I was invited to guest blog for Sage to Summit, a specialty running and mountaineering shop in the Eastern Sierras, California. I have worked with Sierra Mountain Guides and Sage to Summit leading Tour du Mt Blanc ultra running trips  in the Alps. Another one is on the calendar this summer if you are interested in lacing up your trail shoes in the Alps, this trip is one not to miss.  

Check out my lasted for them on the transition from trail running/ summer mountaineering to winter  ski touring, and ski mountaineering competition. You can find it here on  Sage to Summit Blog, your Go To source for all your trail running needs or simply read it below. Be sure to check their website out too to find all your stocking stuffers and holiday needs for those folks who like to get out and enjoy the trails! 

Nina & Michael Silitch Trail Running in Chamonix, Mont Blanc

Winter in nearly here, in some regions it has already arrived. For runners and mountaineers winter might mean a time they spend more time in the gym on the treadmill or rock wall, but for others, including myself, its my favorite time of the year. It is a chance to reap the benefits of the summer of trail running and transfer it to ski touring, ski mountaineering (ski mo) racing & ski mountaineering.

I like to think of my fitness training as threefold: Endurance, Strength, Flexibility.
All of these facets can be easily transferred to ski mo racing.
Running endurance can carry over to the winter ski season


Typical Ski Mo Race Profile- Similar to a Trail Race


 Endurance: Long Slow Distance 

When I am training for an ultra run, much of my training is long distance training and this can easily be applied to ski mountaineering, especially in the early season where much of your base training should be distance at a talking pace to transfer the muscle memory back to skis and develop a good pre-season base. Many of us have a tendency to hammer it down in the beginning but remember you have all season to do intervals and go fast. Early season is a time for volume. Enjoy being back on your skis again.

Running on technical terrain helps with balance and core strengthSierre -Zinal, Switzerland

When it gets tough, the tough keep going. In ski mo racing, as in trail running, it is not easy but it is rewarding. Often times in skimo racing there are technical sections to be done of foot. Being comfortable in technical terrain is important. For me, my comfort level on rock and in alpine terrain is very helpful when traversing ridges or arêtes in a race setting.
Often races have technical boot pack sections where mountaineering skills come in handy

It is important to keep up with your core and strength training a couple times a week. So much of skiing, especially downhill in difficult conditions does require new muscles. One thing you can do early season is 2x a week do some core and plyo sessions concentrating on the legs, core and arms.

Race Starts are fast. Always Practice your starts many times

Race starts are fast and all out but it is important to know how to regulate and find your race pace after the first 30 seconds. It might be important to jockey for position in the first 30 seconds but then you should get into a rhythm that you are comfortable holding for the first climb.

  •  Your running intervals and speed training can be easily transferred to skis once your base is formed. Be careful not to do your intervals at too high an altitude or you will struggle with both performance and recovery.


Nina running in Mont Blanc Ultra Trail CCC in sub freezing temps

Trail runners and mountaineers are resilient. Such was the case of the 2012 North Face Ultra Trail where runners faced  in climate weather of snow, sleet and freezing rain. This resiliency can be transferred to ski mountaineering when skiers are often faced with wind, cold, blizzard conditions but also amazing bluebird days.



Mont Blanc Ultra Trail CCC– Well prepared for all weatherNina finished 3rd in her age group in the CCC 2012 Ultra TrailHaving the appropriate equipment is essential to ones success in both trail running and ski mountaineering racing 


Its important to have the essential equipment for ski touring
The biomechanics of running transfers easily to ski-touring and our bodies often see this change as a welcome break from pounding on the hard earth. Though much of ski mountaineering racing on the flatter sections relates to x-country skiing as we begin to climb, it is quite similar to trail running and the climbing we do on trails.
Gear Intensive 
In ski mountaineering you have more than the shoes but the additional gear to go up and downhill on skis. It is important to practice your transitions. Taking skins on and off. Putting your skis on your backpack as fast as you can. This is where you can gain minutes in a race.
Proper fueling is essential in all temperatures A Camelbak works well. Or a water bottle. You want to be careful in cold temperatures that it does not freeze. For longer races I usually fuel with Hammer Nutrition Heed or Perpetuum. I take the occasional gel.


Nina Gliding to an Historic World Cup Gold Medal in Tromso, Norway

Often runners try to run uphill on their skis but it’s best to try and maximize the glide on skis to avoid the choppy running pace. It expends more energy than needed and is not as fast.

Practicing Cadence and High Turnover on hills 

Practicing keeping your cadence high when going uphill is important. It often helps to go behind someone and fall in stride with them. Think about when climbing on a bike and how a high turnover is important. Like leg speed turnover in running, it can be applied to ski mountaineering. 


Often you do run in ski mountaineering races. 

It’s important to keep up your running throughout the winter at least 1-2x a week for muscle memory.
Practice running with all your equipment
I have made the mistake in the past to not do any winter running and then jumped into the trail running season. Though I had a very high fitness from ski touring, I had not run regularly in the winter months and my muscles were not yet trained. I suffered injuries throughout the trail running season due to jumping back into running racing too fast.


Often winter running conditions prepare us for winter ski touring and mountaineering
If you are a climber or mountaineer, what a great way to reap the benefits of snow travel to get you up a peak. One of my favorite parts of winter is the amazing technical ski ascents that are possible.
Ski Ascent of Mont Blanc. Endurance of Mont Blanc in a day

After a long season of ski mountaineering I was well prepared for an ascent of Mont Blanc from my house, round trip in 12 hours and over 12,000 feet of elevation and home in time to pick up my boys from school.

Spring Mountaineering on SkisThe Y Couloir- Aiguille d’Argentiere

The core and strength fitness that has been developed in the summer months can be equally transferred just as long as one is well prepared and knowledgeable of the avalanche dangers.
Make sure you are well equipped with knowledge and gear to move safely in the mountains. 

Sierra Mountain Guides, based in the Eastern Sierra and operating worldwide, offers ski mountaineering programs, avalanche awareness courses, and custom guided programs to help you get on track toward preparing for and accomplishing your ski mountaineering ambitions.   
If you are new to ski mountaineering racing and would like to find out more information on upcoming races, check out The United States Ski Mountaineering Association  or feel free to contact Nina directly with any training or racing questions at her own website www.ninasilitch.com
Nina Silitch is a trail runner and ski mountaineer. She has been a member of the US Ski Mountaineering Team since 2008. She won 2 historic World Cup gold medals in the sport of ski mountaineering in 2012 & 2013.  She has won numerous trail running races in the Alps.  She spent 12 years living in the Alps with her husband Michael Silitch, mountain guide and their 2 boys. She now teaches and coaches skiing at the Dublin School in New Hampshire.