Travelling to Canada might seem an extreme way to prepare for a winter's skiing. However, I was prepared to do anything to get "ski fit" for last season, so I signed up for the Alberta Ski Boot Camp fitness holiday in the heart the Canadian Rockies.
The five-day boot camp is designed to get beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers and boarders fit by combining a ski holiday with fitness training to increase strength and flexibility on the slopes. It flits between the towns and ski resorts of Jasper, Lake Louise and Banff, optimising the spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery and its varied skiing terrain.
My fellow skiers and snowboarders ranged in age from 25 to 65 years old, with skiing levels that spanned beginner to advanced: all were looking to improve their fitness for the ski season.
The course starts as it means to go on. Our squad of 10 arrived in the mountain town of Jasper to be greeted by snow-camouflaged mountains and a chilling -15C temperature. The outdoor training started at Jasper's Marmot Basin ski resort, our group led by a London-based personal trainer called Niko Algieri. Along with a few of Alberta's local hardcore athletes, Niko had plans to put us through our paces using of ski-muscle-strengthening tactics.
It seems that to become ski fit you need to target certain muscle groups: the buttocks, thighs, hamstrings, calf muscles and the muscles in your lower back, core and abdominal area. Enter Canadian ultramarathon runner Tracy Garneau, a North Face professional athlete. Tracy's titles include the scary-sounding Canadian Death Race, the Transalpine Run and the 50-mile San Francisco North Face Endurance Challenge.
Death Race Tracy was waiting in deep snow, and immediately explained that she'd already been for a quick 30-mile warm up run. We started with a short jog through snow – which is harder than it sounds – followed by half an hour of running up and down a 165ft wooden staircase. We then side-stepped up the slippery steps before a mountain run and lots of push-ups, crunches and lunges on the snow-capped summit. I could barely walk at the end of all that and relished being driven back to the hotel. Tracy ran home.
Boot Camp continued into the evening, but with a change of pace at Jasper Open Yoga. Stiff from Tracy's earlier routine, even the less supple of us appreciated Terry Olsen's stretching session, vital to keep muscles long and lean for good circulation and preventing tight "post-ski" muscles.
Over dinner at Cavell's restaurant, we tired-but-happy boot-campers tucked into Canadian cuisine that included energising steaks and high-protein salmon dishes, while recounting our tales of the day. We then got stuck into a last training session at the Jasper Brewing Company, raising beer glasses to strengthen our arms. Our first night was spent at the comfortable Lobstick Lodge on Geikie Street, within walking distance of the town's shops and restaurants.
Our next destination was Lake Louise, a three-hour drive along the spectacular Icefields Parkway that passes steep, needle-shaped mountains and massive glaciers. As we emerged from the darkness, I caught sight of our new headquarters. The Fairmont Château Lake Louise stands just a few yards from the icy lake, which is surrounded by the towering Rocky Mountains.
After check-in, I was faced with the challenge of finding my room. The Fairmont is a massive maze of a hotel and my luxurious room didn't disappoint. The view overlooked a raw winter wonderland of towering snow-covered peaks.
The following morning at 7am we bundled on to our bus, exchanging the warmth and comfort of the hotel for the cold mountain slopes at the nearby Lake Louise ski resort in order to take full advantage of the fresh deep snow that fell throughout the night.
It was an early start, but worth it, as it was First Tracks morning. First Tracks allows people to pay an additional fee to hit the slopes an hour before the general public.
Lake Louise is one of North America's largest ski resorts. Spread across four mountain faces, it offers something to match every level of skier. We spent the day tree-skiing, led by Darren May, a British ski instructor originally from Malvern, Worcestershire. "The Canadians have an expression for great powder days like today," he said. "They call it a 'blower': a perfect day to ski with snow blowing over your shoulders."
From Lake Louise, our boot camp moved to nearby Banff. Here we checked into the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a fabulously large château-style building overlooking the Rockies.
Now it was my turn to work out with our personal trainer Niko and an interesting piece of kit called the Total Resistance System, or TRX, which is favoured by professional athletes. "The TRX is a mobile suspension trainer that allows you to train with your own body weight, allowing you to jump, change position and twist by isolating different parts of your body, making it an effective way to get ski fit," explained Niko.
With Niko's encouraging words and patience, I found myself performing what felt like acrobatic tricks, squatting with one leg out in front of me while holding a long-handled cord and leaning back to push out one-legged squats. I found the system effective and demanding, reaching all muscle groups with one piece of apparatus.
Then after finding our Rocky Mountain zen state at the Rocky Mountain Yoga studio, we snapped into full-focus mode and got ready for more outdoor conditioning classes with local trainer Chris Pacheco. Chris runs high-intensity classes designed to get you geared up for the ski season; they focus on functional athletic training in an outdoor winter setting. The class is designed to increase functional core strength and athletic power output, which is apparently the secret weapon behind every strong skier.
We started with a warm up jog, then pulled a 55lb weighted sled across the snow before thrashing a huge and heavy power rope tied to a post, swinging it up and down and from side to side. We spent the last day of boot camp putting it all into practice, skiing at Sunshine Village, Canada's highest elevated ski resort.
By the end of the week my well-worked muscles were sore but I felt stronger and had better control of my skis in deep snow. Niko seemed happy with our efforts. "I was really pleased overall and hugely impressed in some individual cases. Great progress was made throughout the week and some people came back for more training sessions. My advice would be to keep training the major muscle groups, building strength and suppleness for skiing … and don't ever quit," he added with a smile.
Throughout the week we'd been pulled, stretched, bent over double and up to the waist in snow. We'd puffed and panted, laughed and (almost) cried. We might not be ready for the Canadian Death Race, but we all returned home feeling fitter. Mission accomplished.
Ski Solutions (020-7471 7700; skisolutions.com) offers a 10-night Alberta Bootcamp package including Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper from £2,560 per person. It includes flights from Heathrow with Air Canada, seven nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs, three nights at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, ski passes, transfers and massages.
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