Experience, skills and fitness levels...
Assessing your physical fitness before a big mountaineering objective or ski trip is difficult but crucial. Here we aim to give you some levels to aim for to match your objective and current fitness levels.
Mountaineering and Ski Touring Fitness levels
Completing a challenging mountain objective requires a few key ingredients:
You can’t do much about the conditions and weather, but you can do a lot of preparation to improve your technical ability, endurance and mental toughness. The first thing to do is assess your current fitness level with the requirements of the climb or ski tour. Then after looking at the amount of time you’ve got before the potential trip you can start to plan your path to improved fitness and endurance.
For the following levels we are talking about cardiovascular endurance, rather than traditional weights in the gym or climbing wall sessions. These will help, but they should be viewed as an addition to your cardio training, rather than the other way around.
Obviously the following mountain fitness levels are a rough guide, and quite subjective. Pay particular attention to the weekly volume, which is normally a good indicator of your current training state. You can count any exercise where your heart rate is properly elevated, rather than a mellow walk to catch the bus. If you feel like a shower would be nice afterwards, then you’ve probably been exercising hard enough.
One thing to bear in mind (pointed out by regular climbing guest Alastair) is that there’s nothing wrong with being fitter and stronger than your objective requires. You will go faster, enjoy it more and have more options for your ascent.
How to improve my mountain fitness before the next trip
Hopefully by reading through the fitness levels above you can get a bit of an idea about how to jump up to the next level. Here is some general advice about training for the mountains rather than a full blown training plan. There are some links to some excellent resources at the end of the article.
For an example, lets look at an ascent of the Matterhorn, taking just the last two days of a five day programme:
So you can see that if your only used to doing a couple of hours of flat walking/running/cycling a week, the Matterhorn is going to be a bit of a shock (and your not going to summit). Building a training programme that gradually gets your weekly volume up to a point where you can scramble for more than eight hours takes time.
Example number 2 – The Haute Route Ski Tour, a six day programme.
So you can see from both of these examples (which both sit in the middle of what you can do in the alps, not easy but definitely not too hard), that mountaineering and ski mountaineering is much more serious than going down to the gym and running on the treadmill.
1. Regular visitor Sarah just below the summit of the Matterhorn in less than ideal conditions. Sarah’s running and crossfit training gave her enough reserve to allow us to push on a little, when other groups had turned around.
2. Niall and Lee making good use of their high levels of pre-trip fitness to make an ascent of Mont Blanc from the Italian side, a route with over 3000m of ascent from the valley.
Training tips and advice for mountaineering and ski touring
With that in mind, here are a few quick tips/thoughts, with more detailed blog posts to follow in the future.
That’s it for the moment. More detailed articles coming soon and if you have any questions in the mean time contact us
What level of skier am I?
Trying to gauge your own ski ability is pretty tricky, and it does depend on who you compare yourself to!
We have split our ability benchmarks into five sections, and although there is some overlap you should be able to slot yourself in somewhere. The grades take into account experience as well, just because you’ve skied one powder run it doesn’t mean your ready to jump up to the next level!
Under each section there are examples of trips that might be suitable for you, but you should contact us to discuss that further.
Rest assured that we always start our off piste and ski touring trips with a warm up run, but it’s still important to try and match people to the right course and trip.
For our Vallee Blanche descents we offer a half day test ski around the Grand Montet in Chamonix so you can have a warm up and we can assess your skiing ability if your not sure wether your ready for the Vallee Blanche or not.
If you want a dedicated lesson, then we recommend hiring an instructor, but we can guide you around the resort with some off piste tips.
The Vallee Blanche in good condition or one of our easier introductory ski tours.
You would enjoy the classic Vallee Blanche, or other classic off piste runs. A hut to hut ski tour like the Grand Paradiso could be good as well.
The harder classic off piste runs in Chamonix, or the harder variants on the Vallee Blanche. The Haute route ski tour would be good fun.
At this level you will have a good idea of what your capable of, and after some warm up runs to assess the conditions we can try some steeper lines.