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How to Train for Backcountry Skiing and Riding

Harnessing the power of your body's aerobic and anaerobic engines

When you break it down, backcountry skiing is two different sports: uphill touring and downhill shredding. Whether you’re a snowboarder or a skier, you can improve your uphill endurance and hone your downhill agility by training specifically for each.

On the way up we are endurance athletes. Climbing requires repeating the same movement hundreds of times over. The key is to move slowly and steadily without changing direction. We can improve our touring by training better movement and building a stronger aerobic engine.

On the way down we tap into our anaerobic power stores. Forget efficiency! Riding rugged terrain and shredding pow is all about athleticism and movement creativity. This gravity dance requires constant direction changes, explosive movements and quick reaction times.

how to improve your uphill touring
Photo Credit: Ken Etzel

Training Tips for Building Aerobic Capacity

  1. Nothing you do will have more effect on your uphill performance than the sheer size of your aerobic engine. The biggest mistake athletes make is training too hard, too fast. If you want to crush big lines, you have to embrace going slow, going long and going steady. Four endurance sessions per week is a good starting place while elite athletes may do twice that many.
  2. Locomotion training is key. While the touring movement is simple, there is a world of difference between the novice stomping their way up the hill and the big mountain sensei gliding up the skin track. Until you’re maximizing your movement efficiency, no amount of aerobic endurance will allow you to experience peak performance. Locomotion training improves how you pattern movement while refining left/right side coordination and reciprocity.
  3. Strength is your friend. The stronger you are, the less percentage of your muscles’ maximum capacity you have to use to make each step. The further away you are from utilizing maximum force, the easier repeating each move will feel. Beyond the muscle component, improving your strength contributes to tendon and fascia-system changes that make you far less susceptible to injury. So skip the high rep, sweat-fest that you see most athletes doing. Strength training isn’t supposed to make you tired–it’s supposed to make you strong! Think: low reps, high load, long rests.
building aerobic capacity
Photo Credit: Ken Etzel

Training Tips for Building Strength and Power

  1. Tissue capacity comes first. Before we get springy and agile, we want bomber joints, healthy tendons and strong bones. Slow, loaded isometric training is key. Aim for static holds at near max efforts that last 30 seconds.
  2. Turning–aka changing directions–is essential in agility sports like skiing and riding. Training can improve your ability to make snappy turns in response to terrain changes. While training, aim to maintain low ground contact times and slowly build towards higher forces as your efficiency improves.
  3. Coordination is crucial. Think of coordination like programming on a computer. Once the formula is in place, the problem becomes easy. Coordination is how you program movement and you need to spend time building up your repertoire of movements. To train coordination, forget the two-dimensional repetitive movements found in traditional strength training. Athleticism doesn’t happen with two feet planted flat on the ground. Instead of deadlifts and back squats, integrate movements that reflect the natural patterns of human locomotion. Opt for single leg work with reciprocal arm movements. Lateral and for-aft bounding exercises are a few good examples.
how to generate explosive power
Photo Credit: Ken Etzel

Train for Backcountry Skiing with a 12-Week Training Plan

If you’re ready to begin a guided journey that will transform the way you move in the mountains, check out the Big Mountain Training Plan. Expect a structured training approach with daily instructions and a 12-week plan.

If you want a more flexible approach to training–and the ultimate in-season training partner–check out the Big Mountain Workout Program, a ‘press play and follow along’ series of workouts. We time the rests, give you directions, and keep you motivated to get the most out of your session.

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email us here: wizard@samsaraexperience.com

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