Cathy Rankin first skied when she was 17. “It was the only defining career moment I ever had,” she says, “because from that point I knew I was going to work in this industry.” She’s now the UK Head of Sales and Marketing for the ski apartments specialist Pierre & Vacances – and here maps out seven ways to stay ahead of the summer fitness slump.
“Here comes the sun! And there goes my ski fitness.” It’s a frequent refrain amongst the ski community at this time of year. The ski boots go back in the cupboard, the burgers go on the barbie, and slowly, day by day, we make the depressing transition from fit to flab.
But it needn’t be like this. There are all sorts of ways to keep your ski muscles and your agility fine-tuned whilst the temperature outside is nudging 30C. Here are seven of the best of them.
(And don’t forget, before you start any new kind of fitness regime, check with your GP to see if it’s safe for you to try it.)
1. Follow a Proper Ski Fitness Programme
Most of us don’t think about ski fitness until the autumn or early winter – at which point short days, heavy rain and plummeting temperatures all provide powerful arguments against taking action.
So this year, why not start early, and acquire some good habits and a sense of rhythm during the summer? Welove2ski hosts a comprehensive exercise programme, which you can follow at home as well as in the gym, and it’ll guide you all the way from your first calf stretch to sets of rotating abdominal crunches. It offers a plan for developing overall stamina, too.
Remember, whichever fitness programme you pick, be organized. Each Sunday, sit down and plan out your exercise schedule for the week, so you’ll know what you’ll be doing and when. And don’t try to turn yourself into Lindsey Vonn in the first fortnight. This is a project that should last several months.
2. Get on Your Bike
Getting fit shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, you won’t get beyond the first week. So if you’re bored by sit-ups, lunges and squats, focus on something that feels like fun instead.
Road cycling and mountain biking often plug this gap, and of course there’s no better time than summer to try them. They also make a great excuse for another holiday in the mountains. Many Alpine regions have invested heavily in biking infrastructure in recent years, in a bid to draw in summer business, and you’ll offer extensive networks of traffic-free cycle tracks as well as hairy-chested downhill terrain parks, (such as the Tignes bike park, pictured above). You could also try a self-guided tour, cycling on mountain roads from hotel to hotel, with your luggage transported on by taxi.
Or why not have a crack at this year’s Tour de France course? An event called the Tour de Force now gives keen amateurs the chance to cycle some (or all) of the stages of the race – while raising sponsorship for the William Wates Memorial Trust.
For those who can’t stomach the idea of all those steep uphill section, e-bikes offer a gentler path to fitness, and available to hire at holiday destinations in the Alps. You pedal normally, but a battery-operated motor gives you an extra boost when going uphill.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is cheating – you’ll still get a decent workout. Limited battery life (15-30km) means that you need to conserve your artificial energy and only press the boost button when you feel you have to. Cytronex are the leaders in this field, e-fying well-known brands of road and mountain bike.
However, with all forms of cycling there’s one important caveat. Most will do wonders for your aerobic fitness, and will give you thighs like tree trunks. But for proper ski fitness preparation, it should be combined with other forms of exercise.
“Cycling works the muscles on the frontside of the body really well,” says John Noonan, head athletic trainer for Britain’s Park and Pipe ski team. “But it tends to de-power the muscles on the back of the body, such as the glutes and hamstrings, which are crucial for developing the dynamic and reactive power you need to make turns, and maintain stability.” So he advises mixing your bike rides with running, working on a slide board, or a wobble board, or – better still – taking up a martial art (see below).
3. Take up a Martial Art
“You wouldn’t automatically think of a martial art like karate, judo or capoeira, as good preparation for the slopes,” says ski coach John Noonan. “But from a muscular and mechanical perspective they’re ideal.” All those high kicks and one-legged turns will do wonders for the muscles and ligaments around the knees, as well as your general stability. “As a result you’ll cope better with sudden changes in the terrain, and be less likely to sustain a knee injury”. You’ll also speed up your general reaction times too.
