If you’ve ever seen a skier pull a hot dog out of a jacket pocket while on a chairlift or devour a towering plate of nachos back at the lodge, you know that few athletes chase calories harder than skiers. And with good reason. Charging down a mountain in the cold empties your body’s glycogen stores—fail to refuel, and you’re going to get sore and sad very quickly. And when it comes to favorite power-up snacks, every skier has an opinion, from endless gummy worms to peanut butter straight from the jar. But you can also fill your tank on scrumptious meals prepared by chefs with a real passion for stoking winter sports athletes. In this episode, we explore the wild world of skier nutrition to get you hungry for your next powder day.
Michael: From Outside Magazine, this is the Outside Podcast.
So my happiest moment on the best ski trip I've taken in many years is not what you might think. It wasn't an epic powder day.
Well, wait. Actually it was an epic powder day.But this moment didn't happen in the snow. It was after that, when I was back in the house my family had rented. I was still in my long underwear and I'd just gotten a fire going, and one of my kids handed me a piece of peppermint bark. It was... amazing.
This is Michael Roberts, host of the Outside Podcast. Happy New Year everybody. We're kicking off 2023 with an episode that investigates the powerful, complex, and often delicious relationship between food and sport. This is something we're going to be doing more of in the months ahead, as Outside magazine and our sister titles like Ski, Backpacker, Climbing, and Yoga Journal pursue stories that help us fuel up for our favorite activities.
We start today with a piece by producer Paddy O'Connell that is very near and dear to his heart. And belly. Which, in his case, is basically his heart.
Paddy (ski trip): All right. Ski season, let's go skiing.
[indistinguishable] and Alex are meeting us up top. Oh, okay. Cool.
Paddy O’Connell: Ahhh, yes. Finally, The greatest time of year has arrived. Winter.
Paddy (ski trip): Thanks for getting her open for us.
Yeah. Nice. Well, I hope you have fun.
I think we will, thank you.
Paddy: This is my wife Carly and I loading the gondola on the opening day of ski season at our home mountain, a little place called Aspen. Unfortunately, I was a little rusty. Not with pole plants or hippie wiggle turns, but with what is truly the most important part of skiing.
Paddy (ski trip): Did you bring any snacks?
Paddy: All I have is gum and a granola bar from last season that I found in my pants today.
Paddy: You see I ski because I am hungry.
Paddy (ski trip): Skiing for friends? Let’s go.
Paddy: and I am hungry because I ski...it's truly a beautiful cycle. And no one knows this quite like my wife Carly.
Paddy (ski): I’m already hungry.
Carly: I got you a latte and a, uh, pretzel.
Paddy: Oh, you're awesome.
Carly: They’re out of brats. They don't have any brats.
Paddy: That's okay.
Paddy: In addition to buying me tasty wintry vittles, Carly and I have a bit of an unofficial snackage system.
Currently in our car there are like hidden granola bars, true or false?
Paddy: And why is that?
Carly: You just never know.
Paddy: How can you tell that I am like hungry or hangry?
Carly: It's not, not obvious. You basically shut down.
Like, stop talking. You also look really distressed. Your whole persona changes
Paddy: Like, I go from like happy and talkative to just sad and quiet.
Carly: Yeah. And it happens in like 60 seconds. I mean like an immediate cliff drop. Generally I pack a lot of snacks for you. Like cheese and meats, Barbara's jalapeno cheddar, Cheetos, chicken tenders, sandwiches.
We can't have french fries without fry sauce, definitely a bag, fresh bag of Lays. A hot crock pot. Probably French onion dip. You just never know. Yeah. Pack extra.
Food is love
Paddy: But I am not the only skier who eats like an unsupervised kindergartener. Even super duper rad pro skiers have a longtime love affair with snacking on the slopes.
Cody Townsend: When I was a kid, I think half the reason to go skiing was to get cookies at Wildflower Bakery in Palisades. Like, they're internationally renowned for their cookies,
Paddy: This is Cody Townsend, who has been skiing professionally for two decades.
