hi
    I’ve been using the Mountain Athlete subscription program for a few years now. It’s superb and can strongly recommend it. They offer for ongoing prep, season maintenance subscriptions or goal specific programs .
    It’s hard work but the benefits are huge.
    Rich

  5. Jim Milstein October 15th, 2016 8:44 pm

    During my exile in Boston, I found inline skating effective. Especially good is skating parallely. That is, no alternating strokes.

    On trips to Colorado to ski in the backcountry I was ready except for altitude accommodation.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 October 16th, 2016 5:44 am

    Hi Jim, I’m a huge believer in inline skating as ski training. Only problem I found with it over the years is the chance of injury is pretty high unless you’re careful about where you skate, and wear protective gear. Crashing on skates tends to have consequences that can wreck a ski season. I’m finding a combination of swimming and hiking, along with autumn logging projects, is training me up quite well. The logging is like the skating, however, I find I have to be super careful or I start accumulating injuries, even got a badly sprained finger a few years ago that took forever to heal, and one has to watch the ergonomics or a back injury can be on the list as well. Yeah, the finger sprain sounds trivial, but it wasn’t. For a while it was even tough to keyboard. Lou

  7. Lou Dawson 2 October 16th, 2016 5:58 am

    Owen, I’d agree that mountain running is one of the best — if you’ve got the genetics and body type to do it over the years. Believe me, genetics does play a role, and some folks simply do not have the appropriate body type. It’s wonderful your knees have held up, be very thankful. Ankles, as well.

    I’d offer a thought to follow yours, that the best training is that which does not cause or exacerbate any sort of injury, chronic or otherwise. If self coached, that adage might require some self discipline, but adhere to it and you’ll get much better results than if you’re beating yourself into the ground doing sports that break your body down instead of building it up. One of the big ones with this, as Paul mentions in his post, is that of doing cardio at too high a heart rate. That is so so important and so ignored. If you push hard enough and do so for enough years, you can permanently damage your heart, IMHO, just like knees or whatever. And a heart replacement is a bit more problematic than a knee replacement.

  8. frisco October 16th, 2016 6:58 am

    I imagine that there is a big difference in the fitness program needed to compete in the Grand Traverse, compared to the requirements for just doing an occasional casual tour.

    I fall in the latter category. I just walk my dog every morning and eat sensibly. That does it for me. I dont mean to contradict the authors, but what is suggested here (weights, grueling uphills) is just not necessary for a lot of people.

  9. Lou Dawson 2 October 16th, 2016 7:19 am

    Frisco, point taken. I think what Paul has in mind is talking about what it takes to reach for your full physical potential, which can be a rewarding path for many folks, though as you point out not for everyone. One thing nice about ski touring on modern gear is it indeed does not require one to be a superhero so long as the goals are reasonable. I love the way the sport works for so many fitness levels and types of people, wonderful. Lou

  10. See October 16th, 2016 9:37 am

    I’ve done quite a bit of inline skating. As well as being good exercise, I found that descending mimics actual skiing pretty well. But maybe the greatest benefit is that it’s challenging and fun. Sticking to an exercise program is way easier when you look forward to your workouts. Sadly, I found the shock and vibration to be too hard on my legs, even with super soft wheels. People complain about carbon skis… that’s nothing compared to skates on city pavement. I guess I could have found some nice smooth bike path or something to do laps, but I couldn’t accept such a big compromise in the fun factor.

    Lou, if you could elaborate on what makes you believe that prolonged, intense effort damages the heart, I’d be really interested. As I get older, I definitely have dialed back the intensity, but I’ve long believed that you get more bang for your buck with a higher intensity work out. (Of course, a well designed program will involve a variety of different activities and intensity levels.)

  11. See October 16th, 2016 11:41 am

    Lou re. intensity: I’m aware of some research that suggests that people engaged in truly extreme training (such as may be required to be competitive in ultra type events) may not be doing their hearts any favors. But, (assuming an “aerobic base” has been built), I think it’s valueable to include some high intensity efforts, if for no other reason than that sometimes bc skiing involves high intensity efforts. I guess what I’m asking is, what level of intensity do you believe to be harmful. What sort of training “can permanently damage your heart?”

  12. Tim October 16th, 2016 12:21 pm

    Inline skating for skiing:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct13ag3_kHc

