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Training for Snow Sports

By Gnarly Nutrion on
 Image: @shannonmahre / @mahremedia

Winter is just around the corner. Your set-up is tuned and ready to go. During “pre-season,” you work to BUILD your power and strength to prepare for your sport. As “in-season” approaches, outside of riding, the main focus for training is to MAINTAIN your current abilities while focusing on sport-specific practice.

First: create a plan. What happens more often than not is people do what they feel like when they feel like it. If you don’t make a game plan for your season’s goals, you’re less likely to achieve them and be unable to measure progress. Periodization is the most common training planning method, which ultimately trains stress management. The focus of in-season should be to:

  1. Further develop sport-based skills.
  2. Maintain strength, power and mobility.
  3. Avoid injuries.

As the temps drop and we move closer to opening day, knowing, ability-wise, where you stand is a great place to start. A self (or even professional) screening process gives you an idea of your abilities and monitors how you improve or maintain throughout the season. Jump tests, mobility assessments, etc., are great ways to measure this. When choosing measures, think about movement patterns you use within your sport and select assessments that mirror the demands of your sport. Considering your sport’s needs is called specificity.

Snow Sport Specificity

For endurance-based snow sports, like backcountry skiing/split-boarding and cross country skiing, knowing your lactate threshold and VO2 Max can be a way to measure your aerobic fitness. These tests also provide information on your cardiovascular system’s efficiency. Both of these performance tests are progressive, meaning throughout the test, the body is increasingly challenged. Data like heart rate, oxygen rate, and lactate acid production are recorded during the tests. The information that comes from these assessments is used to monitor your progress during- and post-season. For strength and power-based styles, like alpine skiing/snowboarding or ice climbing, a one-rep max (1RM) or three rep max (3RM) assessment can monitor progress and maintenance. Back squat, deadlift and hang-cleans are movements that snow athletes can assess for their sport.

Image: Iz La Motte / @izmottephoto

If you’re unsure about how to perform these yourself, speak to an exercise physiologist. They will be able to conduct the test and interpret the results with you (3).

Different styles of skiing and snowboarding require other fitness and sport-specific skills. Nordic skiing, also known as cross country, uses a unique combination of aerobic and strength abilities. For both skate and classic style Nordic skiing, explosive upper and lower bodies are essential. Elite-level nordic skiers get upward of fifty percent of their total power output from their upper body(1). For those who can’t be on snow all season, classic style skiers should consider roller ski workouts and double poling. Skate-style skiers can also consider skiing without poles to focus on the lower body while incorporating balance. Ski ergometers, common in fitness facilities, are a great way to maintain upper body power. Alpine/downhill skiing and snowboarding involve power, strength, and technical skills to counteract the forces placed on the body. Athletes should maintain balance and coordination in-season. Incorporating single-leg movements, balance boards, and Bosu balls into workouts helps challenge balance while ball tosses and jump roping promote coordination.

When you’re unable to be on snow, lower body explosive movements are the way to go for maintaining power. Power movements like lateral bounding, box jumps, etc., keep your body’s ability to create rapid muscle contractions (3). Snowboarding is similar to alpine skiing in this way. Core power dominates snowboarding movements. Backcountry skiing/alpine touring and split boarding bring in unique amounts of cardiovascular ability for uphill movement. Maintaining your heart and lung fitness during the season with running, incline treadmill workouts, biking, etc., is a great way to supplement your uphill adventures. Like downhill skiing and snowboarding, maintaining lower body strength, power, and mobility throughout the winter can make objectives feel easier and reduce your risk for injuries. Practicing safe landing mechanics and core strength can save you from an injury, too (3).

Image: @shannonmahre / @mahremedia

In-Season Considerations

Outside of fitness maintenance, in-season is the time to focus on technique and sport-specific skills. Sport specific-skills can include landing mechanics, kick turns and jump turns, body positioning, boot packing, high-tempo skinning, and so on. Proper technique allows for sustainable movement patterns that make you more energy efficient on-snow and reduce your risk for injuries. Strategy-focused sessions and downhill runs can even make you more fit for your sport. Reinforcing good technique can be challenging, especially if you’re on the mountain solo. Finding a short run or course that challenges you to focus on technique and complete it in 15-20 minutes is a great way to start. Starting slow and practicing below maximum intensity is essential for sport-specific skills. As you improve, you can add more laps, longer durations, and higher intensity. If you practice with friends, getting feedback from other athletes, a coach, or even watching videos of yourself to improve your technique are all ways to fine-tune.

