We’ve reached mid-December. With any luck, your local trail system is beginning to fill in, you’ve scraped off your storage wax, and you’ve put in at least a handful of easy days getting reacquainted with your boards. Whether or not you rollerski during the summer, skiing on snow has its own jive and it’s normal to feel a little like Bambi your first few sessions.
In my experience as a coach and masters athlete, I find it best to lean into the Bambi phenomenon. Don’t expect to pick up where you left off last season. Accept that you’ll feel a little loose and wobbly and go back to the basics. Spend plenty of time skiing without poles and keep things very easy, continually emphasizing form over speed or power.
(Find more on this from the FasterSkier archives here.)
Okay. Now that that’s done and you’re no longer rusty, are you feeling dialed in and ready to get your heart rate up a bit? Great. That’s what this interval session is designed for.
Objective #1: Pick up the pace and effort without losing your form.
Regardless of ability, we can all recognize that skiing harder does not always equate to skiing faster. Particularly when we’re learning or regaining technique, skiing harder might mean skiing less efficiently and wasting energy with extraneous movement. During this session, your focus should be on keeping the intervals in control so your technique isn’t compromised as fatigue and intensity increase.
Objective #2: Ease in. Don’t be too hot out of the gate.
The variations below both involve relatively short periods of rest, meaning your heart rate will stay elevated, even during the rest periods. The fitness boost is similar to doing long threshold intervals, just broken into smaller and more manageable chunks.
Going out too fast on your first few sets will quickly dig a hole, compromising either the consistency of the effort during the subsequent intervals or your technique on tired legs or both! The season is young. Easy on the gas.
Now that we’re on the same page in terms of when to introduce an interval session and what to keep in mind, here are two bread and butter workouts to help boost your fitness and enhance your skiing this season. These can be incorporated throughout the season, but they make great candidates for early season training as the duration of the intervals is short enough to wrap your head around.
8-10 x 1 minute on / 1 minute easy ski (2-3 sets)
Though simple, this workout will leave you feeling tired, satisfied, and accomplished, remembering just how many muscles you use when you’re skiing. Try it on varying terrain to work through each of your gears and practice transitioning smoothly between them.
Reinforcing the importance of easing in, after the first few intervals of the set, you should feel like the minute of rest is plenty of time to catch your breath as you continue on easily. It’s more about stamina than speed here. Don’t worry – by the last few, you’ll be thinking, “Wow, that minute of rest went by fast!”
Take 5-6 minutes to ski very easy between sets so your heart rate has the chance to come back down. Aim for two sets of eight intervals on your first go, then introduce a third set or bump up to ten intervals the following round.
Totaling 16-30 minutes worth of “work”, the load is equivalent to skiing hard for 5-10 kilometers, broken into bite-sized pieces. When using this for the first time, keep the effort equivalent to a 40-60 minute race to ensure you can maintain form and effort throughout. Dial-up the effort to a 5k pace as your fitness and ski form improve throughout the season.
8 – 10 x 2 minutes on / 2 minutes easy ski (1-2 sets)
This variation challenges you to hold onto your technique for a longer effort, with increased rest between to account for the extra load. These sessions help improve both your mental and physical stamina, as you focus on your technique under the duress of the challenge.
Since one set equates to 16-20 minutes of work, it’s important to scale back the intensity compared to the 1 on/off, perhaps starting the first few at an effort you might be able to sustain for 60 minutes in a race, then hitting the last few a bit harder if you’re feeling up for it.
This time, give yourself 6-8 minutes of easy skiing between sets. You’ll feel the accumulation of fatigue as you work your way into the second set!
What are the pros doing?
FasterSkier reached out to three-time World Junior Champion Gus Schumacher via email to see how he tests the intensity waters once he is back on snow, which given his residence in Anchorage, Alaska tends to arrive earlier than it might for those of us at lower latitudes. Turns out, it’s pretty similar — just without the breaks!
“The workout I like to do early in the season to get some ski legs under myself again is a longer level 3 (medium intensity) interval session. Normally I’d do 12-15 minute intervals for a total of 45-60 minutes of on time. This workout is nice because it gives you time to settle into the intensity and adjust to new movements on snow. During this time, big strides in technique can be made, because you ski with more similar power and motions to racing. It’s also a workout that doesn’t have to be overly taxing, giving it a good return on technique work without being overly physical.
“It also has the benefit of building or maintaining base fitness that can be added to as skiing starts to feel more normal. It can easily be adjusted to your level, the goal is basically to just give you some time on skis at a faster pace!”
Rachel is an endurance sport enthusiast based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. You can find her cruising around on skinny skis, running in the mountains with her pup, or chasing her toddler (born Oct. 2018). Instagram: @bachrunner4646