Skiing Cross Training for Alpine Climbing

Could skiing cross training be the best for alpine climbing? It has a lot in common.

  • You’re out in the cold and snow
  • You’re wearing stiff clunky plastic boots
  • You’re wearing a helmet and goggles
  • You’re trying to stay in control on slippery stuff
  • You have to dig through a lot of layers to use the facilities

But aside from that I think skiing cross training is optimum because it’s really a great quad workout. I haven’t been doing a lot of skiing since I was in my early 20’s. It didn’t really fit in with building a family and career. When I married my wife in 2005 I began skiing again off and on. It was pretty frustrating because ski technology changed drastically in the intervening 20 years. Snowboarding took off hugely, which changed the character of the snow you typically ski on. Anyone my age who is suddenly dropped into a ski run shared with snowboarders will confirm this sad truth.

This past year I had the opportunity to get a family ski pass, so have taken my kids out several times to teach them how to ski and enjoy the great terrain at Keystone Resort. It’s been a blast, to say the least. My boots don’t fit right anymore. I got them when I was much heavier, at over 230 pounds. My feet changed a lot over the past several years of running and training and just getting older. I can make them work for now though until I can get around to deciding if I’ll be doing enough skiing cross training to justify the expense.

This past week we had nearly three feet of fresh powder snow to play in. The kids loved it, and fell a lot trying to figure out the new surface area. Here’s a video of our powder day out on Thursday:

Now on to the serious skiing cross training.

Skiing Cross Training Suggestions

Skiing cross training can be best utilized by realizing the combinations of strength and movement in the angles best suited to developing the same types of strength that you would use in climbing. You use your quads a lot in skiing. You also use your core and glutes, and in my case anyway, the IT Band gets a great deal of work. You use your poles much the same as trekking poles.

  • Emphasize your concentration on the up-down movement with your knees and hips.
  • Concentrate on your knees coming under your center of gravity.
  • Reach for your pole placement and try to see both poles at all times.
  • Skate as much as you can with proper Nordic Pole action, on the flats and on uphills.
  • Try to feel “rest” as you straighten your legs and flex your feet to relax them in your boots.
  • Static positions under high pressure, like in a GS style turn, are realistic for alpine climbing. I heard this great suggestion from Steve House

I use my Suunto Ambit2 S Heart Rate Monitor/GPS Watch. I won it in an Instagram contest last Spring. It has an Alpine Skiing setting that displays vertical feet, average speeds and heart rates. I think it’s an excellent choice for skiing cross training if you want to take it seriously.

Skiing Cross Training Data: quick stats overview
Skiing Cross Training Data: quick stats overview

Notice in the above photo that I’ve gone over 8000′ of vertical and consumed nearly 1000 calories in that skiing cross training session. It suggests that I need 14 hours to recover from that workout. The next photo shows a graph of heart rate and altitude. You can see when I’m in the lift lines and when I pause along the routes to catch my breath.

Skiing Cross Training Graph: Heart Rate and Altitude
Skiing Cross Training Graph: Heart Rate and Altitude

This next screenshot shows the map of the route I took for these four runs for my skiing cross training session earlier today. It was a busy Saturday skiing with our recent snowfall, but the runs weren’t so busy that any of us felt crowded. I suppose that’s because Keystone is such a big resort.

GPS Map of my Skiing Cross Training route
GPS Map of my Skiing Cross Training route

Those are a few of the key points I use for my own skiing cross training with an emphasis on alpine and ice climbing. If you’re skiing this year, let me know what you do to keep in your best shape for your own climbing.