Cody: So I worked there for a little bit when I was kind of ski bumming, trying to like make my way as a professional skier. That's where I was work and part of the reason was so I could get free food. I wouldn't say I was in my healthiest stage of my life. I think honestly, I developed my gluten allergy that I have now had for about 12 years and since been diagnosed as celiac from then because–
Paddy: are you s–
Cody: literally ate pizza, bagels and cookies for like an entire winter.
Paddy: Cody is currently attempting to climb and ski 50 of North America's most iconic and most challenging ski descents. Some of these adventures take weeks to accomplish. And while he's no longer powering up with pizza bagels, you will be surprised to learn what keeps him going on his hardest efforts
Cody: Never in my life would I consider eating two packs of Haribo gummy bears, in one sitting. I would never do that. But I can tell you I've done that a lot when I'm in the backcountry, cuz Haribo gummy bears are effing amazing out there.
Like, I will literally put a package. In my pocket and play a game with myself of like every hundred steps up this boot pack, I get to pop one and I do another hundred steps and I get to pop one and I do another hundred steps, I get to pop one and it's like this kind of incentive to keep going cuz every time I go up I get some more gummies.
Paddy: A big reason Cody loves crushing candy while he's in the backcountry is because of how strict he is with his diet at home.
Cody: Outside of the mountains, I am very nutritionally focused. Don't go so deep as to like count calories and whatnot, my thing is eating whole foods. Fruits, nuts, meats, vegetables, and keeping it very focused on those kind of very nutritionally dense products. At home, I don't eat any processed sugar. I don't even really drink when I'm at home and. Those two things alone of cutting out sugar and cutting out alcohol have changed the way I completely feel.
At this point in my life of going through many phases of eating nothing but garbage you just feel so much better. You have so much more energy. And then when you're out there and you're suffering and you're, or you're going on a huge adventure and it's hard and it's scary, that will really help you.
Paddy: Another way to put this: eating the right stuff in the mountains will prevent that worst-case nutritional scenario, the dreaded bonk. This can happen whether you're on a backcountry expedition, or skiing laps at a resort.
Can you define what bonking is?
Kylee VanHorn: Yeah so essentially it’s where your body empties its glycogen stores and then you have no, or too little amount of carbohydrate coming in you just hit this wall where you're not having an efficient source of energy production.
So you can keep going, but it's using energy from your fat stores. And then you also have muscle protein breakdown too, so your legs can start feeling a lot more sore And so your body starts to kind of like just be more, sad in a way.
Paddy: This is my friend, Kylee VanHorn. She is a registered dietician and owner of Fly Nutrition, an endurance athlete coaching and consulting program based in Carbondale, Colorado. Kylee plans the training and fueling strategies for elite professional athletes and everyday mountain adventurers. She's also an insanely talented runner-biker- skier-everythinger herself.
Suffice to say, when it comes to what we put into our pie holes, she knows what she's talking about. Especially when it comes to what not to eat.
Kylee: I had a guy that was having all these stomach issues and he's like, ‘oh yeah, like I bring sushi with me on my, uh, adventures.’
And I'm like, ‘wow, that sounds disgusting.’
Paddy: Well I have got a, like a list of random treats and I want you to tell me like, thumbs up or thumbs down. Good or bad.
Jar of peanut butter with my hand stuck in it.
Kylee: That's good.
Paddy: Pocket hot dog.
Paddy: Smashed two day old cold pizza.
Kylee: Oh, that's, yeah, definitely. That's good.
Paddy: Awesome news. Handful of M&M's.
Kylee: Also. Very good.
Paddy: Beef jerky,
Kylee: I'm gonna say good
Paddy: Dried mango.
Kylee: Also very good.
Paddy: Trail mix.
Paddy: A photo of Kevin Bacon from the movie footloose.
Kylee: Are we talking fueling here or
Kylee: Perfect. Yeah.
Paddy: Fun sized candy bars left over from Halloween.
Kylee: Oh, that's a definite yes. Good.
Paddy: Homemade kombucha.
Kylee: That's bad.
Paddy: Hard boiled egg
Kylee: No bad.
Paddy: Because it smells or it's gross or what? All the things?
Kylee: All of the above. Who wants their ski tour to be ruined by a freaking hard boiled egg, like rotten egg smell?
Paddy: From your professional opinion, I should be eating more pastries while skiing?
