By Anna Keeling
My aim in this article is to help you get into the best shape possible prior to a course or journey with me or one of my guide team. People sometimes show up and struggle. This can be with ski or snowboard movement or it can be with fitness. You may be solid skiing groomed runs on a ski area but off-piste presents new issues - packs, deep snow, ice, crusts, poor visibility, steep runs. You may be able to ride your bike 20km on the flat but going up hills leaves you gasping. Having a solid idea of what to expect on an AKG tour or course is essential. You’ll be safer if you are well prepared. Good gear helps but it cannot make up for a lack of fitness or movement ability. You will have more fun, learn more and you will be safer by being honest with yourself and identify your areas for improvement. I want you to be the best you can be so that you’ll have a great trip, lots of fun and learn tons - not merely hanging in there praying for it to be over!
I’ll break it down to manage expectations for our various courses and trips. Get in touch if you need more information and ideas to train for an upcoming trip or class.
Two day Snow safety classes: Day 1 is half in the classroom then half on a ski area. You will need to ride all of the lifts (rope tows or t-bars) and ski to the outer boundaries of the ski area (Usually Porters, Broken River or Cheeseperson). You may boot around on foot while learning rescue. Day 2 is usually a day in the field, outside the ski area. At Cheeseperson you will ride the Ridge T-bar (or skin up if the T-bar is not working). The run into Tarn basin is not steep but it can be an intimidating first 50 metres. You’ll need your game face on. Your guide can teach you to use your equipment but we do strongly recommend taking it out at least one time prior. There’s nothing worse than holding everyone up because you didn’t test your equipment. Or finding out that your back country set up is significantly softer than what you are used to. Respect your team by showing up with even a rudimentary knowledge of what you have hired or bought. If you are a seasoned expert rider, no worries - but if you have any doubts about your ski or riding ability, get a day in on your backcountry gear before the trip. This is especially important for split boarders. The learning curve can be steep.
Private trips or Haute Routes: This involves 4 days of continuous hikoi (journeying) with 4-8 hours of movement a day. You will get more out of it if you are feeling confident in your up hill and down hill movement. Up hill skinning is not difficult to learn but the better your strength and balance, the easier skinning will seem. Our uphill skin climbs are generally 250-600m in length. This can take half an hour to 2.5 hours of climbing. Your guide will teach you to kick turn on the corners and will do everything to make you feel comfortable. But you need to be ready for variable snow from crust to powder to ice. Remember that you’ll use your glutes (bum muscles) on the way up and your quads on the descent. It’s physical. You may walk/boot at times with your skis on your pack.
Riding off-piste - expect variable snow and possibly unkind weather. AKG guides know the terrain and we will go if we deem it safe. It may feel a bit scary to you. You can prepare for this:
- Go skiing/riding at ski areas prior to your course. The more the better
- Ski off-piste as much as possible
- Practice your down hill kick turns and side-slipping
- Have a day on your backcountry gear to check it works
- Take a ski lesson or two to sharpen your skills. Tell the instructor what you need
- Go out even if the snow and visibility are poor. Just stay inbounds!
- Ski or ride with a 5kg pack sometimes
- Do some focused fitness training: Bike uphill for 1/2-2 hours, walk up hill for the same time period with a pack on, running and walking on rough ground, doing ski specific weight training for strength (squats, lunges, weights). One legged squats and other balance exercise will improve your proprioception and general body awareness. Roller blading is excellent training.
- Get your head into the game of cardiovascular effort. Make yourself go (run, walk or bike) uphill at a pace that hurts for 30 minutes - ie. you can’t really speak. This will push you out of your comfort zone and you will become more resilient at making effort (instead of feeling intimidated by effort).
- Walking downhill improves leg strength, balance and coordination.
- Get good foot beds. See a podiatrist or a good boot fitter like Leith at Gnomes. Your street shoe footbeds will work in your ski boots in most cases - but try them first.
- Tell your guide if you get hot spots. These are blisters that have not bubbled yet. Blisters can be debilitating. Do not let them go to a bubble.
Watch this space as I’ll be in Christchurch before winter to give a free talk on how to get going in the backcountry. In addition to our regular 2-day Snow safety classes, we are lining up a 5 week programme to help improve your knowledge so that you can become more independent in the backcountry. More to come!