Getting fat and phat on Vail Mountain |

Getting fat and phat on Vail Mountain

Scott Willoughby

Staring down at the heaping plate of bow-tie pasta alfredo and a chilly cerveza mas fina, the irony hit me like the Heimlich maneuver. A frumpy if not exactly chubby middle-aged woman in glasses had just taken over the microphone to discuss the health benefits of winter sports. I slathered a little more butter on my bread.According to her, that was just fine however. Soon enough I would be enjoying the type of fitness only begotten of sliding on snow.As it turns out, I’m not really a ski bum. I’m a fitness freak. Who knew? Soon enough, apparently, America will, thanks to the frumpy lady representing SnowSports Industries America (SIA) and their newly launched Congress-endorsed program “Winter Feels Good.”I’ve always been an “if it feels good, do it” kind of guy, so I was pretty stoked to learn that I can now officially include winter in my repertoire of do’s versus don’ts. Word on the industry inside is that snowboarding, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can help adults and children achieve health and fitness through the winter months, “no matter what their current level of fitness is.” I’m having another beer.Seriously though, the SIA folks may be onto something. Or maybe not. The basis of their program is a new Harris Interactive survey of 2,450 Americans ages 18 and over where a full 7 percent claimed to have participated in a snow sports activity in the last two years (no, snowmobiling, snow angels and snowman building don’t count). More importantly, three times as many adult Americans (21 percent) say they would be more inclined to try snow sports if they knew more about their health and fitness benefits.According to SIA, they were specifically asked, “Would you be more inclined to try snow sports if you knew more about their health and fitness benefits?” and 21 percent of them said, “Yes.” To which I say, “Yeah, right.”Although there is an outside chance that I might possibly be wrong, I don’t see a crush of couch potatoes rushing up to 11,000 feet to work out their quads this January just because Mark Udall and a frumpy lady in glasses told them it feels good. As great as that would be. If you think about it, fat people would be really good for business.For starters, their skis and boots would probably wear out twice as fast under all that weight, forcing them to gear up twice as often. Plus they’d stop to eat a lot more often, even on the mountain, where most of us can’t afford to dine in spite of the convenience. Their joints would be under constant stress, making for a merry Christmas at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic and the Howard Head Sports Medicine Clinic. Just about the only people who wouldn’t benefit are the massage therapists, unless they started charging per square foot.The market, if you’ll pardon the pun, is huge. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a full 61 percent of U.S. adults are overweight. Tap that keg and Vail Resorts might be able to afford to hand out annual raises along with their next $8 million bonus to the CEO. Plus, it’s a renewable resource. Currently, there are three times as many overweight adolescents as there were 30 years ago. Soon enough, they will become overweight adults contributing to the $117 billion economy annually associated with obesity, not counting lift tickets. And with 300,000 deaths a year associated with obesity in America, they are far more likely to croak and make space in the maze for the next generation of fat kids long before qualifying for a senior discount.But I have my doubts we’ll be seeing an increase in visits by heavy sweaters in heavy sweaters this or any other winter, no matter how good it feels. Fat people are just too lazy to ski. That’s how they got so fat in the first place. Health and Human Services notes that 40 percent of adults in the U.S. don’t participate in any leisure time activity, napping notwithstanding. Such sedentary lifestyles are linked to 23 percent of the deaths from major chronic diseases and 0 percent of the turns on Vail Mountain.But if I’m wrong and you are or know someone who is in the 21 percent of fat folks who claim they will start skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing with a little nudge in the noggin, check out There you will learn all about the health benefits of winter sports. Among them, these nifty tidbits: Downhill skiing is an excellent form of aerobic exercise, enabling skiers to raise and maintain their heart rates for at least 15 minutes. Skiing is also an anaerobic exercise that increases strength and ability to sustain short bursts of exertion. Skiing bumps and short-radius turns all rely on power and stamina. Skiing relies on coordination, balance and flexibility, benefits that allow for a more dynamic range of motion and ultimately, a better technique. Downhill skiing works the leg muscles, especially hamstrings and quadriceps. Abdominal muscles are used to control body posture during each run, ultimately making them stronger. The triceps are used for accurate and strong poling maneuvers, conditioning these muscles over time for greater fitness.Future snowboaders take note: Snowboarding uses a variety of muscles including the hamstrings and quadriceps to guide the board, start it in motion and to stop. Snowboarding requires strong calf muscles which are used to coordinate toe-side traverses down the mountain. Abdominal muscles are used to provide strength and stability. Ankle and feet muscles are used for steering and balance.According to SIA, recreational snowboarding burns 250-630 calories per hour while competitive riding burns between 700 and 1,260. Not too shabby. Depending upon your weight and the amount of effort you put out, skiing will burn off anywhere from 295 calories per hour (130 pounds, light effort) to 690 calories per hour (190 pounds, vigorous effort), even more if you are genuinely obese and your heart doesn’t explode.But no one should just jump into a new winter sport without first adopting an exercise program. SIA recommends walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming and weight training as exercises that will give a person a good foundation to enjoy snow sports. Or if you’re like me, try the squat-and-gobble, maybe throw in a few 12-ounce curls. Winter is just meals, er, months away.Minturn-based freelance writer Scott Willoughby wishes everyone was as fat and happy as he is. He can be reached at

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User