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Everything You Need To Know About Heli-Ski Conditioning

How in shape should you be for heli-skiing? This is a common question we receive at Helitrax, and we want our clients to be well-prepared for their best day skiing. Judging fitness is tough, but we can confidently say that the better shape you are in, the easier time you will have in deep powder and in our terrain.

To help you get in proper shape for your heli-ski day, we teamed up with the professionals at Uphill Athlete to put together a few sample workouts. They know the subject of training better than anyone else, and even created a detailed plan for people who want to have their best, and strongest, season on snow. Check out their 12-Week Freeride Training Plan here. If you have the time to execute it, this is the best way to get in proper shape for ski season and heli-skiing with us. Uphill Athlete also provides custom 8-week plans and coaching. Don’t have the time? We totally understand that as well. Here are some exercises and workouts to get you going so you can be prepared when you load the bird with us this winter.

Workout #1: Core Routine

This core routine was taken from Uphill Athlete and cover how to do core strengthening exercises.

If done correctly, these exercises are meant to build a high degree of general core strength that will be a base for more sport-specific movements. The goal of this training is to build strength, not endurance. The idea is to hold the best, strictest form that you can manage regardless of how few repetitions you can do. Make all the movements slowly and with strict control. Quality is far more important than quantity.

You should shoot for four to eight repetitions of any exercise or hold any position for only a few seconds. Do this routine in circuit-style with 30 seconds between exercises. Add resistance whenever you can complete more than six perfect reps. Resistance can be added by using a weight vest, heavier shoes, ankle weights, or a heavier dumbbell. As you gain strength, drop the exercises that become easy and spend more time working on your weaker ones. Be guided by the principle of maintaining maximum core tension for the full exercise, and keep trying until you get them all perfect.

Notes for these exercises:

  • Strict Sit-Ups: Straight back. All the way up and all the way down. Hands on chest, behind your head, or holding a weight to your chest progresses the exercise from easy to harder.
  • Bird’s Dog: The hip rotates through its full range of motion.
  • Windshield Wipers: Keep the legs straight. Hamstring flexibility is a limiter for some.
  • Three point/two point: Highly relevant for contact strength when poling.
  • Kayaker: Highly relevant for turning the skis and kick-turn motion.
  • Super Pushups: Shoulders and spine. Push through, then back. This will be the hardest exercise for many SkiMo racers.
  • Hanging Leg Raises: Start with knees bent if you can’t do these with straight legs. If straight legs is easy, do these as Hanging Windshield Wipers, as per the video tutorial.
  • Gymnast L-sit:  If you can’t do it, try crossing your legs in front of you for 10 seconds. Try straightening your legs each time, it will come. Difficult for many.
  • Side Planks: Without weight or dynamically with a dumbbell. 5 reps per side/10 in total.
  • Bonus: Turkish Get Ups: The grand-daddy of core exercises. Hits every major core stabilization group.

Workout #2: Free Skiing Base Strength

This workout was taken directly from Uphill Athlete’s 12-Week Freeride Plan and will help with your base strength.

Warm up:
This is a squat based strength workout because squats are a reasonable simulation of the movements you will be making in skiing steeper terrain. Start slow but work to increasingly vigorous movements as warm up progresses so that you have broken a sweat by the end. Move from one to the next exercise with 30-60 second breaks.

1) 5 minutes of squat stretches as shown here:

2) Burpee x10

4) Air Squat x20

5) Goblet Squat x 20 use light to moderate weight (10-30lbs) (5-15kg)

This workout is aimed at increasing your strength without adding muscle mass. We do that by keeping the number of reps in each set low and weight lifted high and incorporating a long rest of 3-4 minutes between sets. During this rest you will perform other exercises.

You will ideally be using a weight that is 85-90% of your absolute max. This will be a weight you barely can lift 5-6 times with good form. However the first couple of sets of the workout also serve to additionally warm you up for the heavier lifts/ We’re using half squats rather than full squats as the exercise because its range of motion is most similar to the range of motion when skiing. As you notice strength increases from workout to workout you will need to increase the weight being lifted. Do this gradually and even from set to set as you feel it.

Set #1
1/2 squat: 6 reps @ 75% of max, toes pointed straight ahead
rest 1 min
Plank: Maximum hold with good form
rest 2 min

Set #2
1/2 squat: 5 reps @80 % of max, toes straight
rest 1 min
Hanging leg raise: max reps
rest 2 min

Set #3
1/2 squat: 4 reps @85% of max, toes straight
rest 1 min
Push ups max number
rest 2 min

Set #4
1/2 squat 3 reps @ 90% of max, toes straight
rest 1 min
Plank: Max hold with good form
rest 2 min

Set #5
1/2 squat: 3 reps @ 90% of max , toes straight
rest 1 min
Hanging leg raise; max reps
rest 2 min

Set #6
1/2 squat: 2 reps at 95% of max (if feeling strong)

For Plank: Good form means no hip sag or lift. Use added resistance in the form of a weight vest if you can exceed 30 second hold

Hanging Leg Raise. Start in a dead hang position. Select the resistance that allows you to perform at least 2-3 reps.

Easiest to Hardest:
Knees up 1/2 way
Knees to Chest
Straight leg 1/2 way
Straight leg all the way

For Push ups: If you can’t hold good form from toes then go to knees. Reps done when straight plank position fails. Use weight vest if you can do more than 15 reps with good form

Workout #3: 7 Exercises to Prepare You For Ski Season

This workout blends strength and core exercises. It was put together by pro skier and trainer Crystal Wright for Outside Magazine.