Heli-skiing Alaska or BC: How to get fit for a Heli-ski holiday

December 20, 2011 Last Frontier Heliskiing

With any intensive sport, being at your physical peak will not only improve your performance, but will increase the satisfaction you gain from your chosen activity. Training your body to withstand the demands of a high mountain heli-ski holiday (which can actually be a lot greater than one may first imagine) is quite simple, and can be attained in either the gym, or at home. Try to begin at least six weeks before hitting the snow, although any late pre-training is understandably better than none at all.

To begin with, the basics: Improving the cardiovascular and respiratory system, in essence, looking after your heart and lungs, will lead to increased stamina and endurance. Any activity that leaves you a little out of breath, such a taking a brisk walk, or climbing the stairs instead of using an elevator is good for this, and the more frequently the better.

Heli-Skiing Alsaka
The Vast Expanse of the Coastal Mountains in Northern British Columbia, Photo Credit: Dave Silver

Aerobic exercises, those that the body can manage simply by using oxygen to meet energy demands, are also beneficial to endurance. When Heli-sking BC or Alaska you can expect a serious workout – in one typical heli-skiing run in northern BC, 3,000 vertical feet are descended. Repeated runs therefore demand a high level of fitness – cycling, jogging or rowing at a moderate pace for up to twenty minutes, three to four times a week, is a good base to work from.

Assuming the majority of skiers and boarders looking towards their heli-ski trip are already in good physical shape, the next progression is to work on their anaerobic strength. Anaerobic metabolism is the process that occurs during intense exercise, such as darting in and out of the trees on your skis’. When there is not enough oxygen to meet the energy demands, the body releases high energy phosphates or glucose to use as fuel instead. Our body can only supply us with a limited number of these energy-giving resources, a few minutes at a time. After exhausting them we begin to feel fatigue, needing to rest and recuperate.

Yet it’s possible to extend this process, through structured interval training with the common exercises below, static weight training, or more involved methods such as plyometrics – where explosive movements can help fine tune and condition muscles to react in the shortest amount of time possible.

Replicating the movements found in either skiing or boarding within our exercises is essential to the development of the right set of muscles. In the legs the quadriceps, the buttocks and the calves can all be strengthened with squats and lunges. The core muscles (in the stomach, back and sides) through sit-ups and press-ups. Try twenty repetitions of each, followed by a short break, and then repeat four or five times, increasing as you feel yourself getting stronger.

Flexibility, balance and coordination are also essential skills that will help improve a heli-skier’s ability. Stretching everyday is vital, and the more flexible you are, the less chance you have of incurring injury. Balance and coordination are so important in skiing, and both can be fun to train. Balance balls and boards are excellent materials for this job. Also becoming more popular are slacklines, providing endless balance practice, whilst simultaneously giving the core muscles a real work out.

In the end there is nothing like getting on the snow to reawaken those muscles that have become dormant over the summer months. However, with an objective goal, it is easy to get into good shape, and what better goal could one have than skiing endless lines all day long, the heli at your disposal, in the best heli-skiing mountains in the world.

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