Paddy: I’m so happy right now. Thank you.
It's a well-known fact that a major reason outdoor athletes love their sports is the excuse to eat guilt-free junk food. But Kylee strongly suggests that skiers put more thought into our ski snacks.
Paddy: During a skiing day on resort, how many calories are we burning?
Kylee: I would say on average between 700 and a thousand calories an hour.
Paddy: That's a lot, right?
Kylee: Yeah, it is.
I would say there's so many nuances, you know? Body frame size, intensity that you're going, if there's more powder versus less powder, like if you are in deeper powder, you're gonna burn more energy overall.
Commonly with winter sports, a lot of people don't put intentionality into their fueling at all. You can get yourself into trouble, especially if you're a backcountry skier and you're having to mentally make decisions about a line you're gonna ski or whether this is a good idea, et cetera.
If you're not fueling yourself properly you are putting yourself in a little bit higher risk of danger. So, point being plan out your nutrition like you would what gear you're taking.
To some people that might sound a little bit silly, but mentally, we know that having fuel on board is gonna help us like maintain that focus and give us the ability to perform better.
Reframing this idea around nutrition as being an afterthought and making it actually part of your routine, and making it fun, like, ‘Hey, I get to have more snacks on the, on the lift or in the backcountry,’ I think is really important too. The nutrition piece plays more of a role than I think people give it credit for.
Paddy: While I was sad that Kylee would not agree that eating a deep dish pizza stuffed inside a chocolate cake would make me ski like an Olympian, I understand that a good and healthy snack and meal plan is going to help me last longer and perform better in the mountains.
I also know that my navel is most likely directly attached to my heart. I mean, that combination of skiing and great meals does something magical for us. And nobody knows that better than chef Heidi Schaffer from Blanket Glacier Chalet, one of the greatest ski lodges in the universe.
Heidi Schaffer: People are generally happy and that's like, honestly like fuels my tank more than anything. Just like people coming home, being stoked. Like I could serve mac and cheese and people would be like so fired up. I love all that
Food is memories for people.
Paddy: Yes, yes it is. More on that, coming up after the break.
Paddy: If anyone knows the emotional link between food and skiing it's Heidi Schaffer.
Heidi: Skiing's like one of my biggest passions, and then cooking. Like, I cook for, for a living and work.
But it's still the number one thing that brings me the most joy. So like right now I'm baking sourdough and I'm like, it's my second day off. So it's, uh, it still fires me up.
Paddy: Since 1986, Heidi's Family has been running Blanket Glacier Chalet, a remote backcountry ski operation and lodge deep in the Monashee Mountains in British Columbia.
Heidi: In the early days they would do like telemark ski camps where they would cook and my dad would guide. And back then it was like very kind of wholesome farm cooking and be like, mom would always be cooking a Turkey with like all the fixing and like a big bowl of like that oatmeal that like the classic ski bum would kind of have.
And then it just kind of slowly started evolving.
Paddy: When Heidi's brother Marty took the helm of the family ski operation a handful of years ago, he asked Heidi to bring her culinary talents to their lodge guests. She did, and today, she says that slinging meals to skiers in the backcountry gives her a very clear sense of how food can affect skiers.
Heidi: When I'm like cooking in the kitchen all day, I'll maybe get out for like a lap or two with them and I get to like be a part of their experience.
I'm seeing them like, eat that sandwich, eat that cookie that I prepared, being like, ‘oh man.’ This is like making their day, like this person just had like the best run of their life. Like they're about to bonk. I get to fuel their body for the next run. Then I get to like do the run with them, go back and then, you know, make some like ramen or sweet apres that they're gonna be like stoked about.
And then knowing that they get to do that all again the next day, just like it's so sweet. Yeah, there's nothing better. It's like this little, little magic world I get to be a part of with them.
Paddy: Blanket truly is magical. I skied there last March with a group of buddies. Over four days, we skied 40 miles and skied 20,000 vertical feet, and that's just a small portion of Blanket's 18,000 acres of jaw-dropping terrain, which oh-by-the way boasts 720 inches of annual snowfall.
