Why You Should Hit the Slopes
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Trade your sneakers for skis or a snowboard for a few of your winter workouts: An afternoon on the slopes will burn off about 740 calories—the same as an hour-long spinning class but with breathtaking views. It will also work your leg muscles more than pedaling does, according to research in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. "Except you'll have so much fun, you won't realize you're getting a challenging workout," says Kimmy Fasani, a pro snowboarder for Burton.
The key, says ski instructor Ann Schorling, a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI), is to pinpoint the level of skill and exertion that feels like it's just on the edge of your comfort zone and hang out there.
No matter where you're starting from, we have ideas to help you gain the confidence to clip or strap in and push your limits in exciting ways. (Make sure you avoid injuries by trying the right exercises to prep your body for winter sports.)
Photo: Fnlay Mackay / Trunk Archive
Your Abs and Legs Get Worked—Hard
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From bunny hills to moguls, mastering skiing or boarding comes down to learning how to balance on a moving platform, Schorling says. All that wobbling constantly engages your stabilizer muscles in your core and lower body. And it's why you'll probably notice that, the more time you spend on the slopes, the easier single-leg exercises such as pistol squats and balance-challenge yoga poses will feel.
Also, each run requires you to engage your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves in essentially one incredibly long isometric contraction. The proof of its sculpting power is in the morning-after muscle soreness. "Skiing and snowboarding have the ability to point out weaknesses," Schorling says. So take note of sore spots and dedicate some gym time to those muscles. You'll come back stronger on the slopes (and also in your favorite studio class). (Not to mention these other 11 Things Every Woman Experiences After a Ski Day.)
It's OK to Go Slow
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The basic stuff is what's important when it comes to your slopes skill set. "People who are the most successful and have the least fear are the ones who take the time to truly learn the foundational stuff, like how to properly walk in skis or get yourself up on a snowboard from a sitting position," Schorling says.
When you ace simple skills, you create an awareness that prepares your body to react to the unpredictable, such as a sudden change in terrain or getting around a downed rider. So the more you can practice being off balance, like by moving around a tree and jumping in place or while sliding, the more you're able to learn the many ways to regain control in various situations, Schorling says. (You can even practice some of these balance exercises before you hit the slopes.)
There's No Adventure Ceiling
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Once you're comfortable with the basics, there are a ton of ways to up the adrenaline. For example, trying out a new mountain or resort can make the sport feel totally fresh, says Amie Engerbretson, a backcountry skier with Spyder. "Or you could check out the backcountry, which is any area outside a ski resort," she says. (Make sure to sign up with a guiding service, so you can navigate the ungroomed terrain safely.) Because there are no lifts to get you back to the top of the mountain, you'll hike up, which makes for a full day of pretty impressive exercise, Fasani says.
Or visit a terrain park to experiment with how different surfaces and obstacles change the experience. "At terrain parks, the surfaces intentionally change—you may encounter a side hill, a ramp, or a half-pipe—so you're really training your eye-foot coordination," Schorling says.
You Can Always Up Your Skills
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There's no end to how much you can challenge yourself by moving more dynamically, exploring different terrain, or practicing new tricks, says Amy Gan, a snowboard instructor and a member of the PSIA-AASI team. Sometimes that means signing up for a lesson. "Getting feedback from a pro can give some direction as to what you should be working on next and helps drive you to go out and practice on your own," Gan says.
Trying different skills can also increase your calorie burn, the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study says. For example, skiing in a short-turn style, characterized by compact turns with a high frequency, is a more dynamic way to ski that elicits more effort from your legs, says study author Thomas Stöggl, Ph.D. (And there are even other genius ways to make your ski trip healthier.)
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"Snow sports are all about the experience, which includes hanging with friends, seeing new places, and of course après ski festivities," Engerbretson says. In fact, even though you'll likely dedicate a day to being at the mountain, you'll probably be actively skiing or riding only about 45 percent of the time, according to research. That leaves plenty of time for fireside snacks between runs—all with like-minded people. (Just take a hint from these Celebs Who Love to Hit the Slopes.)
Downhill sports bring together a community who enjoy the thrill of being outside and exercising in nature, so you'll likely make new friends with similar interests, Fasani says. Many resorts even host women's-only weekends so you can connect with others at your level and build your skills in a supportive environment.