Vail, Colorado: home to the United States’ biggest ski mountain, and the gateway to a winter wonderland. You want jagged peaks and pristine lakes? Got ‘em. Quiet trails and animal sightings? They’re here. Wide-open groomers and easy access? No problem. And everywhere — anywhere — there are people at play. They kick and glide and lunge and careen over the meadows and through the woods… and that takes some effort. So much effort, in fact, that some might call it exercise. And exercise, as everyone knows, has consequences. You lose weight and become strong. You feel good. You feel better. There’s a reason Colorado is the “most fit” state in the nation — and alpine skiing is just the beginning.
Skiing is Vail’s raison d’être. Cultivated by a motley crew of adventurers and Word War II ski troopers, the resort proper has more than 5,200 skiable acres. Add Beaver Creek’s 1,800+ and
you’ve got enough terrain to keep anybody busy. It’s pretty easy in theory: Click your feet into two boards, grab a ride to the top of the hill, and then easily glide your way down, weighting one leg and then the other. Of course, gravity, momentum and the fall line provide some challenges, not to mention the conditions of the snow (and your body).
Skiing taxes the hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominal, calf, hip and foot muscles, in addition to the arms. It’s all about power — powering through the snow, activating those “prime mover” muscles for short but intense periods of time. Despite the quick bursts of energy broken up by chairlift rides, it’s terrific for helping with core strength. Add a few inches of powder — a.k.a. resistance — and you’ve got a gorgeous mountain day, complete with frosted trees and snowy quietude, in addition to an easily accelerated workout. In other words, it’s easy to earn that mid-afternoon bowl of chili.
There’s skiing, and then there’s and they are two entirely different beasts. As demanding as downhill skiing can be, telemark skiing takes it much further. While cruising downhill on telemark skis, it’s not simply a matter of applying pressure to your skis and changing edges to turn. Oh no. You still apply pressure, change edges and shift your weight — but you do it all while lunging. The lunging is possible thanks to the “free-heel” boots: While your toes are clipped in, your heels are free moving. As you lunge, your heel comes up. In a perfect world, you don’t fall on your face but merely swoop down toward the snow and turn your ski. Then you do it again on the other side.
Some tele skiers ride the lifts up and ski down; others prefer to skip the lift and earn their turns, so to speak, by hiking up in the skis. Either way, it’s quite a workout, benefiting balance and coordination, with leg and core conditioning that focuses on the quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner/outer thighs and upper body. Tele skiing is dynamic, and it demands a lot from skiers. You’ve got to show up with strength, power and stability; if you do, you own the mountain.
Snowshoeing is probably the most accessible winter sport out there — at its most basic, it’s simply walking in the snow. The racket-shaped snowshoes of yesteryear required a slightly pigeon-toed approach, but today’s svelte models accommodate a variety of stances. At their best, they’re comfortable and efficient; even kids can use them successfully. Though snowshoeing on groomed trails is certainly one of life’s sweeter pleasures, the less packed down the snow, the more effort you expend. And that translates directly into burned calories. By the same token, high-end, ultra-light snowshoes are best for racers; casual snowshoers will appreciate the slightly heavier (and less expensive) models, as they contribute more to those toned muscles and overall cardiovascular health.
In the Vail Valley, you’re never too far from snowshoeing, be it on one of the ski mountains, across a golf course or on a public trail. That means it’s easy to get out and start going, whether you’re fitting it in at lunchtime or planning to make a day of it. It’s great for core strength, flexibility and agility, all of which contribute to longevity and increased quality of life. As for that muscle tone and strength, look to the quads, hamstrings and calf muscles, as well as the smaller muscle groups of the feet and ankles.
We know it as cross-country skiing, but for the rest of the world it’s transportation. Requiring skinny, lightweight skis that curve back at the tip like elfin shoes, nothing beats cross-country skiing for pure endurance that doesn’t brutalize the body. And the intrinsic Zen quality of the motion doesn’t hurt. Planting poles while kicking and gliding, cross-country skiing works the gluteus maximus, thigh and calf muscles, in addition to the biceps and triceps. And it’s an easy sport for groups of friends seeking conversation and a steady burn.
There are several beautiful spots for classic Nordic skiing in the valley: Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park is probably the most unique, its 32 kilometers of woodland trails in full view of three mountain ranges. This is no valley track, but a lift-access area that seems wild and pristine thanks, in part, to its relative solitude. There are tracks up and down the valley, primarily on golf courses. Cordillera’s Nordic area is both steep and sustained, while Vail’s cross-country track on the golf course is the most accessible.
Skate skiing is to cross-country skiing as jogging is to walking. Which is to say, it’s faster. The increase in speed brings its own challenges, but nothing too crazy. In fact, skate skiing’s particular requirement — a groomed track — ensures a civilized, though invigorating, experience. Shorter and more rigid than Nordic skis, skate skis never leave the snow. Instead, they are pressed in a lateral motion, much like ice or inline skating, in a constant “V”. The arm motion mimics the legs, moving the poles to help propel the skate skier. With the right amount of gumption, you can fly.
The thing most people notice about skate skiing (a.k.a. freestyle) isn’t the motion so much as the sound. Those rigid, powerful skis slicing through the snow are loud, especially in the sort of pristine environments most local trails are found, such as Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park and any of the valley’s golf courses. It’s a total body workout, improving heart and lung health, as well as stamina and strength. In particular, it works the glutes, thighs, calf, bicep and tricep muscles. Freestyle is a complete endorphin rush.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your gear and move your tush. Beach bodies don’t have anything on pure, unadulterated winter mountain fitness.