Training for a Strong Winter: Two Exercises for Backcountry Skiers

Sarah Histand of Ski Babes & Mind and Mountain shares how to train from your living room to get strong for the slopes!

Photo by Luc Mehl (@lucmehl) courtesy of Ski Babes (@sarahmhistand)

This blog post is written and provided by Sarah Histand and the team at Mind and Mountain:

Winter is here and many of us are switching out our hiking boots for skis and snowboards. As you get your winter gear out, let’s talk a little bit about how to tune up our bodies for the season, too. We have got two simple strength training exercises to share that will level up your winter season, plus more tips on how to have a strong winter.

Why These Exercises Matter

Before we get into the exercises themselves, you might be asking: why should I invest my time and energy in doing these? That’s a great question.

Many physical therapists and fitness professionals know that strength training is a great way to prevent injuries. Nothing ruins ski season like being sidelined with an injury! Even small doses of strength training can have a big impact.

Not only that, practicing sport-specific, functional movements like the ones below can help you ski stronger early in the season. By building your muscular endurance and reinforcing healthy movement patterns early, you can ski strong all winter long.

Exercise One: Stagger Squats

Photo courtesy of Ski Babes (@sarahmhistand)

Our first exercise to practice is stagger squats. This is a super-functional exercise that builds strength in a really practical way. As skiers, we often find ourselves in this kind of staggered stance, with one ski in front of the other. By doing these exercises at home, we can reinforce good movement habits as well as build stronger muscles.

To do this exercise, elevate one foot above the other by about 8-12 inches. A yoga block or even a small stack of books works for this. Then, do a squat. Keep an open “proud” chest and straight spine instead of hunching over. Keep your movement controlled and intentional. Notice where your bodyweight goes naturally, and then shift it around to play with evenly balanced weight on both feet. 

As your familiarity builds with this move, you can add jumps to the squats, practicing landing lightly and with evenly balanced weight. We love this move for backcountry skiers in particular because it replicates the imbalanced body position of a side-slope skin track. Be sure to do this exercise on both sides! Doing 2-3 sets of 6-10 squats on each side is a good starting point.

Exercise Two: Ski Twists

Photo courtesy of Ski Babes (@sarahmhistand)

The next exercise we love is ski twists. This move will help reinforce core strength and endurance.

For this move, place your feet close, bend your knees into a partial squat. Arms can be in front of you at a 90-degree angle as if you were holding your ski poles, or together holding a lightweight object like the Bender Ball in the above images. Then, using small stepping or hopping motions, keep your chest and arms facing forward while you rotate your lower body into the diagonals. So: from neutral, step or hop to the left diagonal, hop back to center, hop to the right diagonal, and back to center again. 

We love this move for skiers because it gives you the opportunity to practice keeping your chest centered as your lower body twists in & out of each turn. In each twist, play with feeling the torsion build in the body as you twist and the explosive power it creates as you move out of the twist. This torsion is what powers your ski turns! Additionally, practicing landing lightly and letting your joints bend & connective tissue absorb your bodyweight – like a spring or slinky – will help prevent impact and overuse injuries to the joints. Try 2-3 sets of 20 reps.

Winter Training for the Mind

Bringing our best selves to the outdoors isn’t just about how strong our bodies are. Training our minds is just as important. Seeking out and equipping yourself with mindset tools and an awareness of how to work with your nervous system as an outdoor adventurer will help you have better adventures all around. Your mental health needs care and training just like your physical health!

A key mental strength concept that we like to start with is titration. Much like titration in chemistry, we want to increase challenge slowly, in small, manageable doses instead of all at once.

Choosing a workout or outdoor adventure that promotes growth rather than overwhelm is key to a fun and safe experience. When we do too much too fast, our nervous systems become overloaded, like an explosive chemical reaction. Flooding causes our brain to literally change how it functions: the rational part of our brains shut down while our fear and survival zones kick into high gear. As a result, this blocks our ability to be fully present and make decisions from a centered place.

Instead, start at a low level of difficulty and add challenges one step at a time. Take a movement to pause between challenges and notice how the challenge felt for you, letting your body rest and return to a feeling of safety. Once you have rested and processed, consider whether you want to try something slightly harder, stay at your current level, or even try something easier.

Being able to work skillfully with your mindset & nervous system helps you stay safer outdoors. As one example, fine-tuning your mental game enables better situational and body awareness, which leads to better decision-making and risk management. Plus, when we let go of unhelpful self-talk like weakest link syndrome, we also have more fun! It’s a win-win.

Photo by Luc Mehl (@lucmehl) courtesy of Ski Babes (@sarahmhistand)

More Ways to Have a Strong Winter

If you want to dive into even more about making the most of this winter, here are a few resources to check out:

Join Ski Babes – Starting October 9!

And to wrap up, if you’re in a place where investing more time on your winter training would be supportive to you, we invite you to join Ski Babes: Online Mind & Body Training for Winter! We created Ski Babes to help you train for winter recreation through structured-but-flexible workouts, a supportive community, anti-diet culture nutrition guidance, and nervous system-aligned training. 

Join us for Ski Babes and train from your living room for a strong, intentional winter season. Our Early Session starts October 9. Learn more or enroll for Ski Babes here. See you there!

About Sarah Histand

Sarah Histand courtesy of Ski Babes (@sarahmhistand)

Sarah Histand is a personal trainer, mental health counselor, and outdoor adventurer from Alaska. She uses these exercises to prepare herself and her clients for winter sports season, backcountry adventures, and seasonal mood and stress management.

Follow her work at or on Instagram.