The #1 Lesson I’ve Learned Living In A Ski Resort [And It’s Scary]

 In The Blog

For anyone who’s known me for a period of time, they will know my love for snowboarding and the mountains. They will also know I love cricket, rugby, Manchester United football club, and great coffee.

In December 2018, I made the decision to move back to Austria to live in Ischgl, one of the country’s finest ski resorts. It is one of the best decisions I have made in recent years. For me, it’s all about living the everyday athlete lifestyle, and that means being able to get up every morning and ride the mountain for 3–4 hours before carrying on with normal life.

Training is more than just hitting sets and reps in the gym, or even spending hours mindlessly just lifting things up and putting them down again. Training for me is all about making me better at the things I enjoy most in life – and right now that’s riding powder snow.

Out of the 22 days I’ve been on the mountain this year, 15 have been powder days. For those unfamiliar with riding powder, it is considerably harder than riding the pistes, particularly when you fall over! It’s been a phenomenal year in Austria so far. They’ve had the most snow they’ve had in 40 years, and I’ve been considerably lucky.

To give you an idea of my work rate on the mountain, you can see my heart rate readings and the volume of work completed in the images below from one of my most recent powder days.

The work I do in a day is sometimes more than most people complete in a full week. But this is not hard work for me. It’s sustainable, repeatable aerobic work. I feel refreshed and ready to go again the next day.

Yet, for most people, they struggle to keep up. Or I leave them behind in a mountain restaurant trying to recover.

I often considered it to be because of the differing skill levels and just not having the “mountain legs.” I have 20 years of snowboarding experience behind me. Snowboarding is a habit for me. It’s less taxing on my body. It comes naturally. For beginners and intermediates, it’s much more physically demanding, particularly when you have to constantly get up and down off the floor.

Training for me is all about making me better at the things I enjoy most in lifeClick To Tweet

But since living back in Austria, I’ve realized it’s more than that.  It’s something a lot scarier.

People over 30 have fundamentally lost the ability to walk or do sustainable aerobic activities. The biggest difference lies in my aerobic capacity and my ability to walk around the resort constantly and not get tired. I’m ahead of the game before they even start.

Most people are gassed before they even make it to the ski lifts. I see this every, single, day.

The #1 Observation I’ve Made

Ischgl is a ski resort where the demographic is predominantly over 30. It’s not a cheap resort by any stretch of the imagination, and it doesn’t attract the younger crowd because of it. So my observations are mostly aimed at this age group.

Like most ski resorts, it’s based at the bottom of a mountain. It’s not flat and requires walking up and down small hills to get around the resort. Every day, in order to get to the ski lifts people have to walk at least 400m to get to the lifts.

That’s about 5 minutes of walking in full ski gear, ski boots and carrying their skis. When I see them get to the lifts, they are red-faced, sweating, and can’t wait to put their equipment down before unzipping their jackets to cool down. Before they even get to the ski lifts they’re tired. And, once they get up to the top of the mountain, they have to walk another 200m before putting their skis on.

They haven’t skied a single run, and they’re already exhausted. In fact, in as little as just two or three runs, they’re ready to stop, rest and get a coffee so that they can recover. I see this day in day out.

People are lacking fundamental aerobic capacity. They're tired before they even get to the ski lifts!Click To Tweet

This is all age groups and all abilities. In fact, the fittest people I see are the Austrian men and women in the 50+ age range who have been doing this for years. Is it no wonder that Austria is one of the thinnest countries on the planet?

I’m seeing this EVERY DAY. Hundreds, even thousands of people each week.

You may even relate to this.

The best time on the mountain is always from first lifts to about 1:00 p.m. before everything gets tracked out or cut up on the pistes. However, most people who actually get up for 8:30 a.m. lifts are usually in the mountain restaurants by 10:00 and then again at noon, worn out.

And what happens in the afternoon?

Well, simply put, this is when the vast majority of people get injured on the slopes.

This can happen for a variety of reasons. One, the terrain has changed because of the large volume of people skiing on the pistes and the changes in temperature. Or two, fatigue has set in, which I think is the biggest factor. With fatigue comes impaired decision-making, muscle weakness, and slowed reflexes and responses.

People spend lots of money on the latest equipment and gadgets when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, but they invest almost nothing when it comes to their own personal health, and almost no time at all in walking.

Your fundamental aerobic capacity and ability to walk has the biggest carryover effect to your skiing and snowboarding holiday. It can sometimes be the difference between getting injured and arriving back safely.

So why does no one talk about this? Why is there not more awareness about this?

Probably because walking is not as sexy as that cool 20-minute ski workout where they make you jump up and down off boxes, right?

Or, they haven’t found a way to monetize walking yet in a slick 6 weeks to 6 pack abs format. I can’t quite decide.

The Problem with Most Ski Workouts for People Over 30

Type into Google “ski workout,” and you’ll see the following:

  • 30-Minute Ski Conditioning Workout
  • 6-Week Ski Workout Plan
  • 20-Minute Ski Blast Workout
  • Workout like a professional skier

I’m going to throw this out there, but have any of the people writing these articles and workouts actually been skiing before or lived in a ski resort?

At what point does skiing only last 20–30 minutes?

My personal favorite is ‘”Workout like a professional skier.” Are you aware of how many training hours, days, and years people have to put in each day to be able to execute those flying box jumps? It usually takes about 20 minutes just to walk to the ski lifts.

