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It’s chilly here in the Alps, and colder still in Scandinavia, the snow's arrived and winter has begun! Permission is granted to get excited about your winter holiday.

Be it on snowshoes or skis preparation for your trip is not only fun and can lift the spirit, but also meanS you'll make the most of your holiday.

Time spent getting in condition and preparing kit for your trip are opportunities to dwell on the fantastic experiences just around the corner! Just imagine snowshoeing through a tranquil forest of pine trees laden with snow, or gliding across wide open meadows on skis en route to a cosy chalet for lunch by an open log fire.

It’s amazing how even the anticipation of our next adventures can prove uplifting. Just the same, a modicum of 'practical preparation' is also a very good accompaniment to a little self-indulgent contemplation!

Read on for ideas of how to enhance your winter trip and suddenly your holiday will feel just around the corner!

1. Conditioning

Strength is not just physiological, but also stems from increased mental awareness: physical training helps prepare for new challenges in winter sports, whilst at the same time making your feel good. It’s a good idea to begin working on your fitness and flexibility well in advance of your trip. Fortunately, there already exists an excellent resource to guide you step-by-step in a series of exercises that can performed anywhere. BeFit Apps is based at the renowned La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix, France. Developed by physiotherapist Neil Maclean-Martin, the video-based apps and online training programme provide clear and easy to follow guidance on improving core stability, strength and flexibility. The exercises are suitable for all levels with the aim of improving strength in key muscles, suppleness and balance. The series of exercises specific to snowsports can be performed either at home or in the gym and form an 8-week training programme.

Please remember that these are ideas and not suitable for everyone. As with all new forms of physical exercise you may wish to consult your doctor or a sports professional before engaging in this or any other new activity.

2. Fitness

Panicked attempts at boosting lagging fitness levels a couple of weeks before a trip generally are not effective! Regular exercise is the key and a great way of countering the weariness associated with the dark nights drawing in. If you’ve booked a holiday and the departure date is approaching, don’t worry too much just do what you can as every little effort to get in shape will make a difference. We wouldn't suggest starting something new if there are only a couple of weeks until your holiday, but try getting outside, or into the gym and doing an activity you've done before (be it walking, running, cycling, or rowing) and aim to slowly build up the duration and intensity. It will all help improve cardiovascular fitness while burning calories and increase your self confidence too. The earlier you start the more you’ll reap the rewards on your trip and you are less likely to pick up an injury.

3. Cross Country Skiing - The full body work out!

For cross country skiing in particular, an improved range of motion and flexibility will pay dividends prior to your holiday. Cross country skiing or 'nordic skiing' is a great way to improve your overall health. It's an all over mind & body work out!

Nordic skiing combines both a lower body and upper body workout, while simultaneously working both the “pulling” and “pushing” muscles of each region. The workout comes due to using your own locomotion to move through the terrain. ....Even muscles that don’t seem to be in use are actively involved to balance and coordinate the body......because no one muscle group should be overused, the activity can be sustained for hours on end. Maintaining an elevated heart rate during exercise can strengthen and improve your heart’s capacity to pump blood efficiently and effectively. Read the Top 10 Benefits by Health and Fitness Revolution.

However, if you are new to cross country skiing or booked on a multi-day skiing trip then some pre-ski physical training is advised. It can help reduce post exercise soreness, reduce the chance of injury and over stretching and enable you to enjoy getting the most out of every day. The sliding or 'kick and glide' action of the legs and opposite arm to leg motion does activate the whole body, but here are a few examples of exercises or training methods that can help.

  • Cross trainer or rowing machine in the gym for all over aerobic fitness
  • Hill walking with trekking poles - if time and location allow then there's nothing more invigorating for that 'feel good feeling' than exercising in nature.
  • Nordic Walking - originally adapted by the Finnish cross country ski teams as 'summer cross training' Nordic Walking is now recognised as a specific fitness technique. With the use of poles (the same as those used for cross country skiing) you can replicate an 'off snow' aerobic work out engaging the upper body and legs.
  • Hip Flexors - Strengthen, mobilise and activate your 'hip flexor' muscles. Your hip flexor muscle although small in comparison to other muscles plays an integral part in cross country skiing. Used to aid moving the thigh back and forth this little muscle can easily be strained so we can't stress highly enough how important it is to get them into shape. If you've already cross country skied you'll know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. Here are some ways how to strengthen those muscles healthline.com
  • Yoga for flexibility, strength and stability - concentrating specifically on exercises working the arms, legs and hips here are some interesting articles that can help get you started or help you concentrate your current practice. 6 Yoga Exercises Every Skier Should Know and Benefits of Regular Yoga for Cross Country Skiers.

