SJSC Snowcat Guides Hit the Woods for Ski Conditioning


by SJSC guide Kevin Devine

It is that time of year when an early snowfall gets skiers and riders jonesin’ to be sliding.

At the San Juan Ski Company, Colorado’s largest snowcat operation, we don’t really have time to ‘jones,’ (primarily because most of us don’t know what the term means) and October and November snowfall in the Continental Snowpack, where we ski and ride, more often than not becomes north aspect basal instability later in the season.

Great for snow scientists, not so great for back country skiers and riders.

That said, the changes in weather, the spectacular fall colors, and the fact that Wolf Creek opened October 8 all mean that we are thinking about skiing, too. Actually, at SJSC we were a little a head of the curve and started our ski conditioning classes in September. (As you can tell from the photos of Bob Rule, owner/lead guide, we don’t wear a lot of Lycra when we condition).

We do, however, wear ear protection, mostly to keep from hearing each other whining…well, yeah and the chain saws too. For the most part, the saws are not as loud as the whining.

Our conditioning classes have two functions: (1) aerobic, strength, core, and balance improvement. Although for some us who kind of peaked physically in the last century, that may not be possible. And (2) to remove or otherwise mitigate tree-skiing obstacles – keeping our totally sick tree lines fresh and free of widow-makers and tib-fib slammers.

The ski conditioning class begins with a warm-up that consists of putting a 20 to 30 pound pack on your back, a 13 to 15 pound chain saw on your shoulder, and hiking uphill for 30 to 60 minutes. If you do this at home, make sure to switch shoulders often to avoid over development of one side or the other.

 After the warm-up, we are ready to work the core. We do this by cutting all horizontal or nearly horizontal timber that are three feet from the ground into small pieces. This part of the work-out also involves strength work, as the participant is often required to lift and/or move large rounds of timber. This is great cross training for events in The Highland Games. Great preparation for the Caber Toss, the Stone Put, Weight Throw, Weight Over the Bar, and Sheaf Toss, and you don’t have to wear a kilt. (Note to self: Research Kevlar chain saw proof kilts.)

Lower back pain is proof of how well you worked your core.

This part of the work out is also great for balance. Climbing over or walking on downed trees really tunes up your Flying Wallender muscles, especially when doing it with a running chain saw. Do it in a light rain or when there is six to twelve inches of wet snow and you really have something.

Cool down is accomplished by donning the pack, putting the saw back on your shoulder, and hoping you make it back to the truck.

As you can see, this is not a conditioning program for your average chuck muffin – probably why most of our guides don’t participate. But it is a workout that will keep you rockin’ the sticks, shreddin’ the gnar, and huckin’ it sick.


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