It was one of the greatest ski adventures of my life. Not least of which was because of the insanely delicious food Heidi made for us: hot out of the oven cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos, giant homemade cookies and bars, GORP, fruit leather, pepperoni sticks, charcuterie served on boards big enough to surf on, apres ramen and soups, pasta and roasts, tuna-steaks and steak-steaks, and the greatest and biggest tray of nachos I've ever seen. And I've seen me a lot of nachos.
Heidi: When you're spring skiing, like there's literally nothing better than nachos. All you want is like a cheesy chip, like layered to perfection.
Paddy: I have dreams about the nachos.
Paddy: And because it's a cabin with an open floor plan, Heidi prepares all these delicious meals with the skiers nearby. And according to her, that adds a comforting and inviting feeling to the entire experience.
Heidi: People want to gather in the kitchen, like the kitchen's just like notorious for that. So, and especially with Blanket, like, it's literally very open. So like you're cooking, people are in the kitchen. Its people are comfortable, like it feels like home. And I think that's one thing that we really always kind of try to do at Blanket is like when people show up, like we want them to feel like they're family.
Paddy: What's the connection between super delicious food and skiing?
Heidi: If you just had the most epic ski day, like you come back, you're cheers-ing your friends with beer. You just had like this backcountry, like poke bowl or whatever, you're like, what on earth? Like, I already had the best day of my life, but then I'm having like this poke bowl in like the middle of nowhere, like this day could not get any better. So it's like, yeah, food as an experience to kind of like highlight it all.
Heidi: People obviously come there to ski. But as my brother says, ‘the one thing you can control is the food.’
Like if the snow sucks, at least the food can be great.
Paddy: That’s right.
Paddy: There was one more person I had to speak to if I was really going to understand the skier love affair with food–a true expert on the sport's culture, one who understands that athletic performance is just one small part of the picture, especially if hot dogs are in the mix.
Sierra Schaffer: My name is Sierra Schaffer and I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Ski Magazine and I live in Salt Lake City. I'm really passionate about skiing obviously. I'm extra passionate about apres. I like to have skied. You know, like skiing is great, but having skied? Excellent.
Paddy: As you might expect from a ski media veteran like Sierra, she has a long and beloved history with the sport. In her case, it was bestowed upon her by her parents during a childhood in Estes Park, Colorado. Sierra's folks first put her on skis the winter she turned two. But it is not the snowy turns she remembers most.
Sierra: This is funny but I have a lot of food memories like being asleep but getting carried to the car in our pajamas at, you know, some ungodly hour. And then like waking up as usually as we'd come through the Eisenhower tunnel on I-70. And you know, like then you're kind of in the mountains. And you, and we'd like get dressed in the car and eat our Cheerios and, and go skiing as a family for the day.
We would bring in a cooler and like stash it on top of the lockers. So we didn't have to carry it around all day and then come back and eat lunch. And my dad would always put a banana in with the other food. And the banana smell gets on everything and then everything tastes like a banana.
And this is like a running joke in our family, but, we would call it ski food. Anything that tasted like a banana, we'd be like, ‘ah, ski food.’
We would get Starbursts or Life Savers from my dad on the chairlift. I have these memories of like putting out your little glove tan and dad putting the lifesaver in it or straight to the mouth. You know, with the Starburst, he would like take his gloves off. It's like 20 degrees, it's windy, you know, and he's peeling starburst for us, like the ultimate dad move. And he'd hand one to me, one to my brother, one to my mom.
And he had it in this purple and black fanny pack we'd always like check the fanny pack to make sure like, ‘oh, dad's got the lifesavers. Okay, let's go skiing.’
And same with like, they'd bring their own like powdered hot chocolate. and we'd go and get the hot water, you know, the free hot water to put the, and then they started charging 25 cents for the cups. Like when we started kind of getting older and like skiing a little bit on our own, we'd get a little Ziploc that would have like a couple Starbursts or life savers in it. A pack of hot chocolate and a quarter.
Paddy: Do you still do that for yourself today? When you go skiing?
Sierra: I do still bring my own like instant coffee or cocoa. Yes, I do still do that.
Paddy: This is like, this makes my heart feel so good.
Sierra: I know it's kind of making me feel like I wanna go hug my parents.
