Training for Snow – Early Season Struggle Bus

It was a beautiful bluebird day at the famed Jackson Hole Ski Resort and Scott and I had just got done doing seemingly endless tree runs on the Northeast Side of the mountain. We regrouped with Laura at the top of a long steep run that went down the center of the mountain. Scott dropped in first and made tight turns down the beautifully vertical slope. Laura went next and made it look easy as she effortlessly carved down the slope. Scott and Laura have long been my go to ski buddies and we were all stoked to be skiing in Jackson Hole. We had spent the previous day slamming in as many runs as possible and my legs were already paying for it. I dropped in and was instantly greeted with a strong burning sensation in my front foot and ankle. I tried hard to carve the packed powder but ended up having a fall laden run with a lot of ass sliding. We got to the bottom and I was already making excuses. I blamed it on my boots, then my board, then my bindings. I skipped the next run and went back to the lodge to make some “adjustments”, which meant a lengthy stop at the bar. Here I was sitting by myself nursing a PBR in one of the most beautiful places on earth, while my friends shredded the steeps. While I made lots of excuses the reality was that I was not physically prepared for two days of steep WY riding.

Prior to the trip I had been running, climbing, and lifting a lot and I felt like I was in good physical shape. So why was I struggling so bad when my Ski partners seemed to be just fine? The answer is simple. I had only gotten out snowboarding two prior time that season, while both Scott and Laura had each been out a bunch including a couple days in Colorado. I was ticked at myself for not getting out more but after some reflection I realized that I did not have an opportunity to get out anymore then I did. Life happens, I was particularly busy that winter with work, family outings, and home renovations and had zero time to ski more than I did prior to this trip. I fought through the pain and fatigue and managed to still have a blast. The rest of the season came and went and then a few more seasons passed with similar results. Now fast forward to early fall 2019, I had just come off a pretty stellar but strenuous climbing season and decided that I would change things up a bit and focus a lot of time towards snowboarding this winter. Additionally, we had a few pretty poor winters for ice climbing and snowboarding felt like a worthy option. I ended up purchasing a splitboard, booking a 4 day avy class, 2 NH trips, 1 ADK trip, 1 Pocono day, 4 Catskill Ski days, and the crown jewel of my winter: 3 days of riding in Taos NM. I had a lot planned and really wanted to do my best to be prepared.

I had long treated snowboarding as just something fun to do when the weather was poor or the ice climbing sucked. I would start my season completely unprepared physically and not be anywhere near my best until the end of the season. I would get a little better each day out but with short Pennsylvania season and limited time I was not really improving. I started thinking about some ways that I could better prepare myself prior to snow ever hitting the ground. I came up with three areas that I would focus on to prepare: Foot comfort, snowboard specific leg muscles, and core. Keep in mind that my focus here is on the muscles associated with snowboarding, not the cardio. If you are doing a lot of hiking, skinning, or playing in altitude you might want to add some cardio training to this. I do a ton of mountain specific cardio and would be happy to share more at some point. Below are ways that I prepared for this season.

Foot strength and comfort:

 I run all year round and like to think that I have relatively strong throughout the year however once I am in the stiff and bulky snowboard boots things tend to go down hill (get it). The first thing that flairs up for me when riding is a painful burning sensation in arch and toe areas. I used to think this was caused by my boots but found that I had the same issue with a much more expensive and customizable boots (Jones 32 MTB). This is not to undersell the importance of getting a boot that fits well as that is nonnegotiable. However, I found that I can reduce the pain and burning by getting my feet used to wearing the boots and strengthen my muscles to fatigue slower. Each season I would have to scramble to find my boots the night before my first day out and always put them on for the first time in 6+ months in the parking lot. This seemed silly to me, you would not run a 5k race in shoes you have not worn before would you? Think about it, you might be wearing the shoes in the 5k for a half hour or so but you will be in the snow boots for upwards of 7 or 8 hours. This did not make a lot of sense of me so I forced my self to change this. I started wearing my snowboard boots a few times a week while walking my dog. I also started wearing them while going through my strength training routine. By no means was this comfortable at first but after a few weeks I could really notice the difference. I coupled this with a series of different stretchs and yoga to keep everything loose while training.

Snowboard Leg Exercises:

To avoid fatiguing fast I focused on conditioning snowboard specific muscles to be ready for the season. In snowboarding we put a lot of stress on our calves, quads, hamstrings so I focused on finding a few exercises that would build these. I started out by wearing my snowboard boots for all of these work outs. I feel that this helps to make the training as real as possible and for me worked muscles in ways that wearing a running shoe would not. I also focused on balance, while weight machines are great for isolating certain muscles, I wanted to do workouts that forced all of the muscles to fire together like they would while snowboarding. The first and I think most important exercise for me was the sled work out. Pushing a weighted sled works the calves, quads, hamstrings and core. However, neither me or my gym has a sled and I was certainly not shelling out the money for one. Instead I found a few ways to improvise. I used the base of an old punching bag as my sled, it holds about 30 gallons of water and slide pretty easy on my basement floor. For the first couple weeks this was enough resistance but as I progressed, I had to add weight by having my wife sit on the sled as I pushed it. If you’re not married, I would imagine that a close friend would also work. Also if you have the space pushing a car up your driveway (make sure someone is in the car to hit the brakes) would also work great. You could also likely push a heavy trash can or maybe the base to a basketball net. Get creative

Another great workout that I used was lunge walks across my basement. Basically you do a lunge with some sort of weight. Start with one leg forward then switch to the other as you make your way across the room. If you don’t have access to weight, fill ups some water jugs. I picked up a 20 gallon water container from Walmart for 8 bucks and used that. I also did a ton of box steps and calf raises with the boots on. The box steps helped me to get ready for uphill walking in the heavy snowboard boots. I had goals to do a bunch of backcountry riding and these helped me to get used to walking uphill. The calf raises helped me to build muscle and strengthen my lower legs. I used a gym type box for both the steps and the raises but your home steps would work just fine. This ones easy and goes without saying but do squats.

In terms of repetition I did this series of work outs twice a week for 6 weeks leading up to the first rideable snow storm. My guess is that even 2 weeks of this would help to get you ready. My favorite part about any of these workouts is that they can be done anytime at home for a low cost. There is very little barrier to success outside of having the will power to put the time in. All things considered I felt that these routines really helped me to be much more physically ready for the season. Right out of the gate I have been able to keep up better with my most skilled ski buddies. At this point I have already been out for 10 full days and have felt consistently good. Not only do I feel less tired or pain but I feel that I am have better control while going fast or navigating steep terrain. My turns feel like they take less effort and I am more comfortable and relaxed throughout the day. However, as I sit here on a crowded plane to Houston in route to Taos NM I am already getting cramped and have 3 full days of steep Rockies riding ahead of me. Well see how it goes. Hope they have PBR.

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