Winter's Wonderland Workout

Welcome to an Endless Playground

Feb 1, 2004
Outside Magazine
Backcountry Skiing, Backcountry Snowboarding, Fitness Guide, Fitness

Earn Your Turns: The workout on the way up makes the ride down that much sweeter.    Photo: Corbis

You've seen the folks at the top of the ski resort: They're wearing snowshoes and a daypack, tromping away from the groomed runs and toward a scenic ridge. Or they're skinning uphill on telemark skis toward a powder face with no lift service—to carve lines for free. Who are these people blazing their own trails in the backcountry? They're the ones who know that keeping super- fit from November to April outside of the gym is easy.

More than six million snow hogs now participate in backcountry snowshoeing, snowboarding, and skiing, reaping incredible health benefits. "Heading into the backcountry is the best fat-burning workout you can get in winter," says Cathy Sassin, a Bend, Oregon-based adventure racer and nutritionist. One hour of snowshoeing or uphill skiing, for example, can burn 680 calories, compared with only 408 burned during downhill skiing, and 340 when you hike.

That said, Sassin adds, you'll enjoy your experience in the backcountry more if you build a solid aerobic base beforehand. Start now and you'll be in shape for a hut-to-hut trip in the Rockies in April. An added bonus: You can keep snow sports going long after the lifts have closed.

To get ready, Sassin recommends the following basic aerobic workout: 40 minutes of cardio training four days a week (on a treadmill, StairMaster, or NordicTrack). "Your pace should allow you to carry on a light conversation—that's the fat-burning pace," says Sassin. After the first three weeks, you'll be primed to break trail on a three-hour winter-wonderland tour of your choosing. Looking to tackle more mountainous terrain? Bump up the cardio sessions with three two-minute sprint intervals, each five minutes apart, for an additional 20 minutes in all. Now you're dialed to relish the most efficient full-body aerobic workout of the winter—the one in the wild.