Paddy: Those sweet snacks did more than keep Sierra going on long days: they also taught her that an integral part of skiing is being thrifty. This, you see, is how ski bums are made.
Because a true skier will do whatever they can to ski, including skidding into free meals, like making nachos using the complimentary condiments at resort restaurants, or mixing up tomato soup using ketchup packets and hot water.
Paddy: There's something about. The like ski bum cache of like the frugal Gourmet. Why is that so celebrated?
Sierra: There's something that totally like tickles the ego, I think about like having to like hack it, having to make it. And the reality is skiing is expensive and so whatever you can do to like kind of skirt the system, I feel like it's kind of celebrates this like, ‘yes, I'm doing this mainstream, very like homogenous, very exclusive sport, but I'm doing it my way, you know, and I'm doing it like the edgy way and I'm like making it work.’
Because there is a lot of ski culture that is about being on the fringe, that is about bucking the norms and bucking traditional culture and you know saying, ‘F at all. It's for, I'm skiing,’ you know?
Paddy: Sierra has some strong memories of embracing the rebel, frugal side of ski food herself as a young adult. A standout experience for her was a trip to Utah which solidified her desire to relocate there to be closer to world class powder skiing. For ten days, a blizzard pounded the Wasatch Mountains. Though work and responsibilities called her elsewhere, she stayed to ski.
Sierra: I just remember going to the store and I bought like a loaf of bread cause I was like, I totally blew my budget basically cuz I had stayed for so long.
And so I went and like got a loafer bread, a jar of peanut butter and a thing of jelly. And I just sat in my car and I realized, I didn't have a knife. So I just with my bare hands was making PB&Js to put in my jacket, sitting in the parking lot at Alta, it's dumping.
I felt part of it. Like, I'm so fired up to be like feeling like a, a skier, you know? I'm so grungy! I’m making these like barbaric sandwiches. And it just felt, I felt like I was in the mix,
The reality is, like being scrappy is like how people get to be skiers, for, you know, either a season of life or for their whole life or to be able to take their kids to do it or that kind of thing. Like, I just bought this $200 lift ticket, so you're damn right, we're getting PB&J in our pockets.
Paddy: As Sierra sees it, the quest to ski, and the need to fuel ourselves to do it, does more than make us scrappy. It actually brings us together–and much more powerfully and strangely than you might expect.
Sierra: Food is a shared cultural experience too. Like mealtime is that, and I think there's a little bit of that.
Like I had a guy gimme a bite of a hot dog that he got out of his pocket on the lift last year. I don't know where it came from. And he was like, ‘do you want some of this?’
It was a spring day, but it was still dumping snow. We were on the lift at Snowbird. and it was like we just had a nice meal together. Thank you.
You know, someone invites you to dinner. What else can I put in my pocket? How weird can I make this and fun and silly?
Skiers are freaks. Skiers are weird. I say embrace it. We're rabid sickos out there, just trying to get, get to the next run, you know?
Michael Roberts: This episode was produced by Paddy O'Connell and edited by me, Michael Roberts. Music by Robbie Carver. If you want more stories and advice on how to fuel up for your favorite outdoor sports, become an Outside+ member. You'll have unlimited access to food-focused content from experts Outside, Ski, Clean Eating, Backpacker, Climbing, and our other sites. Learn more about all the benefits of membership and join us now at outsideonline.com/podplus.
Paddy: Are you happy that I have a mustache? Because most of my snackage ends up like living kind of in the mustache. So when you smooch me, you get like, kind of like secondhand snackage.
Carly: Sure, but like in the winter it's all frozen. It's like, like Icle, sweat, snow, boogers, Ranch barbecue.
Paddy: Your favorite snacks. All in my frozen mustache.
Carly: Would we say that?
Paddy: Babe, you can talk like, this is just us talking.
Carly: But the Internet's listening.
Follow the Outside Podcast
Outside’s longstanding literary storytelling tradition comes to life in audio with features that will both entertain and inform listeners. We launched in March 2016 with our first series, Science of Survival, and have since expanded our show to offer a range of story formats, including reports from our correspondents in the field and interviews with the biggest figures in sports, adventure, and the outdoors.