how to get ski fit
IN ORDER TO THRIVE ON SKIS, it’s all about the delicate balance between what the mountain provides and the way in which we as skiers and snowboarders interpret it. The mountain is like a blank canvas—how you ski it is an expression of who you are. When one person sees the possibility of laying perfectly round turns all the way down an open bowl, another might sniff out a couple of cliff drops and GS turn their way down. One of the best feelings in skiing is when your legs are firing like pistons. Confidence in your body allows you to carve, slash, and ride your way down the mountain. But your ability to ski the way you want relies on the physical shape that you’re in. This article will provide you with a more holistic approach toward getting in ski shape (as opposed to suggesting you go buy a gym membership), and we’ve tapped a couple world-class ski athletes, Luke Smithwick and Vivian Bruchez, to offer their own advice on how to get yourself into ski shape, increase your fitness, and prep your mind. Follow this advice and you’ll have a long, strong, and fulfilling season.
There are a multitude of reasons for training for skiing. Some people do it to make sure they are ready to ski hard by day one of the ski season. Others do it as a means of pre-hab, or a conscious effort to prevent injury or protect a past injury. Still others are training with a specific ski objective in mind. Somebody who plans on scrambling to ski a line might need to focus more on technical knowledge and prepping their mind, while another person might want to maximize their annual vert, so they need good fitness and cardio health. At the end of the day, training should be done to best set yourself up for success when you ski, whatever that means for you.
Most sports have very specific movements that can be replicated in the weight room. Skiing, though, requires both strength and balance, and it is a dynamic sport that involves your leg muscles, core, and upper body, as well as major joints like your knees, hips, and ankles. This makes it difficult to create a specific workout routine or list of exercises to follow. But with the right mindset and approach, you can get in shape doing activities outside, all without having to commit yourself to the solitary confinements of a gym.

We can all probably agree that most people who like to spend their time outside loathe the idea of being cooped up inside just to work out. Nor do most people who love the outdoors want to go outside and train for the sake of training, especially when they could just be doing their favorite activities instead. For Smithwick, an important factor in his training equation is having a set goal. These typically involve big, exposed ski mountaineering lines in Nepal or India. But having a goal—and it’s not ever guaranteed that he will achieve that goal—is the flame that ignites his fire.

Bruchez takes the opposite approach. He used to have big, pie-in-the-sky goals like Smithwick, but he found that he became less flexible about things and borderline-obsessed. This mindset would close him off to other experiences and opportunities. The older he’s gotten, the more he’s adopted a “be present” approach by listening to his mind and body. What does his mind need? Maybe it’s to see a warm and meditative morning sunrise from a nearby peak. Or maybe he needs to go rock climbing to prep and prime his headspace for upcoming winter ski mountaineering objectives. You might find yourself somewhere in the middle of these two approaches to goal-setting. Regardless of whatever it is that motivates you to get out the front door and train, keep it in the back of your mind. For you, this could be to ski 100 days. Or maybe it’s to rip a big line that you’ve been scoping for a few years. Or maybe it’s to try backcountry skiing for the first time.
As previously mentioned, this article won’t provide you with a specific workout routine, but that doesn’t mean building strength isn’t important for high-level performance. Because of the complexities of skiing, we need to take a more thoughtful approach to how we get into skiing shape. This differs from conventional “training,” though. As a result, many skiers will cross-train to prepare for the season, like road/mountain biking, trail/road running, hiking, rock climbing, swimming, plyometrics, yoga, and weightlifting. The combination of different activities ensures that you’re working different parts of the body, which will improve your balance and build strength throughout your entire body. Cross-training prepares you for the sudden turn that you didn’t expect to have to take. It conditions your legs for the uphill and strengthens them for the downhill, which are two wildly different types of movement. Participating in a variety of sports and physical activities is the key for a sport that requires every part of your body. You can also find ski training resources online from reputable sources that will tell you what exercises are most appropriate for skiers.

A strong and healthy heart makes uphill climbing and downhill riding much more fun and friendly. This means that we need to do aerobic training. The word “aerobic” means “relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen.” Aerobic training, or cardio, is any sort of activity that requires increased oxygen to perform it. Most of the cross-training methods listed above vary in aerobic intensity. Weightlifting, for example, is much less aerobic than, say, trail running. They each offer a much different increase in heart rate, and to prepare ourselves aerobically, we need to focus on elevating our heart rate in training.

Smithwick averages about 20 hours a week of “uphill and downhill.” This means that he finds activities that replicate his backcountry skiing endeavors, by making him climb up and down big peaks. He does this through trail running and mountain biking. Of course not everybody lives in the mountains, so however you can find a way to get the heart rate up, do that. Maybe you climb stairs in a tall building and then walk quickly back down, do hill sprints, or run the stairs at your local high school football stadium. Your lungs and heart will thank you when you’re three hours into a backcountry ski tour with plenty of climbing and the downhill to go.

The last, but certainly not least, factor to consider when training for skiing is your head. And we don’t mean reading a book a week. We mean your headspace, or your ability to feel calm and confident when you’re put in a situation where fear could creep in. The is dependent on the type of skiing you want to do. For most, the confidence in your body, built while training both physically and aerobically, is enough. For people like Bruchez and Smithwick, who routinely put their lives at risk in big and technical terrain, this is even more important to help mitigate their fear in situations where one false move could be fatal.

Bruchez has established new routes in and around Chamonix, France, the ski mountaineering capital of the world. He routinely brings ropes and gear into the mountains when he skis, building anchors and rappelling into steep lines. To prep his mind for this, he trad climbs year-round as a mountain guide. The technical skills that he learns, maintains, and refines while climbing is one thing, but he is also experiencing stressful situations, which is something that translates perfectly to the danger of ski mountaineering. It is a sort of meditation that requires being present, controlled breathing, and facing your emotions for high performance.

Another way to prepare your mind for skiing is to meditate (there are a ton of resources online that provide great introductions into the art of meditation). There are different types of meditation, but they all look to achieve the same thing: a heightened awareness of one’s body and surroundings, as well as a disconnection from the chatter that follows us throughout our days. A meditation practice involves focused breathing and sometimes a mantra. Focusing on your breath forces you into the present moment while slowing the heart rate. Meditation techniques can be applied anywhere. They work especially well in the backcountry when you’re standing on top of a steep line with a no-fall zone.