Vail Daily column: Are you fit enough for mountain sports? |

Vail Daily column: Are you fit enough for mountain sports?

Ryan W. Richards
Make It Count

I have written a column for well over two years in our sports section and have rarely discussed sports. This is a fitness column, and I infrequently discuss sports such as skiing, motor racing, hunting and other mountain activities. After all, Ernest Hemingway once said, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

There has been much discussion about the relationship between fitness and those games. For example, there are specific standards of fitness that are likely related to the outcome of the game; any additional fitness developed requires too much time dedication that robs the athlete of limited resources. There is such a thing as fit enough. Maybe the Broncos offense does need some remedial gym work. However, my suspicion is that these athletes are plenty strong. I want to discuss some basic standards that apply to us here in the mountains.

Fitness and the mountains

Dan John, the co-author of “Easy Strength,” discuses fitness standards and sports along a continuum. On one end of the continuum, you have collision sports such as American football, ice hockey, lacrosse and rugby. On the other end of the continuum, you have sports such as the shot put, discus, 100-meter sprint and road cycling. In the middle, perhaps you have sports such as alpine skiing, mountain biking and tennis.

In “Easy Strength,” Dan discusses the relationship between fitness qualities such as speed, strength and endurance, and how they relate to the scoreboard. For sports such as the shot put, it is very crystal clear why a particular thrower out performs another; the stronger and more powerful athlete usually throws further. On the other end of the continuum, American football requires more than strength and power; speed, stamina, agility, flexibility, balance, skill and coordination are needed at a high level of development. Not only do collision sports require a higher level of development across multiple fitness qualities, it’s also very difficult to correlate specific fitness increases to the scoreboard. There are way too many variables in hockey such as strategy, injuries, skating, getting hit, skill, luck, referees, and pressure from the fans. In other words, the more variables that are involved in the outcome, the more difficult it is to correlate fitness to the outcome.

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What about the activities we enjoy here in the mountains? Is there a relationship between fitness and the outcome of our enjoyment or time in the town series race? First of all, it’s important to consider general, rather than specific standards. What does that mean? It is all too common to incorporate exercises that are specific to the sport. For example, a baseball pitcher performing a lunge with a band attached at their wrist mimicking a pitch. Specific exercises that mimic sports movements are too challenging to standardize because the exercises are often awkward and difficult to add progressions, too.

Test yourself

General exercises such as pushups are easy to teach, administer, and extrapolate meaningful results. General exercises also predict overall development which can carry over to sports applications. General exercises like the deadlift don’t carryover to skiing performance outcomes per se, but deadlifts demonstrate someone’s general overall strength, which is important for skiing performance.

What are some general standards to aim for? I feel it’s important to consider an upper and lower body strength assessment; a lower body power assessment; a core stability assessment, and an overall endurance assessment. For the upper body, a woman regardless of age should be able to perform 10 strict pushups. While keeping the hips in line with the shoulders, without hyperextending the lower back, keeping your head in line with your upper back, a woman ought to be able to lower your chest 3 inches to the ground and repeat for 10 total repetitions. Women, this assumes that you are doing real pushups from your toes, not your knees.

Men, consider 20 strict pushups. For lower body strength assessment, an active, recreational mountain athlete ought to be able to lift their bodyweight from the ground no less than five times. Whether it’s a traditional barbell deadlift, a sandbag, a rock, or an umbrella base — whatever. A great lower body power assessment is the traditional long jump test. Mark a line and stand just behind it. Swing your arms back, push your hips back, slightly bend your knees, and jump as far as horizontally possible. Mark the spot your heels land and measure the distance. You should be able to jump the distance of your height.

For core stability, hold a traditional plank for time. If you can hold your hips and shoulders in a rigid line as you maintain ground contact with your forearms and toes only — for no less than 2 minutes, core stability isn’t your problem. Finally, an individual ought to be able to walk 10 miles without problems.

Some critics will argue these standards are too easy and aren’t consistent with high levels of fitness. It has been my observation that there is fit, and there is fit enough. For the sake of limiting factors, if you can’t demonstrate these qualities, a proper fitness program is likely going to help you perform better. If these standards are easily achieved and you find it difficult to ski down Golden Eagle non-stop, fitness isn’t your problem. Consider lessons, equipment checks, psychological evaluation, or if all else fails, there’s a nice bowling alley down in Eagle, from what I understand. Let’s keep talking about this stuff!

Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at or 970-401-0720.

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