I’m sorry to break the news to you, but if you believe that working out for 20 minutes, three times a week, for 6 weeks will get you prepared to ski, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, I’ll put you firmly in the high-risk category for getting injured late in the day on your holiday.

And if you’ve ever spent time in a ski hospital, you’ll know it’s one of the worst places on earth to be, and it’s somewhere you want to avoid at all costs.

Let me share another alarming statistic.

Heart attacks are the number-one cause of death on the slopes. According to Dr. Joes Niebauer, “This is mainly due to the fact that a considerable number of skiers go skiing despite poor fitness and a mix of cardiovascular risk factors that make them prone to cardiac events.”

Not avalanches. Heart attacks.

Heart attacks are the number-one cause of death on the slopes. Not avalanches, heart attacks.Click To Tweet

I wonder how many of these heart attacks happen before they even make it to the ski lifts.

So, it’s not about the exercises you do or how you do them. It’s the simple fact that everyday people who are not used to walking 10,000 steps a day are suddenly thrust upon a whole week of activity that’s above and beyond what they’re capable of, and people are not addressing this fact.

Most people simply do not have the basic aerobic capacity to cope with the physical demands placed on their bodies before they even set foot on the slopes. It’s not just about basic strength levels here.

Skiing and snowboarding is a mixture of endurance and resistance training. The mix of eccentric, isometric, and concentric muscle work is quite unique when compared to other types of physical activities.

In life, I’m a big believer in balanced fitness. For skiing and snowboarding, you need a balance of strength and aerobic fitness.

In the mountains, your lack of basic aerobic fitness gets highlighted much more quickly because you’re at a high altitude.

Here’s How You Can Better Prepare for the Mountains [And Life]

Here at Strength Matters, everything starts with WWS. If you’re not sure what that is, here’s a link to the article to learn more:

WWS: The Secret Weight Loss Formula So Simple, You Don’t Do It.

We start with WWS because health starts with these three fundamental basics. If you haven’t got your walking, water, and sleep dialed in, your progress will be slow and limited.

When it comes to preparing for your ski holiday, the single biggest thing you can do to prepare is to combine your workouts with walking. And lots of it. And when you get good at walking, add more time and then add load because when you’re in a resort, this is exactly what you’ll be doing. Walking a lot in awkward attire and carrying difficult objects.

We introduced a 20-minute walking capacity test a while back to test people’s basic aerobic capacity to see how much distance they could cover in the time frame. I would recommend doing this work capacity test at least three times per week and gradually increase it over an 8 week period.

Sample 8-Week Program

In fact, here’s a sample 8-week program you can follow:

In addition to your strength workouts which you would do at least 3 x week, add the following walking protocol:

Week 1:

  • 3 x week
  • 20-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 20 minutes?

Week 2:

  • 4 x week
  • 20-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 20 minutes?

Week 3:

  • 5 x week
  • 20-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 20 minutes?

Week 4:

  • 3 x week
  • 40-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 40 minutes?

Week 5:

  • 4 x week
  • 40-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 40 minutes?

Week 6:

  • 5 x week
  • 40-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 40 minutes?

Week 7:

  • 3 x week
  • 60-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 60 minutes?

Week 8:

  • 4 x week
  • 60-minute walk capacity test
  • How far can you walk in 60 minutes?

Never underestimate the power of walking. It’s something many of us take for granted and when you get to a ski resort at altitude your walking skills will get found out, very, very quickly.

Wouldn’t you rather arrive on the slopes refreshed?

Why This Scares the Life Out of Me

In-house, we see that our clients are simply moving less and are no longer making basic aerobic fitness a priority.

It’s not just everyday people who just need to get a bit stronger, or maybe lose a bit of weight. We’re seeing this with seasoned everyday athletes who have many training years behind them.

Somehow, in the midst of their training, they’ve become so focused on the numbers in the gym and how much they can lift that they’ve forgotten the importance of being able to perform outside the gym.

I don’t care how much you lift. If you can’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, you have serious health issues. Aerobic training is not the enemy. It’s basic health.

Strength does Matter, but health comes first. And there is nothing more important than the health of your heart. It’s the most important muscle in your body. And in order to train the most important muscle in the body, it starts with good old-fashioned walking.

Human beings are designed to be aerobic. The more aerobic we are, the more resilient we can be in life. It is one of our genetic predispositions as humans and must not be forgotten.

It also happens to make skiing and snowboarding a lot more fun.

Every Journey Begins With a Single Step

In every great movie, the hero embarks on a path that promises adventure, challenges, and finally, achievement. Often, the hero finds a guide that takes the hero under their wing and pushes him or her to the limit. Just think, where would Luke be without Yoda? We are the stars of our own movies. And we all need that guide.

When it comes to fitness, a coach can be your guide to movie hero-type success, and your secret weapon. There are so many benefits to having a personal coach. I would go so far as to say that coaching is a prerequisite for achievement. Period.

Applying the Strength Matters System of Athletic Development to achieve a pain-free athletic lifestyle won’t be easy but it’s guaranteed to work if you follow it. And we’re here to guide you every step of the way.

Are you ready to take that first step?

Apply to take our six-week challenge today.

Life’s better as an everyday athlete. ~ James Breese

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