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Ski Fitness: Training For High Altitude

Ski Fitness: Training For High Altitude

30.01.2017 | Active

Matt The Trainer is back to make sure you’re ski ready!

If you’re a seasoned veteran on the slopes and you’re able to ski at least 2-4 times per year, you’ll become acutely adapted to life on the slopes and your fitness levels naturally become more attuned to the specifics of skiing at high altitude (this doesn’t mean you should stop reading this post though).  However us lower land mammals who may only venture up into the cool, crisp mountain air once a year (or once in a lifetime) face a number of challenges in regards to becoming  Ski Fit for our impending trip up (and down) the slopes.
In this post I’m going to share a few key exercises that will help you train for high altitude.


Altitude: Why Ski Fitness Is Important

Altitude will always be a challenging factor for first time skiers as well those used to skiing lower down the mountain.

There are two major kinds of environmental stresses at high altitude for humans. Firstly, there are the alternating daily extremes of climate that range from hot, sunburning days to freezing nights.  In addition, winds are often strong and humidity low, resulting in rapid dehydration.  Secondly, the air pressure is lower.  This is usually the most significant limiting factor in high mountain regions.

The percentage of oxygen in the air at two miles above sea level (3.2 km.) is essentially the same as at sea level (21%).  However, the air pressure is 30% lower at the higher altitude due to the fact that the atmosphere is less dense–that is, the air molecules are farther apart.

When we travel to high mountain areas, (4,900–11,500 ft above sea level) our bodies initially develop inefficient physiological responses.  There is an increase in breathing and heart rate to as much as double, even while resting. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up sharply as our hearts pump harder to get more oxygen to the cells.  These are stressful changes, especially for people with weak hearts.


How to prepare for altitude?

Long term acclimatisation is the best way to deal with high altitude, but for most of us this just isn’t possible, so ideally the longer you have to prepare for the ski trip the better.

Below are a few key training areas you can work on 6-12 weeks ahead of your trip.


Ski Fit: Breath Control

Breathing is an automated neurological action, meaning we don’t have to consciously think about it. Which on the one hand is great considering the average adult will breathe 17,000 – 30,000 time per day (not including exercise), however on the other hand it also means that most people tend to massively under value the power of controlling their breathing.But one simple breathing technique can help you get ski ready…


Breath – Hold – Breath


This is so easy and effective that it can (and should) be done every day. You can start with the 12 second breaths and then work towards 24 second breaths:

Breath in – through your nose (take 4 seconds to inhale)

Hold – hold breath in (hold for 4 seconds)

Breath out – through your mouth (take 4 seconds to exhale)

Repeat 10-20 times

2. Ski Fit: Aerobic & Anaerobic Training


While many people believe that one or the other of these exercises meets all their training needs… I would disagree!

Aerobic simply means “with the presence of oxygen” while  Anaerobic means “without the presence of oxygen”.

Aerobic Training

A typical Aerobic exercise is distance running. Here your body is working at low but constant state of intensity. An example of an Anaerobic exercise is is 100m sprinting where the body is working at maximum intensity or high exertion levels for a short period of time.

In many sports, including skiing, you’re rarely in one one state of exertion, instead you are constantly working between Anaerobic and Aerobic states.  So the more often and adapted your training is in both of these states, the better your overall performance on the slopes will be.

My best advice for this slow and steady style of cardio is little and often!

A simple and flexible way of this aerobic cardio training solution, is to set yourself a realistic daily time allowance (20mins) where you know you can get out the house for an easy run or a cycle. Then set yourself a realistic weekly distance target (10k) that you know is achievable and work towards hitting your weekly target. If your hitting your target easily or with days to spare, that’s when you up your weekly distance target.


Beginner Level

Daily Time Allowance –  20 mins

Weekly Mileage Target – 10 k


Intermediate Level

Daily Time Allowance –  20 mins

Weekly Mileage Target – 15 k


Higher Level

Daily Time Allowance –  20 mins

Weekly Mileage Target – 20 k


This method of ‘managing your mileage’ helps you become more consistent in your training and allows you to easily increase / decrease your daily time allowance and simply up your weekly distance targets from week to week as you get fitter and faster.


Anaerobic Training

As you can imagine this is more about working at you maximum effort and again it’s best done little and often, but in 1 sitting and not as a daily thing. The reason for not doing this every day is a simple one…you can’t! Full on sprint training sessions are no joke so it’s important that you give yourself time to fully recover between sessions, as all your gains (muscle repair) actually happen during sleep and recovery…not when your training.


A really simple method of sprint training is the ‘Sprint-Recover’ lap of a football pitch.

Sprint The Length – Recover (walk) The Width

1 lap = 2 sprints /2 recoveries

5 laps = 10 sprints / 10 recoveries

10 laps = 20 sprints / 20 recoveries


Aim to do as many laps as you constantly can in a single 20 mins session 1-2 times per week.

These are just a few simple things anyone of any fitness level can do in order to help themselves get Ski Fit, beat the altitude and enjoy the slopes even more this season.