To be frank, I would rather be extinct than be average. I am ready to fly higher and dig deeper. On the mountain and in my soul. Which is why this journey starts with a helicopter…
First, a little about me
I’m north of 30 years old and am in the best shape of my life (self-assessed). There is more consistency to my health than in the previous decade, and I have some good habits which help. I don’t eat meat but do eat eggs and salmon frequently, rarely drink coffee, purified water only, and hand-make probably five or more salads a week. I also can’t help but work out every day.
Meanwhile, my daily maintenance (among other things, such as ambition) gives rise to this nagging voice in my head that dares me to do something big. For the joy of being an athlete; to go further than I’ve ever gone before. Perhaps if I ran, this would be the “sign up for a marathon” voice. Or if I sailed, the “sail around the world” mantra. But I don’t run. I do mountain bike, but those races feel overly competitive, like I have to prove something to 800 strangers (who fly past me on their bikes). I deeply sought something that would bring me to my personal outer limits, something that would celebrate my commitment to health.
Being from Colorado, where I would virtually disappear into the mountains on every snow day, the answer was clearly in front of me. Or, actually, it was in my walk-in closet, and it stood 152 inches tall with a stance of 18 degrees on the left and 15 degrees on the right. The answer for how to quell that nagging voice to “do something big” was my Burton Feel Good. And, to correlate with going further than I’ve ever gone before, I decided to journey to the highest ski area in North America and hire a helicopter.
The Terrain of Silverton, Colorado
“It is the highest ski area in North America with a peak of 13,487’, and it is also the steepest with no easy way down. The mountain is left in its natural state with the exception of the avalanche reduction work. Our base lies at 10,400’ with a peak lift served elevation of 12,300’. There is hiking to 13,487’, which means, with a little effort, you can get around 3,000’ vertical drop per run. Our elevation ensures an early and long season.”
How to Become a Gym Rat in Six Weeks
Backcountry snowboarding requires legs of steel, buns of iron and abs of a gladiator — not to mention the lungs and respiratory system of a 14,000' mountain-dwelling marmot.
Meanwhile, my beginning point was that of a true office warrior resting at sea elevation with hunched-over desk posture and laptop eye strain. I knew I had a lot of work to do, and, naturally, I turned to my trusty MacBook Air to look up the best backcountry training routines.
There were a few key parameters I began with before I settled on one.
First, I didn’t care to add weight as much as endurance. I wanted more reps and preferred to work with my own body weight. Plus, with only six weeks to go, I sought agility, not the physique of a man from Gold’s Gym. Although I would lift weights, it was the reps and posture I was more concerned with when choosing my routine.*
(* spoiler: this would change post-research)
Second, vanity would get me nowhere. For this training, I would have to let go of the idea that my gym routine would create a smokin’ bikini body (it’s dead winter anyway) or an attractive yoga butt. In fact, it was likely that I would gain weight as it would mean more time off my mountain bike and more time in the gym … putting on … weight. That’s why this six-week training was for me and the mountain, and nobody else — except a few snapshots on Instagram.
Third, and most importantly, the opponent in this circumstance is nature, and there is truly no way to prepare for the impetuous intensity of a mountain. I decided I would dedicate to finding a routine made by mountain people for mountain people. You might think this is the beginning of a very special political campaign. But instead, it was the start of 6 weeks of “breaking average” training regiment pain.
I had The Wall for breakfast
#kirkwood #firstchair #goals #earlybird #instafitness #snowboarder #training #dontquit"
The Secret Video: WTF is Eccentric Leg Strength?
I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others, which is why when I found an article by Rob Shaul, owner of The Mountain Athlete in Jackson Hole, WY, where he describes his experience with a high-stakes mountain training gone wrong, I felt like I had stumbled upon gold.
Because, trust me, there’s nothing cheap about skiing, let alone helicopter skiing, and “high-stakes training gone wrong” is worse than losing your whole loot in Vegas.
“But the mountain isn’t the gym, and she wasn’t impressed.” -Rob Shaul of Backcountry.com on a high-stakes mountain training gone wrong.
He had the same plan I did: attack the training like a madman (in my case, madwoman) with “thousands of heavy front squats, back squats, loaded lunges, dead lifts, Bulgarian Split Squats, etc.” The results, Shaul found, were stronger legs measured by gym numbers.
Yes, (I was silently nodding while reading his journal entry), this sounded like the right plan. I, too, wanted better gym numbers. But what Rob Shaul found out is that this is NOT the right plan. He crumbled on the first day, having to quit early along with his students. And, he had gotten paid, mind you, to train these athletes professionally. Yikes!
Where had I messed up? Upset athletes and intense research, including calls to the Olympic training center, drove me to the answer. -Rob Shaul
According to Shaul and others, the answer to your backcountry fabulous-ness lies in the difference between concentric leg strength and eccentric leg strength. For all snowboarders and skiers out there, tuck this one away: concentric bad; eccentric good.
Here’s an explanation from the martyr himself:
“Eccentric strength is “negative” strength. You use eccentric strength to lower yourself into the bottom of the squat, and hike down a steep hill. Eccentric strength absorbs force. Alpine skiing primarily demands eccentric strength.“
In other words, eccentric strength damages muscle. It’s what makes you sore the next day after climbing a mountain. It’s the descent rather than the ascent. And this distinction, I hoped, would make all of the difference on my big day.
Here’s the routine he suggests:
Hungry for More?
The go-to training for serious backcountry snowboarders and skiers.
Mini Leg Blaster
10x Air Squats
5x In-Place Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
5x Jumping Lunges (5x each leg, 10x total)
5x Jump Squats
Full Leg Blaster
20x Air Squats
10x In-Place Lunges (10x each leg, 20x total)
10x Jumping Lunges (10x each leg, 20x total)
10x Jump Squats
Note: Do not plan on sitting the next day after your first Leg Blaster … OUCH!
You’re Not Done Yet!
Seated Russian Twists, Scotty Bobs and Step-Ups.
Note: I chose to do the Scotty Bobs and Step-Ups and to finish my core work on a back stabilizing machine.
Note: if this looks easy, it’s NOT!
How Does this Story End?
Well, I am three days away from getting on the helicopter. I had to post this before I board the airplane for Denver because I won’t have my MacBook Air on me (good idea to give the carpal tunnel a rest!). When I get to Silverton, I’ll be renting an avalanche shovel and probe on-site. It’s likely I’ll also rent a powder board with 120 inches of snow at the Silverton summit (sorry, Burton Feel Good). My day will be spent dropping up to “3,000 vertical feet per run with no easy way down.” I imagine my lungs will burn and my breath will be labored. My lower back will probably bend in ways it was never meant to, with a few aches and pains in my left hip, left knee and both ankles. When I board the helicopter with my two friends, I’ll be looking down at the uncut terrain, the majestic depth of nature. I’m sure the chopper blades will be so-so loud. A loud helicopter is great. The louder the better. Because that nagging voice telling me that I haven’t gone far enough, high enough or deep enough as an athlete … well, that voice will be so-so quiet.
Wish me luck!