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Olympian and U.S. ski team member Steve Nyman thinks gyms suck. The fluorescent sweatboxes are fine for picking up dates, but if you really want to get in shape for skiing, he says, there's only one place to do it—on snow. "We put our bodies through such tough, awkward situations while skiing, he says. "It is hard to simulate those in the gym. Nyman uses the mountain as his personal training circuit—hammering out intervals, balance drills, and even a few tai chi moves—all in his race boots.
Early season is the best time to log some on-snow training, says Kevin Gianni, certified personal trainer and author of The Ultimate Skier's Workout (ultimateskiworkout.com). Nyman and Gianni developed this on-snow workout to get the kinks out of your early-season fitness. You'll build cardio endurance, leg power, and core strength while logging a few runs in the process. Later, when the powder starts falling, you'll be ready to do all-day snorkel sessions without drowning.
1) The Move: Hike-to Skiing
Hiking a couple runs a day builds cardio and quad strength—ideal for smoking the back bowls later in the season. You'll also target core strength, since boot-packing in soft snow challenges your balance, says Gianni.
Hiking speed will depend on your fitness level. Start on a low-angle groomer (either before the resort opens or in an out-of-the-way spot) and maintain a heart rate that's between 50 and 85 percent of your maximum (about 220 minus your age). If you can't get your arteries pumping on the groomed, look for something steeper.
2) The Move: Boot Run
"This is an ideal exercise for mogul skiers, who need intense, short bursts of energy, says Gianni. Plus, the extra weight on your feet taxes your quads and glutes and challenges your balance. Start with 15-second run/walk/run intervals, bumping your time to 30 seconds for each. Increase the challenge with 45-second splits. "The average mogul run will only last about 45 seconds or so, explains Gianni.
3) The Move: Skate Ski
Skating in your alpine gear is a great way to get your legs under you, says Gianni. "You'd be surprised how many skiers injure themselves in the lift line, just because they're not used to moving on skis. Throughout the day, look for opportunities to skate—across the base or as you traverse catwalks.
To really build endurance, find a cat road near the base and skate a quarter mile up and back five times. You'll warm up your muscles, improve your balance, and boost your cardio fitness.
The Move: Poling
Skiers tend to neglect their upper bodies. "When you turn, you recruit your midsection, arms, and your chest, says Gianni. "If your upper body is weak, then your ability to navigate smoothly down the hill is compromised.
One of the easiest ways to fortify your upper body is to pole across the base or a level catwalk. As you plant each pole and pull yourself forward, relax your shoulders and engage your biceps, triceps, chest, and upper back. Continue poling for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, and pole another 45 seconds; complete at least three intervals and repeat twice.
The Move: Never-Ending Tuck
The never-ending tuck works your quads, calves, core, and glutes, and also helps your knees track straight, which helps you avoid injury, says Gianni. Find a gentle groomer without too many obstacles. Get into a tuck with your knees deeply bent, hands in front, and weight centered over your skis. Your skis and knees should remain parallel and your body tucked as you bomb the hill. Maintain the tuck as long as possible; you should feel a nice burn in your quads and glutes. Repeat three times.
The Move: Standing Reach
"The most important aspect of ski conditioning is getting your balance down, insists Gianni. "You risk injury if your balance isn't right. Between runs, while you're waiting for your buddies, try standing reaches: Remove your right ski and raise your right leg out to the side so that you're balancing on the left ski. "While you're there, reach for a buddy's hat or something on the ground, Gianni suggests. Alternate legs, for three reaches on each side. Nyman takes it a step further, challenging his balance on the hill, too. "I alternate skiing on my inside ski only, then outside ski only. Don't try this at high speeds. Once you've nailed that, you can practice small jumps—on berms or ramps with soft landings. Check your speed and balance and "pop it just right so you land in the best spots, Nyman suggests. "I keep the jumps small so I don't hurt myself.
The Move: Self-Made SlalomFind an empty slope and mentally trace a slalom course. Start slow, allowing your legs to warm up, and concentrate on good form. "The biggest challenge is keeping yourself in an athletic stance this early in the season; it's hard, but you want to be low and fluid, says Gianni. Repeat the course several times, shaving seconds off your time while maintaining proper form.
The Move: Merry-Go-Round
Nyman and Gianni borrow from disciplines like Pilates and qigong, Chinese breathing and stretching exercises, which emphasize smoothness. Do these to improve your range of motion, coordination, and circulation. Start with your legs apart and hands touching the ground. Bend your knees slightly. Inhale as you rotate your upper body in a circle, keeping your hips facing forward. Keep your neck relaxed and loose. Repeat, turning in the opposite direction. Engage your core, and if your lower back hurts, stop.