The Health Benefits of Snow Sports

Ever thought of cross-country (XC) skiing out in the backcountry, observing the beauty of the natural surroundings while you skate along the tracks? How about a breath-taking trek to the top of the summit before the first run of the day to be greeted by picturesque mountain views, morning sun and fresh clean air?

If these have never crossed your mind, perhaps the health benefits of snow sports will help to trigger your interest!

Low-impact activity 

Snow-sports are relatively low impact due to the gliding component of the movement. Activities involving jogging and running place impact forces of approximately 2-3 times your body weight every stride1. Comparatively, when you are gliding across the snow, you are not applying the same continuous repetition of force up through your body. In fact, ground reaction forces in downhill (alpine) skiing have been shown to be approximately half that of running in intermediate and elite, for flat and steep and low and high dynamic skiing conditions2. Low impact conditions mean that it is great for all ages. The more aggressive you hit the slopes, the more these forces will increase, so if you plan on going through more dangerous terrain or performing jumps in the park, landing forces of close to 5 times body weight have been recorded – so make sure you are well prepared and know how to brace your landings!

Cardiovascular benefits

Snow sports provide a great fun way to participate in aerobic and anaerobic exercise. The intensity of the work out will be dependent on the type of activity (e.g. XC skiing, alpine skiing or snowboarding). Cross-country skiing is indicated to provide the most intense aerobic work out and is the most continuous, which will keep the heart rate up throughout the activity. For those of you who like to count calories, XC skiing will burn through the most calories per hour (approximately 700 calories/hr)4, which is similar to how much a 70kg person would burn on a 10km run5.

Alpine skiing and snowboarding are less continuous in Australia because of the shorter runs and require more power (bursts of energy), but if you prefer the rush associated with the sensation of sliding down the mountain, then these two activities can still burn between 450 and 500 calories per hour, whilst providing you with an exciting work out.

Muscular benefits

Snow sports have a number of muscular benefits, dependent on the activity performed. Cross-country skiing will provide a good way to tone up, because of the continuous aerobic nature, whilst alpine skiing and snowboarding may provide greater benefits to muscular power. This is because these two activities require more explosive strength for sharper changes of direction and controlling the edges of the skis or snowboard, or jumping or carving in and out moguls (for the more skilled)6. Many of the large muscle groups in the body are used, including the gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. Skiers will get an arm work out when using their poles, and snowboarders get a work out using their arms to help push themselves up!

Dynamic balance 

Snow sports provide a great way to unknowingly learn about and work on balance. Muscles in the legs, trunk and arms are all dynamically used to help control and maintain balance. Slight bumps in the snow require continuous core stabilisation from the trunk, whilst changing direction requires use of the upper body and trunk. Bending at the hips and knees will help you to feel more balanced, which is related to the body’s centre of mass, and holding a stable balanced stance will in turn held your muscular endurance.

Psychological benefits

Getting out in the fresh cool air and gliding about in the snow (potentially throwing snow at your friends backside) can be amazing fun. Snow sports can give you that ‘adrenaline rush’ and just make you forget, acting as a ‘release’ for all of your stressors. Physical activity, in general, has been recommended to support mental health7. Leisurely physical activity has been indicated as a positive ‘stress buffer’8, whilst moderate to high intensity physical activity plays a role in the release of neurotransmitters and activation of special ‘happy’ receptors in the brain, which may help to reduce stress and anxiety, induce a sense of well being and post-exercise calmness9. As participation in snow sports should not be done alone, these sports have the added benefit of constant social interaction, and you will have plenty of time on the lift ride up the slopes to share stories with your friends or family!