If you race or compete in your snow sport, balancing training and racing can be challenging. The challenge of competition balance is apparent even true for the best of the best. The bigger your training base pre-season, the more prepared your body is for frequent races.

If an athlete doesn’t prepare their body (especially your tendons) for a high volume, you can encounter an overuse injury or a decline in performance. Although maintaining your base in-season is essential, prioritizing certain races is essentially true. Some races should be prioritized higher, while others can be considered preparation or hard training for your big races. When registering for more significant competitions, if possible, planning for a few to several weeks in between for training can help you maintain your fitness throughout the season. Developing and committing to a pre-and post-race routine can be helpful too. Proper preparation and recovery are essential for any athlete.

Injury Prevention

While you’re in season, injury prevention is of the utmost importance to continue playing and racing for as long as possible. It can be easy to overlook warming up when you’re psyched to hit some fresh lines. Warming-up is especially true for those riding at a high-level, but is vital for all abilities. Getting the body warm with either a low-grade run or dynamic warm-up before hitting the chair lift prepares your body and reduces your risk of hurting yourself.

Image: @shannonmahre /@mahremedia

It is also essential to manage stress leading up to and while in season. Research shows a strong correlation between general life stress and sport-related injury. Perfectionism can also contribute to the chances of becoming injured (7). Listening to your body while riding and post-ride can give you an idea about movements you should focus on improving and if you need to take a few days off. The most common snow sport injury is concussions (traumatic brain injury). Concussions make up 56.8% of severe ski injuries and 46.6% severe snowboard injuries (5). Hitting your head, even a few minor blows, can add up and cost you. Wearing a helmet that fits and is secure can mean your well-being and life. When you hit your head hard, checking your helmet for imperfections post-fall is vital to protect yourself next time. Signs of a concussion include headache, dizziness, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, among others. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, consult your doctor. Severe injuries associated with both skiing and snowboarding also include spine, chest, and abdomen injuries (5).

Lower body injuries, especially to the knees, are common even if you don’t fall. Improper landing, accidental falls or twists, and force or collision to the side of the knee are common ways to encounter injuries to the lower body. Sudden inward turns of the inner ski can also increase lower-body injury risk (8). Wrist injuries are the most common in snowboards, which occur when catching oneself during a fall. Wrist guards and proper falling strategies are reasonable for new snowboarders, which have the highest risk (9). Neuromuscular (combined balance, coordination, and strength/power) training and core strength are great ways to reduce injury risk (10).


Moving into winter is exciting! It’s important to think about your goals for the season and create a plan. A plan is the road map to your goals. Consider getting some movement assessments done to know where you stand. Next, consider your sport’s specific needs. Will you need to maintain an intense strength or power base? What about your heart and lungs? What injuries are common in my sport? Thinking about the demands of your sport will help you decide where to spend your time when you’re off the slopes. Whatever your goals are for this upcoming season, staying injury-free (and full of stoke) should be a top priority.

This article was written + shared by the fine folks over at Gnarly Nutrition

Gnarly exists to create the highest quality sports nutrition products for all levels of performance. Nutrition that helps push through the failure, amplify grit, and celebrate messy triumphs.

We look to + trust the Gnarly team for everything training, and have found ourselves loving their nutrition and hydration products throughout our days in the mountains. Learn more about Gnarly here, and through the end of November you can shop their entire site at 20% off with code: TREWLYGNARLY. 

About the Author

Beverly Albert, MS, ACSM-EPC,CSCS is an exercise researcher and kinesiologist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. During her studies, she examined the impact of high altitude environments on the body. Beverly aspires to help mountain athletes safely achieve their goals. In her free time she enjoys climbing, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and ultrarunning.


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