Sean Newsom, one of Welove2ski’s editors, is a recent convert. “I started going to karate with my son last autumn,” he says, “and whilst I find the pretend-fighting part of it embarrassing, I can’t argue with the way is’s been working my knees and ankles. After a 45 minute warm-up, they’re so well-exercised I can almost hear them singing.”
4. Go on a Boot Camp
This is your no-surrender, do-or-die option. A good boot camp will push you to your limits, and leave you lean, mean and ready to live life differently when you get back home.
Between pre-dawn and dusk each day, boot campers typically squeeze in about eight or nine hours of physical exercise, with not a lot of rest time between each activity. You might try everything from mountain biking, kayaking and hill walking, to boxercise, power yoga and gym circuits.
5. Try a Spot of Hot Yoga
I started practising hot yoga in October 2004, and after the second class (I hated the first one) I knew I’d finally found an exercise regime I could commit to. I also noticed improvements in my muscle tone very quickly.
Four months later I surprised myself on a particularly bumpy day on Le Tunnel in Alpe d Huez. Instead of my usual “10 turns and stop to admire the view” approach I managed a top-to-bottom run with very little complaining from my thighs. Ten years on, I’m still practising it, and feel like I’m a more agile skier as a result.
I realise hot yoga isn’t for everyone and, be warned, the room is heated to at least 32C (90F) during the sessions. Consult your GP before you try it, and remember to stay well hydrated in the studio. If you have any doubts then a more conventional style of strong yoga such as Vinyasa Flow or Ashtanga can fill the gap!
Either way, it’s important to keep up your yoga practice when you’re in the mountains. Allie Hille, founder of yogahaven.co.uk, is also a keen skier, and says “Stretching, resting and rejuvenating your legs immediately after you get off the hill is one of the most important things you can do for yourself when you go skiing or snowboarding.”
6. Book a Glacier-Skiing Holiday
Of course, you don’t actually have to stop skiing at all. Several glacier ski areas run their seasons deep into the early summer. A handful – Tignes, Les Deux Alpes, Hintertux, Zermatt, Saas-Fee – are even open in July and/or August.
By winter’s standards, the extent of terrain they offer is pretty limited. But if you book a course of lessons designed to sharpen your technique or master an entirely new skill, that hardly matters. You’ll be working so hard on drills you’ll barely notice you’ve skied only one or two pistes. If you’re lucky, you may even get to train in freshly-fallen powder.
It’s an extraordinary and memorable experience to be out on skis, in the high Alps, at this time of year, but what makes summer skiing really special is all the other sports you can try while you’re there.
At this time of year, even glacier snow is slushy by lunchtime: at which point everyone heads back down into the resort and gets stuck into mountain biking, trampolining, tennis, swimming, trail-running hiking, archery, football, yoga, climbing, adventure parks…the list goes on and on. When the sun’s out, the atmosphere of well-being is overwhelming, brought on by all the physical exercise, and the gorgeous, vivid-green surroundings.
Which resort should you target? That depends what you want to learn. Les Deux Alpes has one of the best summer freestyle scenes in the Alps, thanks to its excellent summer snow park. Meanwhile those who want to fine-tune their on-piste skiing should target Snoworks’ utterly addictive Race Carve courses in Tignes.
7. Head to The Southern Hemisphere
Yes, I realise this is cheating: you’re essentially pressing “eject” on the whole notion of summer and going back to the season skiers love best. But what a way to break the rules! Not only do you get proper, cold, squeaky snow beneath your edges – your snow-hunting trip is going to feel like a proper adventure too.
The only hardship is having to decide which way to go: the Andes, or New Zealand? It’s a tough choice. But remember – if you find the idea of biting into an entirely new mountain range intimidating, there are a few British ski companies which run guided tours. This summer, for example, travelling ski school Snoworks is offering guided trips to both NZ and Chile in August.
What’s your favourite way to keep fit over the summer?
I’d love to hear about your own experiences, so please feel free to add any fitness tips in the comments box below.