Snowshoeing and X-Country Skiing
Cool Alternatives for a Hot
By Debra Melani -
NewsTired of the pungent aroma of overused locker rooms? Ready
to leave sweaty exercise machines and lines of impatient exercisers behind?
Snowshoe and cross-country ski lovers say
their sports promise calorie-burning workouts in fresh air and solitude.
"As far as a total-body workout, I think
cross-country skiing is pretty phenomenal," said DeAnn Wieber, outdoor
activities coordinator for the Colorado Athletic Club in the Denver area.
Experts consistently rank snow sports above
popular Spinning and aerobics classes as fitness-promoting exercise.
Click here to compare the calories burned in aerobic
health club activities and cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
In addition to fighting the winter bulge,
both sports are low- impact, offer workout versatility, are relatively low-cost
and can provide a social outlet.
"For most people, when wintertime comes
around, their activity slows down or even stops," said Kenneth Moulaison, a
trainer with RR Personal Training in Littleton.
Most snow-sport enthusiasts admit that cold
weather is a primary pitfall. Yet it is generally easy to overcome, they say.
"It's amazing how quickly you heat up doing
either activity," said Terri Nelson, athletic director for the Denver Athletic
Club and an avid cross-country skier and snowshoer.
"It can be brutally cold out, so cold it's
uncomfortable for walking or downhill skiing, and these exercises increase the
blood flow so quickly you warm up instantly," Nelson said.
Especially with snowshoeing, where leg
muscles burn going down- and uphill, there is not enough of a reprieve to
notice the "cooling effect" a skier feels on a chairlift ride, for instance,
Cold weather and high altitude can add to
the intensity of the workout, which can be a good thing for calorie burning.
But the environment is something newcomers should keep in mind, Wieber said.
"It takes so much more out of you," said
Wieber, who assesses clients' outdoor experience before taking them on outings.
"Your body is going to be burning some more calories trying to stay warm."
And the sports are already intense.
"I like cross-country skiing for a steady,
sustained cardiovascular workout," Nelson said. "And then the downhill is so
Cross-country's constant upper- and
lower-body motion makes it a prime total-body workout with little impact on
weary joints, Moulaison said.
Snow provides a joint-friendly cushion for
both sports, although snowshoeing, which often involves high stepping, can
create a little more impact.
"With cross-country, your feet never leave
the ground," Moulaison said.
To reduce stress on the knees while
including the upper body in the cardiovascular workout of snowshoeing, Angela
Tharnish recommends poles. An explorer who gravitates toward steep, rocky
terrain, Tharnish said poles also help prevent falls.
"It's easy to lose your balance and fall
over," said Tharnish, a trainer with RR Personal Training. And in knee-deep
snow, it's not always easy to get up, she said.
The two snow sports provide a versatile
workout that can be as hard or easy as an exerciser wants it to be, Tharnish
Choosing relatively flat courses or the
groomed trails of Nordic centers can ease the workout and serve as a family
outing. Opting for varied terrain with steep hills can provide a tough, random-
interval workout, Moulaison said.
Heading to the backcountry after a fresh
snow can bump up calorie consumption even more, Wieber said.
"I like to get off the beaten path," she
said. "When you are blazing a trail, especially with skis, it takes a little
No one should venture into the backcountry
without training in avalanche safety and outdoor preparedness, experts warn.
Either check neighborhood outdoor stores for seminars or stay on public trails,
which is what Nelson does.
"To me, it's not worth the risk," she said.
Wieber, a Wisconsin native who traded
cross-country skiing for snowshoeing when she moved to Colorado, uses the sport
for intense interval training by alternating running and walking on snowshoe
outings. Snowshoe manufacturers today use lightweight aluminum and offer
"It's extremely intense," Wieber said. "If
you've never run on snowshoes, I wouldn't recommend jumping right into it."
Before taking on cross-country skiing or
snowshoeing as a sport, Wieber recommends summer exercise in the mountains to
Exercise machines that mimic cross-country
skiing can be used for training, and high-stepping or long-striding in a pool
or walking in the back yard in snowshoes can help with conditioning for
snowshoeing, Tharnish said. Leg exercises, such as lunges, also are
Experts suggest newcomers to mountain sports
begin with snowshoeing, because the learning curve is much lower.
"If you can walk, you can snowshoe," said
Nelson, who took up the sport to train for summer mountain-bike racing.
Warm clothing (avoid cotton, dress in
layers), hiking boots and snowshoes are all the sport requires. Snowshoes run
$100 and up or can be rented for about $10 a day.
Cross-country ski equipment costs $200 to
$300, and a lesson would not be a bad idea, experts say.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing also
serve as peaceful escapes for those who like to break away. "You can think
about as little or as much as you want," Nelson said.
The outings also can be great social
activities, because friends tend to gather, skiing or snowshoeing, at the same
pace, Wieber said. "Then you stop for lunch at 11,500 feet, and there's really
nothing quite like it."