Work Now, Play Later

Ski training a season ahead.

Pre-season ski training. You’d never catch me even thinking about it during the pig-hot days of summer. Summer is for play: mountain biking, swimming, windsurfing, trail running without a watch—all of it, but by fall I’m ready for a little discipline. Perhaps it’s my way of sympathizing with my sons as they trudge back to school, but I’m willing to make entries in a training log again, to confront my Inner Slug.

Bozeman is a ski town, which means if you’ve ever frequented Peet’s Hill, Lindley Park, or Bogert Park on an autumn day, chances are you’ve seen downhill or Nordic ski groups doing their “dryland training” workouts to get in shape for snow. Both groups incorporate running intervals, balance, and explosive strength drills. Nordic skiers often walk, hike, or run while doing ski-imitation movements (sometimes with poles), to get the upper body used to working again. And if you’ve ever witnessed grown men and women clad in helmets and Lycra, perched atop what appear to be impossibly long roller skates while stabbing helplessly at the asphalt with poles, then you’ve seen Nordic rollerskiers training for skate skiing.

I resisted buying rollerskis until last fall. Besides having horrific visions of extracting tiny gravel out of hamburger hands with a pair of tweezers, I’ve always thought rollerskiers looked ridiculous. What I’ve discovered is that there’s a giddy sort of who-gives-a-crap fun to looking like a coordination-challenged roller-derby gal cruising down South 3rd, trying to keep up with the rest of my group. And rollerskis do approximate movements done on skate skis in winter, allowing a jump on the season, though they don’t approximate the experience. Asphalt is not snow.

You can buy brakes for rollerskis, and despite the fact that no one I know bothers with them, I own a pair and can testify that they work, as long as I keep my wits and remember to brake gradually. As a rollerskiing novice I provided entertainment for the rest of my group whenever we did intervals. Going as fast as you can on anything with wheels is probably not a wise idea while learning.

Then there were the times I’d be chatting with the group, feeling like I belonged, cool and upright. Then, for no apparent reason, I’d spaz out and be on the ground; from upright and still to a road heap reaching for a hand.

Despite the fact that rollerskis may never go “mainstream,” a number of groups around town are incorporating dryland training into their routines. Clete Linebarger’s Peak Performance group and even classes from The Ridge Athletic Club do “hill repeats” on Peet’s Hill, even during summer. When I saw a group of women from The Ridge running up and down the hill last June, I wondered why these women would pay someone to stand there with a stopwatch, ordering them to get their fannies back up the hill, faster this time, till they looked like they were about to hurl. Which is to admit that when I do hill repeats in the fall it’s done as a last-ditch effort to save the ski season, not a regular part of my routine.

Local fitness trainer Maury Weigand concurs that many groups, including her summer “Boot Camp” group, are incorporating what look like Nordic and downhill dryland training drills into their routines.

“From a strictly philosophical viewpoint, I think it is so beneficial to get people training outside, either in groups or individually,” says Weigand. “I am always amazed at how many of my clients have never been up Peet’s Hill, let alone ventured out to the many beautiful trails that surround us. Besides making their workouts more enjoyable, their intensity just naturally increases and they really enjoy the sessions.”

Along with the fulfillment of being outside, I think part of the success of these groups is the camaraderie. When else would I say that doing pushups outside in freezing rain or 80-degree heat—both remembrances from previous fall dryland training days in Montana—is fun? But it is fun if you’re doing those push-ups next to someone else, giggling and cussing like a sailor under your breath. You’d never catch me doing this stuff by myself, which is why I need a group, and a coach.

If you’re in the same boat, there are many options. Personal trainers are like massage therapists in this town: there are a lot of them to choose from. Do your homework to find a reputable one who is familiar with dryland training drills. Athletic clubs like The Ridge offer fall classes for people interested in preparing their bodies for Nordic and downhill skiing. Last year Carole Kolarich, the age-class coach for the Big Sky downhill ski team, lead downhill ski conditioning classes at The Ridge. The Bridger Ski Foundation also offers a variety of dryland training options for skiers of all ages and abilities. The Nordic master’s ski groups (“masters” in this case does not denote mastery, it’s just a nice way to refer to skiers over thirty) are offered at several different times during the day.

Last year was my first year participating in what I’ve always secretly thought of as the Bridger Ski Foundation’s Dragan Pack—the hard-working master’s group coached by Dragan Danevski, Nordic Team Head Development Coach. Danevski is friendly and quietly charismatic, with the gift that only a great coach has—the ability to make athletes want to work hard for him. I still remember the first day, after several weeks of training, that he ran beside me during an interval and yelled, “Come on!”

I still have flashbacks of grade school PE and the humiliating experience of picking teams, where two scrappy little boy “captains” would argue over who had to take me. To have a coach take me seriously now, after years of gym-class avoidance, and consider me worthy of a “Come on!” is a gift. And the gift is available to anyone willing to face the hills, and then face them again. It’s a lot of fun, and chances are, it’ll save you from those inevitable kinks and limps the ski season inflicts on the unprepared.