  13. Armie October 16th, 2016 1:54 pm

    Ahh Autumn..time for pre season fitness posts on wildsnow..my palms are itching ..are yours?
    Ultimately the up is a cardiovascular sport…do some cardio. The down? power/ strength endurance, with a dynamic balance component..do some of that too. Make it as specific as you can ..of want.
    I’m on my third year of fairly focussed work…I use Rob Shaul’s Mountain Athlete stuff for strength /power and general fitness. The subscription gives you access to daily sessions and a myriad of sport specific stuff or you can buy individual programmmes that fit your requirements …that’s what I do. It’s “intense” stuff, be warned take it easy… you will be rewarded! I’m currently doing “mountain base bravo” I’ll then do “dryland ski” up to christmas, then “back country ski” after that, then as many weeks of the “Amga ski guide” as fit with my schdule. In a normal year/season I ski at a resort at Christmas with my family, an off piste weekend with my mates in January, family at February half term (maybe couple of half days off piste) then a weeks touring March/April. So from a training point of view fairly discrete objectives ..resort (power/strength) to increasing bc ( cardio requirements) so that’s how I organise it. I have definitely seen an improvement in “fitness” but also my skiing “technique” as well. I can only put that down to being fitter! What I have done in previous years and I have, at least in the planning stage “formalised” is each Wednesday as a “skill” day when I do a complimentary activity such as roller skiing, inline’ing, trikke’ing (the push phase of the trikke motion directly mimics skiing ..imho) at least while the weather’s ok once I’m confined to the gym it’s “skifit” which is billed as a workout for skiers ..compared to mountain athlete it’s not.. I use skifit8 as a warm up…however it has a massive balance component..which is challenging and it’s worth it for that. As spring approaches it’s outside with “hika runs” I got that from “the manual of ski mountaineering” and I structure my training around their 2-1-3-1 week ( 2 work 1 rest 3 work 1 rest).
    I ‘m approaching my 50th and my wife got me Joe Friel’s “Fast after 50” book he recommends more interval work both short ( vo2max) and longer (lactate threshold) so I’m experimenting with that so currently a training week looks like this…
    mon strength session
    tues short intervals (cross trainer or nordic track)
    wed skill
    thurs work capacity
    fri strength
    sat 30-60 min cardio with 3x(5-8) min intervals (nordic track)

    Ultimately get out and do something! Winter IS coming!

  14. Lou Dawson 2 October 16th, 2016 5:20 pm

    Respect. Lou

  15. See October 16th, 2016 5:33 pm

    To partly answer my own question: http://velonews.competitor.com/cycling-extremes

  16. Armie October 17th, 2016 1:01 am

    Thanks Lou. my respect goes really to inspirational people who do great things …like maybe skiing Denali in their 50’s, making me think, if I keep at it maybe I’ll make it one day!

    @See pro racers, especially cyclists have always done absolutely massive amounts of volume and intensity.
    It mentions it in the article but imo underplays it, this will ruthlessly expose any genetic predisposition to “damage”.
    I’m not sure this translates to recreational “athletes” let alone the population at large who let’s face it are probably damaging their hearts through extreme inactivity!

  17. Lou Dawson 2 October 17th, 2016 6:52 am

    Awww, thanks Armie. It’s been an amazing life in a well used body.

    Your program indeed sounds good.

    As most of you guys can assume from my years of various mountain sports, I’m no stranger to the science of athletic training and I’ve done quite a few super effective programs over the years. My Denali program was pretty good (combo of strength and cardio), failing was the long road trip we did up there, and resulting fast atrophy of the strength training results. Maintaining the cardio wasn’t that tough, just the days of skiing we did do on the way up there, as well as taking walks during stop-overs. I just didn’t have the self discipline to do strength training while on road.

    Lou

  18. Nick October 17th, 2016 6:58 am

    Would encourage all of you to read Steve House’s “Training for the New Alpinism” if you have not yet. This is good advice for all “uphill athlete’s” not just alpine climbers. It completely opened my eyes to the notion of “building an aerobic base” and how to do that effectively. To quote Mark Twight, “there is no such thing as a shortcut or a free lunch, and no way to evade hard, intelligent work.” Point being, that building a base takes many, many seasons and it is important that those workouts are in the Zone 1&2 range (with some timely Zone 3+ workouts as well for power, etc).

  19. Trent October 17th, 2016 7:13 am

    Nick, ditto. Fantastic read which will make many of us tinker with our routines to see significant increases in endurance and power. I have been over-training for 20 years and always thinking, “I’m not doing enough.” The answer is lots of activity but at proscribed efforts. There’s no way to train harder in less time and build endurance for ski touring.
    Very clear and simple instructions on how to stay active, recover meaningfully, and build to goals.
    Anybody recommend a watch with heart rate monitor? Looking at Suunto Ambit 3 but hoping to avoid that price tag.

  20. Lou Dawson 2 October 17th, 2016 8:19 am

    Steve’s book is indeed terrific, and the heart rate monitor can change your life.

    Check out our review of the book:

    https://www.wildsnow.com/15227/training-new-alpinism-book-review/

    Lou

  21. Nick October 17th, 2016 1:40 pm

    Trent – check out these reviews by Jed Porter on OutdoorGearLab.com:

    http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Gps-Watch-Reviews
    http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Fitness-Tracker-Reviews

  22. Travis October 21st, 2016 10:58 am

    Trent, there are a lot of watches that can be paired with a chest strap heart rate monitor. For instance, the Suunto Ambit 3 Run is a great option on sale for $289 with chest strap. You loose some battery life and am not sure if it has a barometer for altitude tracking, but from a fitness perspective it is great.

  23. Smooth_operator October 23rd, 2016 1:37 pm

    It is beyond me what hangboarding could possibly do for your skiing. Probably as much as skiing does for your climbing.
    Other than that, good tips.

  24. Armie November 2nd, 2016 5:56 am

    If any of you are tempted by the “Mountain Athlete”
    Stuff they have released a “30min Drylandski”so a “lite” version of the full programme.
    http://mtntactical.com/shop/30-minutes-per-day-dryland-ski-training-plan/
    That would take care of your “sport specific” leg strength just add your cardio of choice!





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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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