Ski yourself fit or get fit for skiing. Victoria Tremlin battles circuits and slaloms on an active break in Alberta's top three ski resorts
‘INTO THE TREES…’ howls Steffan as he shoots across the slope and disappears into a dark, foreboding gap in the woodland.
Only hours ago I was nervously snowploughing on the Magic Carpet (ski lingo for baby slope). I'm wondering if he’s forgotten this, as we swerve through the thick, snow-covered branches and slalom down the mountain. I track the red flashes of his instructor’s uniform as we dart through the narrow path and negotiate the hairy turns. My quads are on lockdown, abs are working overtime and I’m wrestling to stay on my feet as we speed over the bumpy terrain.
When we finally re-submerge I’m flying at a new PB speed. Adrenaline is surging through me and I’m howling with laughter. ‘Squat as you hit the jump,’ he yells. ‘Jump?’ I shriek. ‘Straighten up as you reach the peak and engage your core,’ he continues to shout. I watch this madman fly through the air, land with grace and carve to a neat stop.
I don’t land like the pros but - still on my skis – I shoot my hands in the air with triumph and reflect on how far I’ve come in just one morning on the mountain.
Steffan Williams, my ski instructor at Marmot Basin, Jasper, instills five essential skills in his ski pupils: stance and balance, pivoting, edging, timing and co-ordination, and pressure control. ‘Today we covered at least four of these skills, if not all – plus general ballsiness,’ he says.
Impressed by his ability to ski backwards, I insist on learning and spend the afternoon honing the trick. I even manage to perfect a 360-degree spin – although a little Bambie-like.
I’m not surfing Jasper’s Champagne powder in the stunning Canadian Rockies simply to advance my skiing, though. I’ve signed up for Travel Alberta’s fitness bootcamp on snow. It caters for everyone: from avid skiers looking to condition the body for max performance during the season ahead, to ski novices in search of a fun alternative to fitness bootcamps.
‘Strength, flexibility, agility, co-ordination and body awareness are the main elements involved in skiing,’ says Steffan. The bootcamp is designed to develop each aspect and heighten your general fitness, while enjoying the breathtaking scenery of Jasper’s national park. But cruising down the wide, crowd-free runs is the easy part. The hard work starts on day two…
Thankfully a relaxing class at River Stone Yoga leaves me super supple. Next on the agenda is a two-hour bootcamp workout - and we’re instructed to dress warm.
Phew! The mountain trails are declared too slippery. Instead Warrior Fitness trainer Stephanie Sopocleous packs her studio with TRXs, ViPRs, Swiss balls, dumbbells, BOSUs, the list goes on… After 90 minutes of whimpering through tough circuits and Tabata sessions, she takes mercy on the group and we indulge in some slow sustained Yin yoga stretches.
Resting for lunch, we fuel up on bison burger at The Fairmount Hotel, a fave spot with royals when they're in Jasper. Pilates is on the menu this afternoon but the S’mores cheesecake on offer seems much more appealing.
Pro on the snow
After exhausting Jasper, we are back on skis at Lake Louise. A long coach ride, which tours through magnificent snowcapped mountains along part of the 232km Icefields Parkway, brings us to The Fairmount Hotel, in Lake Louise. It sits majestically in the snow scene, like a rich cherry sunk deep atop a soft-peaked lemon meringue pie. I’m re-energised and ready to polish my ski technique.
The mountain is scattered with professional racers, who’ve turned out to compete in the Ski World Cup. The atmosphere is buzzing as female American ski star Lindsey Vonn dominates the course. Her bid to race in the current male-only events causes controversy in the ski world.
Surrounded by the pros, I decide to ditch shaky 360s and listen to my instructor’s pole planting and edging tips. We then spend the afternoon exploring Lake Louise's mountain trails with a Ski Friend (voluntary guide), which really tests my endurance.
In the thick of it
This morning I anticipate a relaxing session, gently meandering through flat woodland tracks with plenty of opportunities to take panoramic snaps. ‘Swing your arms forward like you're throwing a bucket of water, drive with your legs and glide. You should really feel it in your legs,’ Kristi shouts.
In the summer, Kristi Beetch hikes the colourful Rocky Mountain landscape as a guide with White Mountain Adventures. Today, her introduction to cross-country skiing is an hour-long full-body workout. After mastering the slimline skis she would normally whizz guests off for 3-4 hours to explore the snowy trails. Instead, we are told to break out of the toe clips and strap on snowshoes for a fitness session my thighs will never forget.
Imagine non-stop high-knees for an hour; that’s the essence of snowshoeing. Tramping into the forest through deep virgin snow does feel invigorating. It isn’t until I notice that the treetops reach my waist that I wonder how deep – and how stable – the snow beneath me really is. ‘High-knees high-knees,’ I recite nervously, while trying to pack the snow tightly beneath my feet.
My confidence rises, I decide to attempt snowshoe jogging and pick up the pace until - slam! - I’m down, face first in the powder. Kristi uses me as a guineapig to demonstrate the difficulty of getting back up again. I flail around trying to push myself up but my arms keep sinking deep into the snow. Eventually Kristie flips me over. ‘Grab the front of your snowshoes, use your abs and pull yourself up,’ she instructs. With a little push I’m on my feet again and decide follow behind sensibly. No running!
A haze of steam lures me to the bubbling hot tub as we check into the Buffalo Mountain Lodge, Banff, for the evening. With my own private cabin - complete with open log fire - I hope to watch dusk fall from my balcony with a hot chocolate and a view of the mountains. Bootcamp has other plans for me.
Canada’s CrossFit Games recently exploded in popularity. Throughout après-ski spots, televisions are tuned to show super-conditioned athletes as they compete in a premier test of extreme fitness. This evening CrossFit athlete and personal trainer Chris Pacheco gives us a taster of his typical hardcore training session.
We perform explosive and fast-paced squats, lunges, sit-ups and more. After even more Tabata sessions our group is exhausted and starting to lose concentration. ‘Do you want the secret to stripping inches off your waist in four minutes?’ asks Chris. We’re suddenly all ears.
Poised in the plank position, I’m ready. We hold for 30 seconds, switch to side plank for another 30 seconds, back to the middle and then over to the other side. We keep up the 30-second reps for four minutes and are told to repeat the process once a day, every day, and increase the time as we improve. I leave the class pledging to stick to this daily regime.
I wake up ache-free for a final day of skiing. Being 8,900 ft up is making me nauseous, plus jetlag still has me awake at 4am every morning. An early Rocky Mountain Yoga class eases my symptoms. Canada boasts the longest ski season: from late November to May. Sunshine Village, Banff is reporting record early-season snow. The sun shines and the snowfall is gentle and non-disruptive, providing a perfect last day on the slopes.
Our final bootcamp activity is a trip to the Banff hot springs for a soak. After a well-deserved full-body massage I arrive at the airport with all traces of the past week erased from my body. I am, however, left with some once-in-a-lifetime memories, a bunch of like-minded new friends and a yearning to get back on the snow pronto.
For more information on visiting Alberta, please go to www.travelalberta.co.uk and www.canada.travel. For ski information on Jasper, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village visit www.skibig3.com.
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