Surviving Summit: 4 winter sports to burn calories and have a blast
December 5, 2016
We all love an adrenaline rush. In my humble opinion, backcountry skiing and snowboarding top it all for fitness and sheer fun. Hiking up steep slopes is brutal, but add deep powder, skins, a splitboard or snowshoes to the equation and you are really going to feel the burn.
The strenuous work, fear and nasty weather sometimes make you wonder why you ever put yourself in this situation, but it's all about making turns on pristine powder. That's one reward, and it's my job as a personal trainer to keep this county looking and feeling good — another reward.
For this reason, I'll break down the four common winter sports that burn the most calories. Not only are they tough on your body, but you also tend to burn more calories outside in the winter because the cold weather forces your body to exert more energy to stay warm.
Note: My estimates are based on the American College of Sports Medicine, which keeps data on the calories burned during various exercises online at Nutristrategy.com/caloriesburned.htm. Each sport is based on a 155-pound person for one hour of exercise.
1. Cross-country skiing
Cross-country (XC) skiing is a fantastic way to escape the masses and burn some mega calories, varying from light at 493 calories to skiing uphill at 1161 calories. It's a holistic and balanced winter workout: vigorous backcountry XC skiing works your upper body and utilizes every major muscle group simultaneously, which requires a great deal of energy — and an immense calorie burn.
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XC skiing is an excellent aerobic workout, and because no single muscle group is overstressed, the activity can be sustained for hours on end. As a result, you sustain a fast heart rate for a long duration, thus strengthening your heart and lungs.
Unlike most winter sports with a risk of damaging joints and ligaments, XC skiing is one of the lowest-impact sports. There is very little shock to the feet, knees and hips thanks to the sport's gliding motion.
Snowshoeing is also a heavy hitter. A couple years ago, I ran in a dog-friendly snowshoe race at the Vail Winter Mountain Games. It sounded fun and spontaneous. A friend and I signed up with our pups and were blown away at the workout we endured. It's challenging enough to hike powder in snowshoes, but racing with a crazy dog on a leash had my heart and lungs pumping!
Snowshoeing burns on average of 563 calories per hour while walking, but you can turn the dial way up by running or hiking uphill with your snowboard on your back. You don't even have to run uphill in powder to get your workout — snowshoeing alone is quite a workout. It's also an excellent way to get your nature fix and change up the winter routine.
Snowshoeing poses little injury risk, and it is an inexpensive way to get outside and warm up (no lift ticket or pricy gear required). Snowshoeing burns 45-percent more calories than walking or running at the same speed, according to Snowsports Industries America.
Not a fan of bulky snowshoes? Yaktrax is a lightweight option. Just strap a set onto your trail-running shoes for a jog or hike on a groomed trail.
3. Fat biking
A new mountain sport is on the rise: fat biking. Add huge tires to a mountain bike and you have a bike made for the snow.
Be prepared to steady your pounding heart (and maybe your pride, as it's a bit different than hitting summer trails). While mountain biking ranges from 598 calories to 844 for vigorous efforts, you can most definitely increase that biking on snow. This new sport is catching on quickly, and it is not uncommon to see winter mountain bikers on the same trail as snowshoers or snowbmobilers.
What conditions are best for a ride? Hard-pack or a couple inches is great, but more than 5 inches of fresh snow can be excruciating. The secret is slow and steady, but don't be fooled — it can be hard and technical. Your legs and lower body muscles do most of the work with fat biking, and balancing on snow keeps your core and stability muscles in check.
4. Downhill skiing and snowboarding
The reasons we all live here, right? Our favorite sports, downhill skiing and snowboarding, certainly pack a workout punch. From light to vigorous effort, they burn an average of 352 to 563 calories.
Your calorie-burning totals depend on how much work you put into a day of riding. Sticking to groomers is definitely on the lower end, as they mostly use balancing muscles. You can up the workout by putting more effort into your turns and technique, or by hitting jumps and features. Head into the trees to spend even more calories. In addition, the deeper the snow, the deeper the workout — your quads had better be made of steel for deep powder riding.
While both sports work your muscles immensely, the front-to-back motion and balance in snowboarding tends to work your quads, calves and abdominals. Skiing focuses more on a strong butt and thighs. And there's one guaranteed way to make sure you're shredding the calories: skip the lift and skin up the hill.
Julie Wilson is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist based in Dillon. She loves to be active in the mountains and help others with their health and fitness goals.
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