Seriously, though, isn’t that all of us? Former Olympic downhiller Daron Rahlves has some tips for getting you ready for winter—even if you kind of despise going to the gym.
Maybe you’ve been to one of those ski conditioning classes at your local gym. You’re doing squats, lunges, and mountain climbers, but is it fun? Not exactly. And is it really getting you ready for the ski season that you wish would just get here already? We know building strength helps prevent injuries and ease those early-season quad shakes, but it sure would be nice to do it in a way that was at least semi enjoyable.
So, we called up decorated American downhiller and former Winter Olympian Daron Rahlves, a Flylow athlete, for his advice on how we can get strong for ski season without spending hours inside a gym. Rahlves teaches a class called Mountain Warrior at the Bar Effect in his hometown of Truckee, California—but you can take it from anywhere via Zoom. He’s also just a fan of getting outdoors and using rocks and body weight and his mountain bike to build strength.
“I don’t just train to perform, I do it to prevent injuries. As soon as you get tired, you get sloppy and that’s when you get hurt. So, how can we get ourselves ready to go?""
“As a ski racer, I spent a lot of time in the gym, but these days, being outside is nice,” Rahlves says. “I don’t just train to perform, I do it to prevent injuries. As soon as you get tired, you get sloppy and that’s when you get hurt. So, how can we get ourselves ready to go?” You can’t shortcut your way to fitness, but you can have some fun with it in the process. Here are his tips.
Get On Your Bike
At this time of year, Rahlves is on his mountain bike and his dirt bike as much as possible. “When you’re coming downhill, you’re standing up on your pedals, hitting terrain, resisting. You’re on your feet the entire time,” Rahlves says. “That’s similar to skiing. You’re conditioning your cores, back, legs, and arms. That’s great conditioning for skiing.”
Go Hike a Ski Slope
Rahlves likes to scramble on foot up and down backcountry terrain he skis around Donner Summit and at his home ski resort, Palisades Tahoe, California, before the snow falls. “I love getting out there and seeing the terrain without snow on it. You can start mind surfing, day-dreaming about how fun it’s going to be this winter,” he says. “Be quick on your feet but soft on touch down. So, you’re utilizing more of your muscles instead of your joints. That requires a ton of strength. That’s one of the best things you can do.”
Pretend You’re Rocky
“I’ve always been a fan of Rocky-style workouts,” Rahlves says. “I’ll go for a jog warmup, then I’ll grab a rock. You don’t have to use a lot of weight.” He suggests starting with a 5- to 10-pound rock; eventually you can work your way up to a 30-pounder. “Rocks don’t have a uniform shape, so you’ll develop grip strength, it’ll work your core,” he says. With the rock in one hand and your arm overhead, do a set of lunges on each side, then swap.
No, Seriously, Grab a Rock
Then grab the rock with both hands and hold it out front, at chest level. Do a lunge on one leg and twist to that side, then swap. “You’re basically doing walking lunges, with weight in your arms,” Rahlves says. “In skiing, you’re fighting to keep your shoulders down the hill, so this is good for being focused and being in control with your whole body.”
Work On Balance
Skiing requires balance and precision, so focus on working one leg at a time to improve single-leg strength. Hold the rock over your right shoulder, then dip down on your right leg to 90 degrees. Do a one-legged jump up, then throw the rock like a shot put. (Obviously, do this outside and away from small children, pets, and other breakable objects.) Do one side, then the other. “That’s a good indicator of the strength differences between one side of your body and the other,” Rahlves says. “You’re working each leg and each side of the body equally.”
Do Some Explosive Moves
Explosive moves can help you develop the muscle strength you need for sustained days on the mountain. Try a broad jump, where you jump forward off two legs, landing on two legs. “There are a lot of ways to change this one up. You can also try landing on one leg or jumping and landing at an angle in a lateral jump,” Rahlves says. “Try jumping on flat ground or jumping on an incline. Focus on sticking that landing and thinking about that soft landing. You don’t want to slap down.”
Meet the Pistol Squat
First, watch Daron do a pistol squat. Impressive, right? Again, there are a few variations. You can do it without any weight, or you can get a kettlebell and rack it up with one hand, in the center of your chest. You can come down on two legs or make it more challenging by doing it on one leg. “You basically want to come down until your butt hits the ground, then pause, and come back up. Go as deep into the squat as possible,” he says. “If you have no strength there, that’s when you have the possibility of knee injuries.”
Don’t Ignore Your Hamstrings
Most skiers focus on their quads and glutes, but hamstrings are key, too. “Hamstrings are so overlooked,” Rahlves says. “You need strong hamstrings for injury prevention.” He recommends starting with a double leg deadlift. No weight, just using your body weight. “Hinge at the waist. Keep your back flat. Feel a pull on your hamstrings. Come back up,” he says. “Go from there to one foot. Then incorporate weight. Arms straight, hanging with some weight.” Here’s what a deadlift looks like if you need a visual.
Don’t Forget to Stretch
“In skiing and biking, you’re always crouched over in that athletic position,” Rahlves says. “Doing a lot of hip stretches and lunging stretches helps.” He likes the cobra pose in yoga. From a plank position, lower down to the floor, then lift your shoulders and upper body off the floor, straightening at the elbows and opening up your shoulders. Here’s a visual if that helps. “The more freely you can move, the better you will perform,” he says.