Winter Cross-Training Part I: Snow Sports and Cycling

Winter Cross-Training Part I: Snow Sports and Cycling

Cross-training is important year-round for runners; however, it seems to be on the minds of runners a little more during winter months if you live in a cold climate. Maybe it is because there are fewer races to train for, maybe it’s the cold, or maybe you just want to change things up a bit. Whatever the reason there are tons of great options to explore to help supplement and benefit your running.

Snow sports:

Alpine Touring

Honestly, anything you are doing that involves being active is awesome. However, we live in Utah and we also have so many other cool winter cross-training opportunities that most don’t have. You won’t find a better hill workout than skinning up a mountain on Alpine Touring skis, telemark skis, or a Splitboard.

If those last four terms sounded like a foreign language here is a little more info:




A strip of nylon or mohair material, that fit to and adheres to the bottom of skis or a splitboard. Skins allow you to literally walk uphill in snow with your skis on.

Alpine Touring skis:

A type of ski set-up with specific bindings and boots. The heel of the binding can be released while climbing up the mountain and then can be locked back down for decent, just like a traditional alpine ski.

Telemark skis:

Have you ever been out on the mountain and seen someone drop his or her knee to the ground to make a turn? Well that is telemarking. The binding and never locks the heel down.

A snowboard that splits into two pieces like skis to climb up and then you can put it back together to make a snowboard for your decent.

There are several local races that take place in the Salt Lake area specifically for ski racing; one in particular is the Wasatch Powder Keg (website link). Although there is a lot more gear (translate to money) involved in this sport than running, it offers something fun and different during the winter months.



  • Altitude training; the air gets thinner as you hike up higher and makes your body work harder to pump oxygen to your muscles.
  • You get a hard-core hamstring and quad workout; skinning up mountains engages your hamstrings (a muscle group that is often forgotten about). The downhill aspect requires quad strength to make turns; the inner quadriceps benefits most from this engagement.
  • Touring allows you to access some of your favorite trails and see them in a different and unique way!

With backcountry travel there is risk involved. Making sure you have avalanche and snow knowledge is very important. Here is a helpful website to learn about snow conditions and also can point you in the right direction of avalanche courses:

Some helpful links:,

Cross-Country Skiing:

For those that prefer more of a linear plane, cross-country skiing is a great work out and Utah offers many areas specifically for cross-country skiers. The gear is also a little less expensive than a downhill set-up and you run a much lower risk of avalanche danger.


  • Builds endurance! “It is about grinding it out over the long haul with no help from gravity,” says Stephen Olvey, MD, and associate professor at the University of Miami.
  •  Cross-country skiing engages quadriceps, glutes, calves, hamstrings, biceps, and triceps. Making this an overall body workout.
  • You burn more calories than other snowsports. For example, a 150-pound person would burn 500-640 calories depending on effort level.

For more information:



There are now many snowshoes on the market that are engineered to be sleeker and offer an experience geared to run. It is a great way to get out and experience the trails during winter with minimal financial investment.


  • Cardio similar to running
  • Less gear to buy
  • Access to trails


Utah is also a huge cycling state. I love to ride my bike, when the weather is nice. When the temps start to drop and snow accumulates on the sides of roads I tend to retire my bike to my indoor trainer or hit up my gym for a spin class. Last winter I forced myself to get on my trainer twice a week, every week, and I ran my fastest trail half marathon that spring. I don’t think it was a coincidence. If you already own a bike, and have room, a trainer is a great option for at-home workouts. If you don’t have a bike or just like the atmosphere of the gym and an intense class led by an instructor than a spin class might be something that would interest you. Most gyms and recreation centers offer spin classes. (Picture of Cyclops trainer)


  • Development of power muscles: Quads, Glutes, and Calves
  • Reduces impact, thus, reducing stress on joints and lessening chances of impact related injury
  • Shifting gears allows you the ability to go up or down in intensity during a workout
  • Great form of “active recovery”
  • Increases leg turnover

So get out there and remember the challenge to yourself….R-U-N?


  • Jeff_Thomson! | April 23, 2014 | Reply

    I prefer cycling :) Thanks for sharing the benefits of cycling ( and also for other things). I had a right leg ligament tear earlier due to which cycling was becoming very difficult for me. But still, as you said, it is good for the leg and muscle movements and therefore I can never think of quitting cycling. I started slow and now have recovered well.

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