How to Train for Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

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Backcountry skiers on a sunny day in the mountains

Skiing or snowboarding down the pristine powder of a backcountry bowl is a sublime feeling. It’s one that’s well earned, too, because the “ski lift” that accesses this terrain is you. By following a preseason training regimen like the one in this article, you’ll be more physically ready to climb, carve and climb back up again, run after run.

This workout plan strengthens lower-body muscles (quads, hamstrings, glutes) that you use for both climbing up and carving down. It also aims to improve your mobility and balance to help you control your skis or board better.


Here’s a quick, general overview of how to train for backcountry skiing and snowboarding:

  • Build strength in your lower body. You’ll rely heavily on your quads, glutes, hamstrings and hips to get you into the backcountry and to descend deep-powder slopes.
  • Beef up muscles that provide control and balance. Working core muscles and the muscles around your hips helps you maintain good body position.
  • Increase endurance. You’ll need plenty of stamina to get to where you want to go—and back again—after a day in the backcountry.
  • Crank up your cardio. There aren’t a lot of ski lifts where you’ll be going, so you need to add cardio activities like running, biking or interval training.

Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or certified training professional.


Training Schedule for Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

  • Don’t wait until the week before a trip to start training: Ideally, you would begin these exercises about six to eight weeks before the season starts.
  • Two to three exercise days a week is ideal: Too many workout days can lead to over-training injuries; too few workout days and you won’t see much progress.
  • Plus two or three cardio days: Cardio-day workout sessions should last at least 30 minutes.

Training Exercises for Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

Keep these training tips in mind as you work out:

  • Adapt the exercises to fit your body, not the other way around.
  • If an exercise hurts, modify it or skip it.
  • Move at a comfortable pace. Consider adding an extra set, increasing resistance or using heavier dumbbells as your training progresses.

Always warm up first: Five to ten minutes of easy cardio activity should do the trick. For best results, focus on these guidelines as you progress through your exercise routine:

  • Inhale during initial exertion, then exhale as you return to the starting position. Make sure you breathe regularly during faster exercises.
  • Rest for 30 to 45 seconds at the end of each exercise (unless otherwise noted).
  • Do the full set of exercises. Rest for two minutes and then repeat the full set at least once more. If you’re able, do a third set of exercises. 


Walking Lunge with Rotation Exercise

This exercise works your glutes, quads, hamstrings and abdominals, and improves your core rotation.

Prop: None

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart.
  2. Step one foot forward into a lunge. Your back knee should drop at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Your forward knee should also be at a 90-degree angle.
  3. As you step forward, rotate your body to the side in the direction of your lead knee. Have arms at chest height, slightly elevated from your sides.
  4. Drive up and through your forward leg to take the next lunge step. Your back knee should now be out front.
  5. Repeat 10 times each side for a total of 20.

Tips and modifications: If you don’t have enough space, you can stay in one spot and alternate your legs. Make it easier by keeping your back leg straight. Make sure that your knees do not go inward but stay in a straight line with your foot and hip. Make it harder by adding a medicine ball.


Skater with Uppercut

This exercise engages your glutes, quads and abdominal muscles to develop your rotational power and balance. This builds dynamic strength in your lower body, core and shoulders. The uppercut motion increases strength and endurance in the shoulders and arms so can use your poles to add power as you climb up and over ridges.

Props: A lightweight dumbbell

  1. Start in a standing position with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Hop laterally, landing on your right foot, while also bringing your weighted left arm up diagonally across your chest as if you were doing an uppercut punch. The power to raise your arm should be generated more by your torso and core muscles than with your arm.
  3. Hop back to left leg, bringing the weighted right arm diagonally up across your chest.
  4. Complete 15 reps on each side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by using a lighter or heavier dumbbell; you can also adjust how far laterally you jump each time.


Single-Leg Squat and Row Exercise

The squat in this exercise develops core strength and stability because it engages core muscles in tandem with the muscles that support the hip to balance body weight over your knee. The row movement develops endurance in biceps and lat muscles so you can maximize your poling efficiency throughout the day.

Prop: A resistance band 

  1. Secure one end of the band at slightly above shoulder height.
  2. Begin in a standing position facing where the band is anchored. Hold one end of the band with your left hand and keep your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle next to your rib cage.
  3. Keep your shoulders broad and your trunk tall throughout this exercise.
  4. Do a single leg squat on your right leg, extending your left arm forward as you lower; use your right arm to counterbalance your movement.
  5. Stand back up from the single leg squat and row the left arm back to the starting position.
  6. Do 15 reps and rest 30 seconds; then switch sides and do 15 reps on the other side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by adjusting the depth of your squat, or start by performing a regular squat with both legs before you begin your arm row.


