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Balancing Alpine Skiing with Other Endurance Sports

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

Christine Wells, a 17x marathoner, including five Boston Marathons and one post-baby marathon, only took up skiing seriously in her early-30s. When she moved to Park City, UT in 2017, incorporating skiing into her fitness routine became critical.

For multi-sport athletes, even recreational ones, downhill skiing may not seem like it’s worth the risk or the hassle. Accidents can happen to even the most seasoned skiers and the thought of being sidelined from weekly pickup basketball or from that long-anticipated half marathon due to a skiing mishap is enough to make some, especially those newer to skiing, steer clear of the slopes. While no one can guarantee your ski trip will be fall-free, we share our seven top tips to balance skiing with your other athletic pursuits.

1. Good news, skiing can be part of your workout routine.  As a distance runner who keeps careful track of my runs and weekly mileage, I know it can be difficult to adjust your regular workout routine. Overtraining is a surefire way to get injured. When you’re on your ski vacation, give your other workout plans a rest. You’ll be less behind than you think after skiing for several days. This means, don’t stress about how you’re going to fit your normal workout schedule into your vacation!  Why? Skiing is dependent on sustained leg and glute strength, which translates well to other sports. Further, the upside to training at altitude is real! Runners World reported “Training at altitude--that is, between 6,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level--is like legal doping.” At altitude, your body has to work harder to extract oxygen from the air. As your body adapts to the change, it will become more efficient, meaning when you get back down to sea level after a few days at altitude, you’ll feel the difference. P.S. Don’t try to squeeze a morning speedwork session in before hitting the slopes you’ll feel the payoff from your choice soon enough...when your legs don’t give out on your second burner of the day!

2. Know your limits. This is everything from skipping that last chair when tired to avoiding terrain outside your comfort zone. After a full day of amazing skiing, it can be tempting to grab that last chair.  Despite that temptation, if you’re spent, it’s always better to save it for another day.   This also applies to pushing yourself. As a late learner, who is often pushed to try slopes I would otherwise avoid by my better half, it can be incredibly valuable to ski with people who are more advanced than you. That being said, it’s important to know when a challenge is outside your comfort zone, but doable, versus outside the realm of possibility given your current skill-set. It’s ok to tell your crew that you’re taking the blue groomer down and you’ll meet them at the lift no one is keeping score!

3. For the ultimate cardio challenge, try uphilling. Uphilling is a creative way to ensure your aerobic capacity stays strong. Uphill skiing, or “skinning,” involves climbing up a slope, rather than taking a lift, before skiing down. While touring skis with special bindings and adhesives for skinning are convenient, you don’t need a special setup to get involved. You can hike in your ski boots with your skis over your shoulder. Start with a blue rated run and see how fast your heart rate spikes! Make sure to first check the uphilling policy at your resort, and remember that at altitude you’ll get even more bang-for-your-buck, workout wise. Aspen makes it easy if you are new to uphilling with many options and easier access to rental touring sets (Snowmass permits uphilling all day, seven-days a week). 

4. Indulge in the recovery.  There’s nothing I like better than skiing until the last lift closes, but if you’re feeling sore from 6 straight hours the day before, don’t be shy about taking a half day and getting some necessary R&R. Mountain towns know that after a tough day on the slopes, a hot tub and beer are in order.   Feeling tight muscles? Consider a yoga class or even hitting the spa. Resorts increasingly have yoga studios, spas and some, like Steamboat, even have natural hot springs. Downtown Park City, Stowe, and Vail are also great examples of towns that offer plenty to do in your down-time from the slopes, from wandering the art galleries to sampling artisan coffee or local beer.

5. Embrace tech to maximize your workout. Curious about your heart-rate or other fitness stats during your ski trip? For the data-obsessed athlete, we have a few favorites that are sure to keep track of your time and effort on the mountain: -The Garmin Forerunner 645 can record all the details of your skiing based on movement and will automatically pause when you’re on a chairlift or take a break. This watch is an easy way to keep track of time on the mountain, distance traveled, maximum speed, average speed, and total descent including a visual record in the form of a map of your day. It also seamlessly sinks with Strava, the leading social network for athletes, so you can share (and inspire) your friends and followers all winter. -The Apple Watch (Series 3) has built in GPS and an altimeter. It can track your alpine workout, recording altitude, calories burned, speed, and location. The Apple Watch is compatible with several ski and snowboarding focused apps. -For a low-tech option (more my speed), the IKON and Epic passes have user-friendly, mobile apps — Ikon Pass App and EpicMix — that allow you to track your lift rides and vertical feet when used at an affiliated resort. With relative accuracy, you can view how many lifts and runs you conquered, as well as your maximum speed, vertical feet, number of miles, and time on the mountain. These apps aggregate data for the season, which can be a fun way to relive your experience during the summer months. -The Slopes App is available on the iPhone, Apple Watch and Android. This app also captures stats such as speed, distance covered and allows users to overlay pictures taken while skiing into the map view. Download the app for free, or for $19.99 receive access to a premium version that includes interactive replays, live stats and daily timelines. This app is also Strava compatible.

6. Incorporate some ski-specific exercises into your regular routine.  I’m a big fan of yoga as a strength-builder, but it can also prepare you for your ski trip. Squats, wall sits, and lunges (with or without weights) all will help you build crucial strength in your leg muscles. These exercises also have great synergies with other sports. A little bit of preparation for your body can go a long way towards helping you finish those burners strong. 

7. Post trip, there is no shame in easing back may even pay off. Having learned this the hard way, the first day back from your ski trip is not the moment to attempt to make up for perceived lost time in your training plan. Ramp up slowly over the course of your first week back, getting into the rhythm of your routine steadily, but without trying to cram too much in too soon. You may be eager to tack on doubles or pick up right where you left off, but remember that you just built strength and endurance through several days of skiing and that advantage will carry through to your traditional workouts. Take a week to gradually transition back to your old routine, adding intensity and duration as you go. I promise, you will emerge from ski season stronger than before and ready to tackle your Spring fitness goals. (For me, its that next marathon!)


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