Winter is just around the corner and, like every year, I get many messages from my clients about what they should do to get ready for skiing. I have found that, over my 31 winter seasons of teaching skiing full time, the majority of people I ski with haven’t done any physical activities to prepare for their ski holiday.
I always find it interesting that people will spend hours a week in the gym perfecting their beach body for their summer holiday only to sit under an umbrella on the sand for 6 hours a day. You don’t need any fitness to do that, but when it comes to a physically active sport like skiing there is not much preparation.
There is no substitute to having a good personal trainer write you up a great program and going to the gym, but like most of my clients, finding the time to go is an issue and results in a lack of basic physical fitness for skiing.
I couldn’t recommend more for people to invest in a little time each day to go over a routine, starting six weeks out from their holiday. It can make all the difference in your skiing and your overall enjoyment out on the slopes.
To put it in perspective, I can remember my first season teaching skiing in Aspen (2006). I was out participating in a mountain orientation clinic and had just spent the last two months at sea level, busy with my off-season work at the time (house painting).
With this job I couldn’t find any time to get to the gym. On the mountain orientation clinic we were skiing up at 3000+ metres above sea level. My legs were on fire, my lungs couldn’t get enough air and my heart rate was bordering on heart attack levels after skiing a one mile long mogul run (having stopped multiple times, mind you). I felt like I was running on empty and skiing at 50% of my ability.
Until that one-off season I was usually in the gym, playing other sports and activities so I had never had these issues before. From that point on I had a huge appreciation for my guests and how they physically felt through their ski holiday.
Generally speaking, most of my guests want to ski all day, go to the bar for après-ski, then head off for dinner and maybe out to the club after that. For the majority of them, the reality is that their lack of fitness means that they finish skiing early, followed by a hasty dinner and an early night. Not exactly what they had in mind before their holiday.
In essence, they want to make the most of their ski vacation, but their fitness makes them fall short on their expectations/goals.
So what can you do?
Before I go into the exercises, I want to talk about the different facets and fitness required for skiing. Skiing is a dynamic sport with a huge range of movements. Also, most of these movements are very different from our normal day-to-day activities, which makes training for skiing a little trickier. Skiing is also unique in the fact that it involves very fast twitch actions – like a 100m sprint (moguls) – but requires the endurance of the 400m.
“Skiing is a dynamic sport with a huge range of movements. Also, most of these movements are very different from our normal day-to-day activities, which makes training for skiing a little trickier.”
I have found most people ski in bursts of 40–60 seconds, spending around three hours of actual time on snow (six hours minus lift rides, lunch, hot chocolate breaks etc).
Three hours is the length of an average marathon. So you can see how training for a sport that has huge variations depending on your ability can be tricky. But we can definitely improve our fitness to make skiing easier and more fun.
All these exercises are simple to do at home and are also a great way to track your progress. They can be timed and each session and improved upon.
I will recommend some basic numbers to try and achieve before the winter, but if you can, surpass these and see how far you can go. The exercises are in order of ability; the first few are easy and they become more advanced as the list progresses. Being able to do all of these will give you a good base fitness to enjoy your ski holiday.
These are a great easy way to increase your core strength. The core is extremely important in your skiing as it helps create a stable upper body and reduce the risk of injuring your back. Aim to get up to 2 minutes with this exercises starting off at your own range.
3 sets of 2 minutes
2. Wall sit
Walls sits are a great way to increase your leg strength and endurance at once. They are very simple but effective. Having good strong legs are key in great skiing and wall sits can be a really effective easy way to get your legs in shape. Aim for 2 minutes per wall sit.
3 sets of 2 minutes
3. Single leg RDL
Single leg Romanian dead lifts are great for strengthening your hamstrings and lower back and increasing your balance on a single leg. You can do these with no weights, or if they are too easy you can add weight. A good easy trick to adding weight is using milk bottles or larger water bottles. 1 litre = 1kg.
4 sets of 10 reps per leg
4. Single leg hip thrust
The single leg hip thrust is effective for engaging the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and quads. A deceivingly simple exercise with great benefits.
Aim for 3 sets of 20 reps per leg
5. Box jumps
Box jumps are a great way to add explosive power to your skiing. This exercise is more advanced and should be done within your personal jump height ability, with a safe secure platform to jump onto. Start off slowly to get the movements and timing down to land on the box/stairs/wall (anything that has a step up). The goal at the end is to jump up onto something and off of it as fast as you can for 30-40 seconds.
3 sets of 40 seconds
6. Pistol squat
Pistol squats require the most leg strength out of all of these exercises. Being able to achieve this is a great way to see how you can move your own body weight and is also great for body control. When we are skiing we are balancing from foot to foot. The leg has to support all of our weight so training for that is key.
4 sets of 10 per leg
This program could take up to 40 minutes depending on your rest time between sets. It should be done at least three times a week and started at least six weeks prior to skiing. If you are feeling good with this program, try adding a brisk walk (30 mins), hill climb (30 mins) or jog (30 mins) on alternate days.
Increasing your anaerobic and aerobic capacity is also important in skiing. Of course, there are much harder programs that will get you in even better shape but I think these six exercises will give you the minimum fitness to make your ski vacation easier and give you more time out on the slopes where you want to be.
I personally find these exercises to be of great benefit for my baseline fitness. I strongly recommend to consult your physician before starting any new program. Speaking to a professional that knows your physical fitness is the first thing to do before starting these exercises. Everyone has different levels of fitness and it is important to make sure you are ready and able to do this program.