How to ramp up a year-round fitness regimen
By Lyle Wilson
You’ve just had your best training season ever, and now it’s cold, dark and there’s snow everywhere. No doubt your summer biking, running and plowing through triathlons has left you in great shape going into winter, so what do you have to do to keep it going?
Cross-country skiing can help you kick it up a notch, combining the exhilaration of mountain biking and trail running – on snow. Think about it, you grind up the big hills, heart in your throat, pulse maxing out, legs burning. Over the top you go, stretching out and getting your poise and rhythm back, you plunge over the next downhill, faster and faster, legs pumping to keep up with the ground flashing by, body trying to maintain equilibrium while adrenaline courses into your body in preparation for imminent disasters around every curve. Does this remind you of your rides and runs? It’s part of every cross-country ski workout as well.
A winter spent cross-country skiing can put a runner ahead of the fitness curve heading into spring. Cross-country skiing is the number one fitness development sport in the world. Most of the fittest athletes ever tested for VO2 max oxygen capacity are elite ski racers. The real beauty of this sport is it doesn’t produce chronic overuse injuries, while developing huge cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular fitness benefits. If you think about the reasons you run or bike all summer, many are shared by cross-country skiing. You bike & run to get out into beautiful natural environments, also spectacular in winter.
You live a healthy, active lifestyle. Why take the winter off? Psychologically, sport can be your therapist, your escape from office, city, and stress.
The terrain you love to play in on your bike or your runs is the same terrain that produces the most demanding and stimulating cross-country skiing. The West is filled with amazing venues for cross-country skiing, from Olympic calibre trails in Canmore and Whistler to local golf courses and amazing mountain resorts, all with trails groomed for classic and skate skiing. Phil Villeneuve is a former world class cross-county skier from Canmore, Alta., who has turned to competitive trail running.
“Having Nordic Skiing as a background taught me everything there was to know about my body (training loads, recovery, nutrition). The correlation between skiing and trail running is so close that I was able to apply all of this knowledge directly to trail running,” says Villeneuve. “Nordic skiing is one of the most physically demanding endurance sports in the world and Nordic skiers are amongst the fittest athletes in the world . . . but then again, I’m biased.”
There are two techniques, classic and skate skiing, each with a repertoire of individual skills. Loppets and other ski events are divided between the two techniques. To be completely involved in skiing, you should try to master both techniques to be a complete skier. Skate skiing is easier to learn, while classic skiing is more technical and requires some knowledge about kick waxing. Both share similar fitness values, and when it all comes together, skiing well is like
ballet on snow.
There’s an adage that goes “if you can walk, you can ski.” But if you want to maximize your enjoyment of the sport and its training benefits, learn to ski from a certified coach, or ski instructor. Cross-country skiing is a difficult sport to master, so mastering skiing will challenge your athletic abilities. But once you have the techniques in your toolkit to conquer any terrain, the fun and fitness benefits really take hold. Before you know it, you’ll be racing for the top.
You can outfit yourself from scratch with a good pair of skis, boots, poles & bindings for about $750.00. Most of your biking & running clothes will get you started for ski wear, and once you are hooked you can style yourself up with specialty ski garments.
Places to ski vary immensely. Most trail systems are run either by businesses, ski clubs, or are public recreation areas. A good Nordic centre will have varied terrain with trails designed specifically for their skiing qualities, great and consistent grooming for both classic and skate techniques, waxing facilities and experts to call on for advice. Trail fees at most Nordic centres vary from $10 to $20 per person.
Ski schools are an integral part of most Nordic centres and regardless of your current abilities, having an expert work with you will be beneficial.
On site accommodations are wonderful, allowing you to ski out your door whenever you feel like hitting the trails. Amenities like washrooms, change rooms, lunchrooms, and warming huts on the trails can add to your overall enjoyment of the sport.
Lyle Wilson is a former cross-country ski coach who served Canada at two Olympic Games and eight World Championships. Wilson owns and operates Nipika Mountain Resort near Radium, B.C.
November/December 2010 Issue