It's late afternoon and ski patroller Bradley Richmond is chugging west in a VW van, having hitched a ride from Crested Butte to Moab, Utah. The road-trip, normally a six-hour drive, takes 11, as she and her driver stop to snap pix of a dead cow or jump on their bikes and ride out to some cool-looking rocks. Meanwhile, Tyler Williams, 24 Hours of Aspen champion and skiercross competitor, is en route from Aspen. Three-time Olympian Heidi Voelker and backcountry skier Robert Al-Chokhachy are cruising south from Park City, their Grand Cherokee crammed with mountain bikes, hiking boots, in-line skates, trail runners, and other assorted paraphernalia.
The spring mud hasn't yet hardened in their mountain towns, so these four elite skiers are making what is a popular pilgrimage-to the mecca of mountain biking for a little dryland training. What's key: They've figured out a way to stay in shape for skiing that's actually fun. No treadmills, no dumbbells, no Mariah Carey blaring on the health club's stereo system...and zero boredom factor.
Richmond, who placed third in the Butte's 2000 extreme comp, often runs 10 to 15 miles on the mountain trails around home. Williams, a former pro mountain biker, lives for the singletrack-on his bike as well as on foot. "It's pretty easy in Aspen. I just step out my back door and hike up the mountain, and my heart gets pumping pretty quickly," he says. Because of his backcountry habit, Al-Chokhachy works to build endurance in the off-season with two- to three-hour runs and even longer rides so that he has the physical and mental fortitude to skin up the mountains he skis down. Voelker takes things a bit slower now that she's no longer racing. She only pedals, um, two hours uphill on her mountain bike or does all-day uphill hikes with her dog. "I just do whatever I'm in the mood for," she says, echoing the sentiments of all.
Any of these outdoor sports (trail running, mountain biking, and hiking, plus in-line skating) will help get you in shape for skiing. They're all tough endurance sports, so they build cardiovascular fitness while keeping your core muscles and legs strong and ready to withstand the first on-snow pounding. "They highlight lower-body work and push the muscle groups that we use for skiing," says Andy Walshe, sports-science director for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Each discipline works the muscles in a different way. Hiking uphill, for instance, uses a concentric motion (muscle contracts as you step up), while trail running downhill works the muscles eccentrically (muscle lengthens as you resist gravity and slow yourself down), which is especially good for downhill skiing.
It's important, of course, to supplement these sports with some more targeted ski moves. As late fall approaches, Richmond teaches a ski-conditioning class for Crested Butte employees. She uses exercises that improve agility, balance, explosive power, and strength. While in Utah's desert, our four fit road-trippers also spent some time doing balance exercises and strength-training moves.
So here's your goal for this fall (starting four to six weeks before you hit the snow): Have fun, stay outdoors, don't think about training, and end up in pro shape.
Thanks to Nema, Pearl Izumi, RLX Polo Sport, Salomon, SportHill, Tecnica, The North Face, and Zoic for providing gear and apparel for our Moab bod squad.