Step Up with Lateral Leg Raise Exercise

After many hours on your skis or board, quads and other upper leg muscles can become fatigued. This exercise builds up strength and endurance in those muscles. It also adds a leg raise that targets the hip-area muscles and helps improve your overall balance.

Prop: A stable surface, about 8 inches off the ground. If you have a training box or an aerobic step at home, you can use that. If not, the bottom step on a flight of stairs can also work.

  1. Start with your left foot on the ground and your right foot on top of a step. Your right knee will be bent.
  2. Step up until you are standing with your right leg nearly straight and you are balanced on top of the step.
  3. Slowly extend your left leg to the side and then back again.
  4. Pause in a balanced position, then step down, returning your left leg and foot to the starting position.
  5. Do this 15 times, then repeat the exercise 15 times on the other side.

Tips and modifications: Adjust the difficulty by finding a higher or lower (stable) surface to step on.


Chop Exercise

Having a strong core and leg muscles helps make you a stronger, more confident skier and snowboarder. This exercise strengthens your core muscles, including the upper and lower abdominals, as well as the obliques. It also builds up your glutes and upper leg muscles.

Prop: Resistance band

  1. Use a resistance band that you can secure slightly above shoulder height.
  2. Stand sideways to where the band is anchored and position yourself so that you can reach up even with your shoulder to grab the free end of the band with both hands; your knees should be slightly bent.
  3. Pull the band down across your body while turning your body. Think about the trunk doing the majority of the work for this exercise instead of your arms and shoulders.
  4. Keep your arms as straight as you can as you pull down on the band; your arms should act as guides, with your obliques and back muscles generating the pulling and rotating power.
  5. Do this 15 times; then repeat facing the other way.
  6. Rest for 90 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.

Tips and modifications: Adjust band resistance level by shortening it to increase resistance or lengthening it to ease the resistance. Your goal is to feel fatigued at the end of your reps, but not so fatigued that you struggle to finish them.


Lift Exercise

This exercise works on your rotation and targets your core and obliques (the sides of your abdominals). A strong core helps you stay balanced while on the slopes. You also build power and strength in your glutes, quads and calves as you move with the resistance band. 

Prop: Resistance band

  1. Use a resistance band that you can secure at about ankle height. 
  2. Stand sideways to where the band is anchored and position yourself so that when you grab the end of the band with both hands, there is tension in the band.
  3. Rotate your torso upward to the right, pulling the end of the band at an upward angle across the front of your torso; let your feet pivot until you are facing in the opposite direction with your arms straight in front of your body. Straighten the leg closest to where the band is anchored while pushing up onto the toe of that foot.
  4. Return to the starting position while maintaining an even tension in the band.
  5. Through this entire motion, your core muscles should be powering the movement; your shoulders should stay square and your hips should remain aligned; your elbow and wrists should also remain as straight as possible.
  6. Do this 20 times; then do the same on the opposite side for 20 more reps.

Tips and modifications: Adjust band resistance level by shortening it to increase resistance or lengthening it to ease the resistance. Your goal is to feel fatigued at the end of your reps, but not so fatigued that you struggle to finish them.


Squat Reverse Lunge with Knee Raise Exercise

This exercise works the primary muscles groups in your legs: quads, glutes and calves. The knee raise part of the exercise enhances your overall balance and endurance.

Prop: None

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Squat like you’re sitting back into a chair.  
  3. Stand up and step one leg back into a reverse lunge. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Do not let your knees go inward, keep them in line with feet.
  4. As you come out of that reverse lunge, bring your back knee forward and lift it so your knee is now at a 90-degree angle in front of you.
  5. Raise onto the toes of your standing leg.
  6. Return to a squat and repeat on the other leg.
  7. Do 10 repetitions on each leg.

Tips and modifications: Avoid arching your back. To modify the exercise, you can touch your foot back rather than going all the way into a deep lunge.


Plank with Single Arm Row

The plank targets your abdominals and improves core stability. The rowing element also works your lats and shoulders so you can use poles efficiently all day long. Keeping your core strong will help protect your lower back on long, hard days.

Prop: Two moderate-weight dumbbells

  1. Begin in a plank position with hands on dumbbells and feet set wide apart.
  2. Row one elbow back, bringing the dumbbell up toward your rib cage.
  3. Return dumbbell to ground and repeat.
  4. Maintain a plank position throughout the exercise by keeping the body straight from head to toe. Do not let hips rotate; keep chin slightly tucked looking at the ground ahead of you to better engage neck muscles.
  5. Do 10-15 reps on each arm.

Tips and modifications: If you are unable to maintain a stable trunk while on your feet, drop to your knees to complete the exercise. You can also use a lighter or heavier dumbbell.


Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No internet article or video can replace proper instruction and experience—this article is intended solely as supplemental information. Be sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you engage in any outdoors activity.


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