Until recently, snow shoveling had been the sternest test for my dry-land training. I’ve moved tons of snow from sidewalk, driveway and roof. I’d tire, but recover without getting sore – and be ready to shovel again and again.
Earlier this fall I enrolled in a ski-specific conditioning program. I’ve been eager for a challenge. After a late start, the relentless storms fattened up lean mountains to fighting weight.
The functional fitness class at the U-District Institute of Sports Performance, 730 N. Hamilton, focuses on skiing and snowboarding from October through January. Strength and conditioning specialist Nick Carlone designs workouts that build balance, coordination, agility and power.
Classmate Dan Gillespie and I looked forward to a big day on a big mountain. We found one at Schweitzer.
On Jan. 1, Schweitzer had received a total of 150 inches of snow – half the resort’s average for a full season. On Jan. 2, more fresh powder fell.
With food and water on our backs, we set out to make turns until we could make no more. Gillespie, 43, a tractor-trailer driver for UPS, was on telemark gear. I put away the rock skis and used my varsity alpine setup.
Carlone’s workouts promote proper form and balance by conditioning the core. Back, hip flexors, abdominals, glutes and groin learn to work together as a unit. Hitting the fresh morning lines in Schweitzer’s front side bowls and glades, I felt quick, solid and relaxed.
“We were able to ski challenging terrain right away without too much effort,” Gillespie said. “I felt like I picked up where I left off at the end of last season.”
The Quad Mill is part of every workout. It’s a machine developed by the U.S. Ski Team to increase the lactate threshold in quadriceps – which we exceeded on Little Blue.
By the time we got there, the powder was chopped into light crud. Our goal was to maintain a consistent rhythm non-stop down long runs like Colburn’s School and Little Blue Ridge. The effort burned more than any session on the machine. I could have cut an alder branch and roasted marshmallows on my quads.
But thanks to the Quad Mill, the glowing coals cooled quickly enough so we could claim untracked pockets remaining in the trees off the T-bar.
“My recovery time is shorter,” Gillespie said. “I can ski longer runs than I would trying to ski myself into shape. When you get tired on telly skis, it’s over the handlebars. I’m holding a strong, centered, upright position.”
The sky lifted and visibility cleared. We concluded our field test skiing chutes off the South Ridge. Lake Pend Oreille was a sapphire set in white gold. Sun glinted off the blue snake of the Pend Oreille River, meandering west.
Carlone’s workouts challenge the normal range of motion, teaching the body to recover from awkward positions. He would have been proud to see me drop from a cornice and get bucked into the back seat. I had the strength and reflexes to gather all my flying body parts back together without interrupting the line.
Skiing six hours non-stop, Schweitzer eventually beat us into submission. We recovered without getting sore. But winter has a long way to go, and we can only get stronger.
“I’ll keep going to the class,” Gillespie said. “I feel bombproof and unflappable. And putting chains on my truck is a lot easier than it used to be.”