Wednesday Workout: L3 Ski Walking Up Stratton Mountain

FasterSkierAugust 8, 2018
Paddy Caldwell (l) of the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team leads the way during a summer ski-walking workout up Stratton Mountain in souther Vermont. (Photo: Patrick O’Brien)

For this week’s workout, we feature the Stratton Mountain School T2 Team, also known as the Elite Team, out of Stratton, Vermont. The team’s full-time athletes live near the base of the alpine resort and take advantage of the following Level 3 (L3) ski-walking workout right out their front door.

In an email, coach Patrick O’Brien explained why they often repeat this workout during the summer: “We can safely have a large number of people training together (no worries about cars like on an open road) and the younger athletes get lots of contact and can hop in behind the senior athletes for a portion of their intervals,” he wrote. “The dirt work road up the Stratton Mountain Resort has good footing and lots of vertical for good steady state training.”


The workout: Level 3 Mountain Ski Walking

Need: A mountain with enough vertical to fit in 6-7 intervals of ski walking (lasting 7 minutes apiece). A good pair of trail shoes, bounding poles (about 10 centimeters shorter than one’s classic pole length), and a drink belt with sports drink and some food.

Warmup: Light 15-minute jog around the base. “Then we have our T2 team go through their ‘power warmup’ and lead the younger athletes through this progression,” O’Brien explained. “The goal with this program that US Ski and Snowboard strength coach Tschana Schiller has devised is to get our muscles sequencing and firing well before our intensity session so we are really working on explosive movements while we are most fresh versus trying to incorporate this to a late afternoon gym session. This improves our ability to generate power and is a really effective way to warm up! It usually starts with some mobility exercises, then foot drills and culminates with explosive plyometric jumps and bounds.”

Jessie Diggins (neon orange shorts) helps lead her Stratton Mountain School teammates through A-skip drills during a “power warmup” at the base of Stratton Mountain. (Photo: Patrick O’Brien)

Threshold component: 30-60 minutes, depending on how hard the week is/what kind of volume you’re aiming for in a given training block.

“Older athletes tend to do more, younger development athletes do a little less as they don’t need the same amount of stimulus,” O’Brien wrote.

  • Ski-walking intervals: 7 minutes of “on” time followed by 3 minutes of recovery. Repeat six to seven times. Option to add faster, flatter running intervals at the top if needed.
Jessie Diggins (front) and Sophie Caldwell (third from r) lead fellow Stratton skiers during a ski-walking workout up Stratton Mountain in southern Vermont. (Photo: Patrick O’Brien)


  • Keep the group together: “We usually have the younger devo athletes start farther up the workroad and jog their recovery in place. The T2 team starts lower down and runs downhill on their recovery,” he noted. “This way the groups keep leapfrogging and the younger athletes can always tag along for a portion of their interval and follow the faster senior athletes and learn from their motions.”
  • Aim for “good, crisp ski-walking motions,” generating power from both lower and upper body: These aren’t as hard as all-out bounding intervals, O’Brien explained, “but we still want athletes to have a degree of impulse to their motions and not just walk up hill with poles on.” Stratton’s work road has some flatter grades, which allows athletes to “incorporate a lower energy bound on these sections and skiwalk on the steeper terrain,” if they choose. “Properly executed this workout looks pretty tame. Nothing flashy, no labored breathing or collapsing at the end of each interval. It is strenuous but not exhausting.”
  • Pace yourself. It should feel hard but sustainable: “With these longer steady state intervals it’s pretty easy to feel out that threshold line as there is no recovery during the intervals,” he noted. “Go too hard and you will feel it in your legs and lungs! We have people monitor heart rates and take blood lactates regularly but all of these are checks are for collecting background information. Ultimately what we want is for people to have a good sense of pacing and be able to ‘feel it out’ without needing the external feedback of a watch or lactate strip. Usually after a time or two doing this workout people have this pretty well dialed!”

Cool down: Jog back to base area, “or better yet download on the gondola when it is running on the weekend to save their legs from the impact of 1500 feet of decent!” O’Brien wrote.

Total workout time: 1:45 to 2:15 hours


Stratton’s 2018/2019 elite team includes seven returners (six of which are on the U.S. Ski Team) and four newcomers. Returning are Ben Saxton and USST members Simi Hamilton, Paddy Caldwell, Jessie Diggins, Sophie Caldwell, Julia Kern, and Katharine Ogden. According to an SMS blog post from late May, Paddy Caldwell was finishing up his studies at Dartmouth College, and Saxton, Kern and Ogden are taking classes there as well.

“We work closely with the Dartmouth coaches and fully support these athletes’ choices of when to attend school and when to be with us,” the post by Sverre Caldwell stated. “Paddy is finishing his last term at Dartmouth and he will join Simi, Jessie and Sophie as a full time SMST2 and USST member.”

New to the team are Kyle Bratrud (formerly of the CXC Team), Kelsey Phinney (formerly of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation), Alayna Sonnesyn (University of Vermont graduate), and Ben Ogden (of the Stratton Mountain School).


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