Big-mountain freeskier Jessica Sobolowski thrives in monster terrain. In 2005, she became the first woman to ski Pontoon Peak, in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains, and last spring she started guiding for Points North Heli-Skiing, which she co-owns with her husband, Kevin Quinn. But for all of her focus, the recovering endurance addict has issues when it comes to the gym. “The outdoors is my gym,” says the multi-sport athlete and adventure racer.
Sobolowski’s not alone. Her neighbors, Olympian turned skiercross pro Daron Rahlves and Matchstick Productions regular Ingrid Backstrom, spend the majority of their training hours hammering singletrack and trail running around Squaw Valley. But they know cardio workouts alone won’t build the strength and power demanded by 5,000-foot lines and full-body-contact ski racing. What the neighbors need is an outdoor interval circuit like the one in Rahlves’s backyard. The entire workout takes just 20 minutes, leaving time for an hourlong ride or run. Follow it, and you’ll be ready for Squaw classics like Broken Arrow and Headwall before winter solstice.
For each of these exercises, start with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off before continuing to the next station. Do three circuits (18 exercises total). As you get stronger, increase the work time to 60 seconds on, 45 seconds off. Emphasize quickness: “These are intense movements that focus on agility and speed,” says Sobolowski. And do them with buddies—not only can they watch the time, they can spew insults when your quads and lungs are on fire.
*This article was originally published in the October 2007 issue of Skiing*
The move: Stand in front of a two-foot-high log with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sink into a squat, using your glutes, abs, and core to initiate the movement. Focusing on your glutes and hamstrings, explode up onto the log, absorbing the impact with those same muscles. Stand up, repeat the motion, and jump down, landing softly in a squat.
The payoff: In addition to building quickness and balance, “you’ll retrain your lower body to use its most powerful muscles and take some of the strain off your quads,” says Backstrom.
The move: Wearing a weighted vest or backpack loaded with five to 25 pounds, stand at the bottom of a stairway. Engage your core, balance on your outside leg, and jump to the top of the first, second, or third stair. Walk back down and repeat with the same leg. Do five jumps; then switch legs.
The payoff: Individual leg strength and a solid core. “When your core is strong, your foundation is strong,” says Rahlves.
The move: Find a tree branch that will support your weight. Using an overhand grip (it’s better practical training for real-life activities like climbing) pull up using your shoulders, chest, forearms, and lats. Keep a quiet upper and lower body, exhale on the way up, and inhale as you lower until your arms are fully extended. Repeat to burnout.
The payoff: “Strong overall fitness, including back and shoulders, helps you avoid serious injury on the slopes,” says Sobolowski.
The move: Find two medium-size rocks about three feet apart. Start with both feet on one rock. Moving laterally, leap from rock to rock, touching down briefly on each side before bounding powerfully in the opposite direction. Increase the difficulty by putting an obstacle—say, three logs—in between the rocks.
The payoff: Mimics the aggressive position—knees flexed, legs moving side-to-side, hands in front—and muscular demands of skiing.
The move: Stand on one leg in front of a two-foot-high tree stump. With your gaze forward, abs contracted, and arms at a 90-degree bend, bound onto the stump. Keep your core slightly engaged: It’ll keep you centered and help you stick the landing. Step off backward and repeat on the same leg for the duration of the interval; then switch.
The payoff: “Independent leg strength,” says Rahlves, “which is key for powerful skiing.”
The move: Backstrom learned these core-killers from ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes and passed the exercise on to Sobolowski. Lie on your back, point your toes, and raise your feet a few inches off the ground, squeezing your legs together. With your hands behind your head, flex your pelvic muscles and lower abs, then contract your upper abs to bring your head, shoulders, and neck off the ground. Lower in a controlled movement; repeat.
The payoff: By keeping the range of motion small, you can focus on your entire ab wall, which, when strengthened, will help you pull your upper body forward, keeping you out of the backseat.
Creating an outdoor gym is as easy as finding some things to jump over and hang from—in your backyard or a city park. This map includes 10 exercises, but you can pick and choose depending on your goals. Want more lower-body power? Skip the push-ups and pull-ups. Working the whole package? Keep them, and add extra sit-ups.
If you do all 10 stations, cycle through twice instead of three times. You’ll be working out for a longer duration anyway.
1. side-to-side leaps
2. quick feet: Set up six rocks so that a generous leap is required to get from one to the next. Start at one end and travel as fast as you can safely, leaping from rock to rock. Turn around and leap back.
3. lateral hop: Line up six small rocks about 18 inches apart. Stand so that you’re lined up with—not facing—them. Keeping your abs tight, jump as high as you can over the first rock, and land between it and the second one. Jump to the end and go back.
4. push-ups: Prop your feet up on a rock and do traditional pushups. You’ll work your core and your upper body.
5. two-foot jumps: Standing in front of a picnic table in an aggressive stance—hands in front, abs tight, gaze forward. Explode with both feet onto the top. Step down and repeat.
6. weighted stair jumps
7. glute power jumps
8. tree-branch pull-ups
9. one-leg stump jumps
10. Karno sit-ups