Ski Touring Training Advice

Ski Trip Training Advice

It goes without saying that arriving fit and well is important if you want to get the most out of your ski holiday – and is essential for succeeding on many of our harder ski tours and expeditions.

The 5 fitness levels we use (detailed on each course page and also here) are designed to give you an idea of how active you need to be during the 2-3 months prior to your ski trip, in order to be well prepared. You don’t need to be an athlete, but you do need to be active and healthy (for our harder trips, some regular training will be necessary).

Checking Your Fitness

To check out how mountain fit you are, we suggest you get away for a weekend early in this period and do a couple of long mountain days to see how you get on. Apart from being the ideal excuse to go and have some fun, it should help with your preparation and give you a good idea how much work you may still need to do.

If you want some professional help to assess your strength and fitness levels and plan a suitable personalized training program, then we’d advise getting in touch with Graeme Woodward and the team at Optimize Fitness, who are experts in this field and work with ski tourers, as well as a range of athletes in mountain running, cycling and numerous team sports.  Graeme is a great communicator and super knowledgeable guy who works with people at all levels of sport, so if you are  bit daunted by the prospect of getting fit for your upcoming trip, then we’d thoroughly recommend you get in contact with him for a chat!

Power to Weight Ratio

Ski touring is a sport for everyone – big, small, young  and old! – but clearly, as it involves going uphill for several hours a day, your body weight has a big effect on the amount of effort it takes to get to the top each day.  Although the majority of us aren’t blessed with a body shape of a superlight mountain runner (including most of our guides!) – the closer we can get to this ideal the better.    Therefore, if you are carrying a few extra pounds, then losing as much of this as possible in the run up to your trip will have the biggest single effect on how much you enjoy the ascents.

NB With good technique, it’s possible to continue skiing well off piste whilst being somewhat overweight – but as soon as you point the skis uphill, this no longer applies…

If you are new to ski touring, then we cannot emphasize enough the importance of not being significantly overweight: if you are a stone overweight (7-8kg/15lb) , then you will find the trip a lot harder and if you don’t have a solid background in endurance sports, you are likely to struggle.  In our experience, if you are more than 12kg/25lb overweight, you may manage some steady day touring, especially if lift assisted, but you stand almost no chance of completing a big multiday ski tour like the Haute Route.  So if  you know you need to lose a bit of weight, then start right away and you’ll reap the rewards!

 Which Type Of Exercise?

The base preparation for mountain sports always involves good amounts of cardiovascular exercise (hillwalking, running, cycling, mountain biking etc) and getting out for long days in the hills whenever possible. We’ve noticed that people who always train indoors are never as mountain fit as those who regularly get their boots or trainers muddy. So unfortunately it seems that running on a treadmill just isn’t as good for you as doing the real thing – ie to get hill fit, get outdoors as much as you can.

As you are training for an endurance sport, at least one of your sessions each week needs to be long – ie working hard for 2hrs duration or more – in order to build up the stamina that you will need.  The longer you can make this session the better (eg 3-4hrs on a bike, rather than just a 90 minute ride).

Having done a lot of training over the years preparing for ski seasons, we’ve found that mountain walking, running and cycling are all good ways of getting fit. In terms of ‘bang for your buck’ – cycling especially gives you a good cardiovascular workout and good thigh strength beneficial for ski touring. Mountain biking  is probably best, as the climbs are steeper and it’s a dynamic balance sport on the descents – just like skiing. However, any form of cardiovascular exercise is beneficial, especially if it involves going uphill!

Cardiovascular team sports (eg football, rugby, hockey etc) and racket sports (eg squash) are also good forms of training, so long as you play hard. These have the advantage that you usually have a regular slot for doing them, so it tends to actually happen…

Strength and Flexibility Training

Assuming you have a good base level of cardiovascular fitness, then the best way of preparing for the season, to improve your ski performance and reduce the risk of injury is by adopting a program of ski specific strength, power and flexibility training (however, you must do the right kind of exercises – eg research has shown that standard leg presses on a gym machine don’t help much at all for instance, as you need to be training for strength as your muscles lengthen, not contract – which is totally the opposite of how most gym machines work!)

If you want to find a suitable range of exercises to do, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • If you want a detailed fitness assessment and personalized training program, contact Graeme Woodward at Optimize Fitness.
  • For a program of ski specific training and maintenance exercises, the Skifit coaching program is available to stream on Vimeo. A number of our Guides use and recommend this – for just over £40 you get access to four, one hour long coaching programs, plus several other technique videos for individual exercises.

You may not have time to follow all of the programs above, but if you can incorporate as many of the flexibility, strength and stabilization exercises described into your weekly routine, then this will help your preparation greatly.   Obviously, getting out and doing some skiing and skinning early in the season too would also be ideal!

Finding Time To Train

Ok – so you’ve decided you need to get fit for the trip. The first thing to do is take a look at the required fitness levels for your chosen holiday – this will give you a guideline as to the amount of weekly cardiovascular  or ski specific exercise you should be doing during the 2-3 months leading up to your trip.

Once you’ve got this, take a look at your weekly routine and look for places where you may be able to find the time to train. Running or cycling to work a couple of times a week, training on a lunchtime etc are all places where you may be able to fit a good exercise session in without affecting other commitments.  Likewise, ski specific exercises can be incorporated into a regular gym visit, or most of the ones described by Ortovox can easily be done at home in your living room and on the bottom step of your stairs!

The best way to keep it up is to organise a regular group of friends to do sport with each week, or join a club in order to train with other people. That way you’ll have a commitment to turn out each week, as well as enjoying the social aspects of sport as well.

You may find that using a training plan will help to keep on track, or if you need some help with planning and organizing your training then get in touch with Optimize Fitness as mentioned above.

Finally – if you are into new sports, then anything with the word ‘Nordic’ in it is going to be very good for you in developing ski touring fitness – eg Nordic Walking, Rollerskiing, Nordic skating etc – but you’ll have to get very used to being stared at in the park…