4. Rest, Recovery & Nutrition

Consider reducing the intensity of your exercise in the last 2 weeks leading up to your holiday and instead add a little more emphasis on getting enough rest, sleep and good food. Relaxation coupled with a healthy diet will help you arrive invigorated, motivated and ready to enjoy your snowshoeing or cross country skiing! If expert diet and nutritional advise is something you are interested in we recommend the services of Rebecca Dent MSc / BSc

5. Research

Our winter trips have been designed to explore the subtle nuances and 'off the beaten track' of the fantastic destinations we visit. We recommend our guests engage in a little research before departure to help enhance this discovery. Investigating the history, geography, people and culture of the region you’ll be visiting is a great way to acquaint yourself with the environment you will be experiencing first hand. Guidebooks, travelogues and historical accounts can all provide unique insights that bring to life the traditions and customs of the mountains you’ll be visiting.

6. Sustenance!

We are fortunate to travel to destinations which produce wonderful local food. Eating adequately while on the move is essential: nutritious and tasty snacks provide the sustenance that will ensure you get maximum enjoyment from your activity — this is especially important when the weather’s inclement. Remember to pack a flask and research a water bottle that won’t freeze when the temperature drops! You may also wish to bring a goodie bag with your favourite snacks for on the go; again, you’ll want to consider how well these fare in colder climes: frozen snacks aren’t the easiest of challenges when you’re needing an energy boost!

7. What to Wear

We provide you with a kit list before your trip. Please consult this well in advance! Determine if you’ve all the required clothing (or, indeed, whether you can treat yourself to some retail therapy and a few new items for your wardrobe!). In short, you’ll need warm layers, including fleece and down, gloves (2 x pairs one thick and one thin), snow goggles, sports sunglasses - consider different coloured lenses for different light, a breathable outer layer such as a GoreTex jacket, well-fitting foot boots (if you’re snowshoeing, are they waterproof, warm, have good ankle support, comfortable for use in the snow?). Quality socks are a necessity for both snowshoeing (choose either synthetic or wool) and for cross country skiing (there are now specific models that work really well in cushioning and supporting the foot). It’s good to carry a spare pair too for after the activity when you’re cooling off: dry feet are happy feet! You’ll need a reasonably sized backpack to carry your kit for the day (if in doubt about size do check our kit list). If you’re purchasing a new pack, consider taking along the kit you plan to have with you: you can then get an idea if you can comfortably fit everything in. Avoid the temptation to get a giant pack — this risks encouraging you to overfill with extra items you won’t need, and the additional weight of the pack itself will be a hindrance. Equally a pack that's too small can also be a problem if you cannot fit everything in after you have cast off a few layers. If in doubt ask us, we are always happy to advise.

8. Do your Homework!

Social media including Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and especially Instagram can be great for finding out more on your trip destination. Instagram in particular is a great resource for acquainting yourself with the natural environment, culture and traditions of the region you’ll be visiting. Studying the photography is also a great way to develop ideas for your own photos. Many of the social media posts also share interesting suggestions and ideas as to the local cuisine and crafts that you might like to learn more about.

9. Cold Weather and Kit

Before packing for your trip we’d advise giving thought to which of your electronic gadgets you’ll be bringing. Bare in mind that keeping smartphones running in cold weather can be challenging. You may need to keep your phone in a warm pocket under a few layers — so it’s important to consider whether this might prove a challenge if you’re an avid photo taker! If you plan to use your phone for taking photos, a pair of gloves that work with touchscreens is a good investment: these are designed with conductive fibres in the finger tips to ensure you can type and swipe to your heart’s content! When looking for a good pair of gloves you should also check to see they’ve anti-slip rubber, silicon grips or dot patterns integrated — these make it much easier to grip phones and cameras on a chilly day. If you’re using your phone to collect data and track your progress using an app such as Strava, think carefully about the amount of battery power this will consume. It could be a good idea to carry a separate small compact camera (and a spare battery) if you want to guarantee to capture that glorious Alpine sunset at the end of the day. Batteries have a rather annoying habit of giving up at the most inopportune moments! An excellent back up solution is a portable battery charger. We recommend the Kodiak Mini 2.0 charger — it’s compact, waterproof, lightweight and ultra reliable. Just don’t forget th charge cable!

We hope this blog helps prepare you for your winter holiday. If you’ve any questions, or indeed further tips, do get in touch: we’re always happy to help with advice.

Find out more about our Tracks and Trails snowshoeing and cross country skiing trips this winter — we’ve an adventure to suit all tastes and levels of outdoor experience: join us!

Julia (International Mountain Leader, BASI ISIA Nordic Ski Teacher and Personal Trainer)

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