When Chris Fellows started coaching 25 years ago, only the elite ventured off groomed courses to ski the backcountry.
"These days it's the norm rather than the exception. And that comes with a new set of challenges," says the two-time Professional Ski Instructors of America Alpine Team member.
Whether you're heli-skiing Alaska glaciers or off-piste at your local resort, untracked snow requires a higher level of fitness. "On a single run you could hit four or five types of terrain, surprise moguls and the occasional drop," Fellows says. "You've got to be able to ramp it up when you need to--or your ligaments and tendons will take the strain instead of your muscles, and that leads to injuries."
Taking his cue from the 900 students who come through his North American Ski Training Center (skinastc.com), in Truckee, California, every year, Fellows has developed a living-room fitness program that hinges on the three cornerstones of backcountry skiing: flexibility to balance and twist, strength to shift your weight, and elasticity to adjust to sudden terrain changes. "Most people are strong in one area but weak in the other two," he says. "Having one without the others is like driving a car with missing parts."
Try these moves as a self-diagnosis. To target trouble spots, home in on whichever exercise is most difficult for you and aim to do it three times a week. For overall conditioning repeat the whole workout weekly. "It's your physical preparation, way more than natural ability," Fellows says, "that determines how well you handle the slopes."
These three do-anywhere, ski-specific moves zero in on the muscles and reflexes you'll need to master the backcountry.
Hand Walk (Flexibility)
Stand and place your palms on the floor in front of your feet. Hand-walk forward into push-up position, then walk your feet forward to the original position. Repeat ten times.
The payoff: Lengthens hamstrings and strengthens the lower back to help you hold your tuck if the ground falls out from under you on the slopes.
One-Arm Row (Strength)
Balance on your right foot and lean forward, raising your left leg until it's parallel to the floor. Hold your left arm in front of you for balance. With your right arm, lift a light dumbbell toward your chest. Do three sets of six on each side.
The payoff: Develops cross-body coordination and strengthens the upper back.
Lateral Hop (Elasticity)
Pick a spot on the floor, then hop back and forth over it on one foot as fast as you can for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
The payoff: Wipes you out but develops lightning-fast reaction time for abrupt terrain shifts--and killer calves to boot.