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Can skiing make you a better trail runner?

Sally Chapman from Inspired to Ski is a keen trail runner and joined us a few years ago in Chamonix on one of our Introduction to the Alps weekend. Here is her take on why trail running and skiing compliment each other so well!

Cross country skiing without doubt can improve your cardiovascular system and strength for running and we all know that many of the alpine trail runners, such as the iconic Kilian Jornet are also ski mountaineers. However, this sport is not quite so popular with British holiday skiers who have just one week holiday a year on the slopes. So can downhill skiing help your running fitness?

Skiing for many is similar to the ‘pick me up feelings’ of running in the mountains, enjoying the scenery, taking in the fresh air, enjoying the sensations underfoot, and in many ways shares the same adrenaline rush with running down a beautiful alpine trail. But also, just as with trail running, it only really comes to life if you have the tools (muscle strength) and techniques at your disposal. Skiing is a bit like moving around a gym, you can focus on a set of muscle groups, your cardio system, flexibility, agility and motor skills to work all areas of fitness, it depends what your target is, but to gain all round fitness you need them all. 

Most recreational skiers tend to clamp their boots and skis on, perhaps once a year and off they go, relying on what they have learnt, copied and using their equipment as the main source to balance against and break their inevitable speeds down the slopes. The tendency is to try to fit the 'same turn’, that they have learnt, into all the conditions they meet on the mountain. If you are capable and confident enough to use ‘brute force and strength’, you can possibly get away with this for a short period of time! Especially, when it may only happen one week a year. However, sooner or later you and your body will come unstuck. This is perhaps why ladies are so much keener to be in control of what they are doing, learn how to control their speed and line, whereas, sometimes men, will utilise more strength, battling against the speed with some sense of accomplishment, albeit, not that efficiently or effectively, tilting on ‘lack of control’. Maybe an adrenaline drive in itself! This can be related to most sports, your fitness, the skills you learn and practice make you a better player. For example, tennis or golf, you can learn one or two strokes/shots which then allows you to play a sort of game but it would never give you the true picture of playing the whole game.

Although with skiing, you can get away with just one or two skills for a while and with the help of gravity and your equipment find yourself moving down a slope. This form of skiing is not at all effective in improving fitness, strength or agility. It is more likely you will end up back at the chalet or hotel early, resting a strained, sore, injured muscle or limb. Learning to control your speed and line, using your equipment to do this, but more importantly being completely aware of what you are doing at any given point, how you can slow down, speed up, change direction, stop on ice, hop over a bump and so on. This is very much like running down hill or off road, where you know you have to let momentum take you but you can not completely let it overrule your body, you must soften the decent, keep core strength, flow naturally dependent on the terrain in front of you but in control, using your equipment for, trail shoes, poles, and swerving side to side to take care of your footing on more undulating, wet terrain. 

The similarities of balancing control, technique and speed in running and skiing have many similarities and certainly compliment each other as you become more aware, so long as you do it right! The similarities don't end there, from gaining confidence in alpine terrain, and for those who want to get better at running downhill; to gaining greater balance, core strength and proprioception often come with skiing at a better level.

The enjoyment can come, not just from the speed down the hill but the speed around the curve you make on the snow, learning to do this efficiently will not only improve your general fitness but will undoubtedly give you are much more rewarding decent! 

It's why thinking about a ski course is a really good idea. The instructors can work on giving you these tools, tips and skills to utilise and focus on. Whether you are a novice skier or an advanced skier, skiing is about utilising your equipment, body and mind, to aid your flow down a mountain with the feeling of being in control and knowing what to do when. You'll soon find you're not just a better skiier, but maybe better on those downhill trails too!

Inspired to Ski offer full week courses or 3 day Performance courses in the French Alps as well as available to purchase the 'Pock’It Instructor books’, providing you with numerous tools, tips to focus on when. If you'd like to know more then check out their website here: