Big days of ski touring – still base building or ME?

  • Creator
  • #8207
    John S

    Hi Steve/Scott/Uphill athletes,
    I am currently in Week 7 of the Base period of my training cycle (my second year of structured training for mountaineering) I have historically used ski touring as a good aerobic base building exercise but am currently wondering if there is a potential for overdoing it. Due to a combination of longer days, good pow and the fact that my local snowpack is reasonably stable for the first time this winter, I’ve been kinda getting after it a bit this week and have had a couple of big days. Around the 17km, 2200m mark. Earlier tours this winter were more 8-10km, 1200-1500m vert.
    Are these big days still base building or is it starting to head towards Muscular Endurance training? The effort is still a pretty steady conversational pace and I’m only carrying a light day pack, so aside from the volume the only big muscle strain is from breaking trail – which isn’t insignificant but it’s not all day as we are reusing the skintrack.
    I was definitely feeling some leg fatigue in the latter part of these tours but not a complete wreck the next day. The two tours will push my volume for this week over what I was aiming for by only a couple of hours and next week is recovery week.
    I’m asking the question in case I should be concerned about overdoing it and accidentally de-training. And/or if the training effect from these days is not what I was expecting.

    Thanks for any insights.

  • Inactive
    Anonymous on #8210

    Great question and perfect example of the complex interactions of training effects. ALL of your aerobic training has some ME effect. After all, it is the muscular work that moves you. It is good to think of ski touring, mountain running, mountaineering etc along a spectrum of strength. A low angle tour on previous skin track or a mellow run on a flatish trail are going to have a much lower strength requirement. They are going to recruit fewer muscle fibers, and especially for the reasonable fit, many fewer FT fibers, so these workouts will demand less in terms of muscular endurance because those ST fibers needed to get you up the trail are very well endurance trained.

    Now: Steepen the grade, add some pack or boot/ski weight and toss in some trail breaking for good measure and you move toward the other end of the strength scale. You need to recruit more muscle fibers. When the going is tough you may be needing to call upon some FT fibers, which by definition do not has such good endurance as the ST fibers you used earlier. Now this ski tour or run or climb has become much more of a muscular endurance workout.

    Our prescription for ME workouts
    is designed to push you WAAAAY far to the strength end of the spectrum by using a heavy pack and very steep hill so you notice that the muscles are the limitation.

    What you are experiencing is typical when the work starts to move toward the strength end of the scale. Your legs don’t recover fully from day to day and fatigue begins to accumulate. You are in the grey middle area of the spectrum. Not easy but not a full on ME workout.

    What to do? You are wise to wonder how much is too much. That’s a very individual question with no answer that works for everyone. Folks with more leg strength and ME will be able to handle more back to back days of this. Pay attention to your fatigue: backing off when you notice a significant increase or after a big jump in training load like you mention and these workouts are great aerobic base training even with their high muscular load. BUT…You need to be mindful of that fatigue and allow adequate recovery somewhere along the training cycle. Will that be after one big day or will be after 3 no one can say but you.

    Things like this great question is why Steve and I went to such lengths in our book and continue to do so on this website to explain theory behind the training so that you and other mountain athletes can make these kinds of informed decisions. It is not black and white. There is no one size fit all formula. We want to provide an intellectual framework within which you can think about your training.


    Steve House on #8213

    The only thing I would add to Scott’s reply is something I read yesterday from one of the running coaches, Steve Magness, that we follow. He had a good post on his blog about ‘fatigue signatures’ It’s a great way to picture fatigue, and move it from the theoretical to the practical. My fatigue signature is hunching over, bad posture, which also makes is harder to get a full breath. What’s yours? I bet if you think about it, besides just how your legs are feeling, you’ll think: “oh yeah, on that last lap I was really reverting to a short-stride and was all hunched over…” or whatever your fatigue-signature is. Put that signature into your consciousness, and you’l recognize it quickly the next time you’ve gone one lap too far. Thanks for the question.

    Here is the article from Magness:

    Signatures of Fatigue: Why Fatigue Is Your Best Feedback

    John S on #8224

    Thanks Scott and Steve for the detailed answers.
    I’ll continue to monitor how it goes and try to moderate the desire for pow if it looks like I’m overdoing it. I’m at a point where I’m easing into the ME phase so deep trail breaking isn’t entirely inappropriate from a training perspective. (Now that I know a bit more about how it fits in)
    And I’ll be looking out for my fatigue signature – an interesting and useful tool.
    I appreciate everything you guys put into this site – I’m enjoying the process of learning about training theory and applying it to my (very) amateur self.



    Anonymous on #8236


    We are all learning. Never stop being curious.


    jfgallego2 on #8268

    What a great question! I have just started the 20-week ultra training plan and been trying to figure out a balance between being disciplined with the plan and ski touring, on a weekend warrior schedule.

    Following up on the idea of doing ski tours in the Base side of the spectrum, while being careful not to hit too much ME, how acceptable it is to do ski tours in the weekends in lieu of long runs scheduled in the base period of the plan? Even if they are done (to my best effort) within the AET specified for the run.

    I love running, but I also love skiing. Our recent wintery (finally) weather wave in Idaho is providing with amazing skiing conditions. I want to progress as much as I can with the training, but I also want to find the type joy given only by skiing powder :).


    hafjell on #15123

    @jfgallego2 Fwiw, I’m trying to switch most of my aerobic activity to skinning this winter. My body needs a break from running, and I am finding, after my first year in this program, that while running is very good for my skinning, I still need some time on skis at the beginning of the season to catch up and acclimate to the different motion. There’s also a time constraint: I’m going to be skiing anyways, and I can’t always make the time or the energy to add additional time to run/hike.

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