How to Train for Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

 Powder skis strapped to her backpack, a skier hikes up a snowy mountainside

Climbing a snowy mountain and skiing down the backside through glistening snow can be an adrenaline thrill. If this is a goal of yours, you’ll want to prepare adequately for your adventure so you feel strong when you get to the top and are ready to carve down the other side.

Allowing a few months to prepare is ideal, but you can train effectively if you only have a few weeks before your trip. This training guide is designed to help you focus on cardiovascular and resistance training, the most essential aspects of fitness for completing a ski or snowboard tour.

As always, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new training routine. You should also be certain you have the proper equipment and knowledge for entering the backcountry.

Cardio Training for Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Touring

Cardiovascular training is crucial for climbing a mountain with skis or a snowboard. Mountain biking and walking outside are the most ideal ways to train: Choose an incline similar to the grade you will be climbing on the trip.

If you are training indoors, use a treadmill with a 2-3 percent grade and work your way up to 9-10 percent or higher. You can also use a stair climber and increase the speed as you get stronger.

Most people climb gradually in intervals and take breaks along the way. To mimic this, perform cardio training sessions on an incline, 3–5 times per week for 30–90 minutes. Take breaks when you need to, and work up to climbing continuously for 20–30 minutes. Consider adding weight in a backpack during the final weeks of training to get an idea of what it will feel like to carry equipment.

Fueling up: Experiment with eating 30 minutes to an hour before training and find what works for your energy level. When you complete your cardio training sessions, imagine what it would be like to ski/snowboard back down afterward: Will you have enough energy? Keep experiementing with total calories and timing until you find a balance that works for your body.

Strength Training Plan for Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Touring

Strong muscles will make climbing the mountain and riding down easier. Building muscle mass, increasing stability and improving balance with strength training exercises will supplement your cardiovascular workouts.

When you start training, strength train on different days than performing cardio. As your strength and endurance increase, try doing both workouts in the same day. Remember to take a day off when your muscles are excessively sore, or lighten your workout. If your muscles don’t recover, they can’t rebuild and get stronger. Soreness is a sign to take it easy and get plenty of rest. Remember to stay hydrated and eat healthy.

Choose Your Workout Schedule: Use the chart below to design your workout schedule. Plan A is the easiest and Plan D is the hardest. Work your way from A to D and adjust as necessary. You’ll want to properly warm up and cool down before and after cardio, strength training and when on the mountain.

Example of a workout schedule calendar

Strength Training Exercises for Ski and Snowboard Touring

Start at your current level of fitness and progress to the advanced level:

Beginner: Each exercise on your strength circuit should last 30 seconds. Repeat each circuit 2-3 times, for a total workout of 8–12 minutes.

Intermediate: Perform 60 seconds of each exercise, repeating the circuit 2-3 times for a total workout of 16–24 minutes.

Advanced: Perform each exercise for 90 seconds, and repeat the circuit 2-3 times for a total workout of 24–36 minutes.

Warm-Up/Cool Down Exercises

  • Before and after your workouts, perform each exercise for 30–60 seconds
  • Stand on one leg with no shoes. Stand tall with your shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes for an additional challenge.
  • Perform torso rotations, twisting left and right.
  • Perform ankle rolls and shoulder rolls, both clockwise and counter-clockwise.

Step-Ups

Starting a step up exercise on a stool in a park
Finishing a step up exercise on a stool in a park
  • Begin by standing behind a step, plyobox or bench.
  • Step one foot on top and drive the other leg all the way up, ending in a stable balance position.
  • Keep your body centered over the leg that’s stepping up.
  • Engage your abs and relax your shoulders.
  • Lower the body back down with control to the starting position. Repeat on the same side for the selected time then switch to the other side.

Band Walk

Starting a resistance band walk exercise in a park
Finishing a resistance band walk exercise in a park
  • Place a resistance band around your shins, just above the ankles.
  • Keep your feet in line with hips while walking forward; do not let the band pull the feet toward each other.
  • Relax your shoulders and engage your abs.

Weighted Lunges

Starting a weighted lunge exercise in a park
Finishing a weighted lunge exercise in a park
  • Begin by holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  • Stepping forward, drop the back knee down and bend both knees to approximately 90 degrees.
  • Keep your body weight between the two legs as you lunge up and down in a stationary position.
  • Go as low as comfortable and progress from there. Return to the beginning position before alternating with the other leg.

Push and Pull with Band and Dumbbell

Starting a dumbell and resistance band push and pull exercise in a park
Finishing a dumbell and resistance band push and pull exercise in a park
  • Wrap a resistance band around a solid anchor point so that one handle is available. Begin facing the anchor point in a staggered stance, holding the handle with one hand.
  • Hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand and bring both arms up to shoulder height.
  • Keeping your shoulders down from your ears, press the dumbbell forward as you row the resistance band backward.
  • Switch, allowing the band to release back away from the body, and pull the dumbbell back in a row.
  • Repeat for selected time. Switch arms on the next set.

Single-Leg Squat to Heel Raise

Starting a leg squat to heel exercise in a park
Finishing a leg squat to heel exercise in a park
  • Begin in a single-leg squat position with one knee bent and aligned over the foot, and the opposite leg lifted and extended straight in front. Your arms are extended straight out in front.
  • Relax your shoulders and engage your abs, keeping your body weight centered over the standing leg.
  • As you raise up from the single leg squat, extend the standing leg fully and raise up onto the toe of the standing foot.
  • Lower slowly back to the heel and repeat on the same leg for the selected time before switching sides on the next set.

Core Rotation with Resistance Band

Starting a core rotation with resistance band exercise in a park
Finishing a core rotation with resistance band exercise in a park
  • Hold one end of a resistance band with both hands aligned with the center of your chest and stand perpendicular to the band’s anchor point.
  • Standing in a squat position, rotate your arms toward the anchor point then away from the anchor point, rotating throught the trunk.
  • Keep your spine elongated and arms straight.
  • Repeat to the same side for the selected time then switch sides on the next set.

Lunge to Torso Rotation/Hay Baler with Medicine Ball

Starting a torso rotation with medicine ball exercise in a park
Finishing a torso rotation with medicine ball exercise in a park
  • Begin in a lunge position holding a medicine ball next to the hip opposite of the front leg.
  • Remain in a lunge position and rotate your trunk, bringing the medicine ball across the body and over above the opposite shoulder.
  • Repeat to the same side on the first set and switch sides on the next set.

Side Hop into Single-Leg Squat

Starting a side hop to single leg squat exercise in a park
Finishing a side hop to single leg squat exercise in a park
  • Begin in a single leg squat position with one leg extended and the standing leg bent with the knee tracking over the toes.
  • Using the momentum of the arms and pushing off of the standing leg, hop to the side and land on the opposite leg in a single leg squat position.
  • Be sure to maintain your balance before hopping to the opposite side again.
  • Repeat for the selected time, hopping from side to side.

The nonprofit American Council on Exercise (ACE) educates, certifies, and represents more than 53,000 fitness professionals, health coaches, and other allied health professionals.

This publication is not intended to provide medical advice on personal health issues, which should be obtained directly from a physician.

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