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Training for the Grand Traverse

Wildflowers in Crested Butte

Training for the Grand Traverse

Training for the Grand Traverse

It’s coming up on two weeks until the Grand Traverse, and Niles and I are getting excited. And maybe a little nervous. We’re eager for snow, hoping for a traverse, and praying the temperatures stay around fifteen to twenty degrees overnight. I mean, let’s be honest here. Who really wants to traverse forty miles of backcountry at night with frost-nipped fingers? In our last post, Niles introduced ourselves as twin brothers who work on the resort and spend fifty percent of our time training for ski-mountaineering races. As new ski-mountaineers, we still have many skills to learn, but I thought I would use this post to delve more into training for an event such as the Grand Traverse. 

First, I want to mention that ski-mountaineering, like running, cycling, or mountaineering is an endurance sport. Training for endurance sports requires time, dedication, and most importantly – consistency. By consistency, I want to emphasize that this doesn’t indicate that you need to get outside and train hard for four hours a day. Rather, based on your endurance level, consistency refers to building an aerobic fitness base to build off of for longer distances. This could mean skinning uphill for 45 minutes to an hour every other day. Dependent on fitness, it can also refer to skinning a couple hours a day, and training up to twenty to twenty-five hours per week. For further details regarding training for endurance sports, I’ll point you in the direction of a great resource: “Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House and Scott Johnston. 

In regards to our training, Niles and I broke it up into three segments: general fitness and endurance, race specific training, and racing. Early season is a great opportunity to build an aerobic base and this means training at an easy intensity. Although the specifics extend beyond the scope of this post, essentially 95% of our workouts in November, December, and January were focused on easy intensity, mid-high volume workouts. For example, over the span of the December and January we averaged 18-25 hours per week, and gained around 150,000’ per month. As we transitioned into race-specific intensity in mid-January and February, or in other terms “race pace”, we incorporated fast workouts such as intervals and short races on Mount Crested Butte to develop speed. For the final month of March, we decreased our volume and emphasized working on skills that were specific to the Grand Traverse. 


So what are essential components in the Grand Traverse? The GT is a backcountry race that incorporates several climbs, mellow backcountry descents, and skating. To train for these components, I think backcountry skiing, training on Nordic trails, and developing a familiarity with the course is imperative. For example, a local race called the Gothic Mountain Tour – which incorporates a lot of skating and straightforward backcountry descents – is a great race that offers insight into terrain like the Grand Traverse. Learning to skate (a new skill for us this season) is also important. Take every opportunity to skate up short hills or rolling terrain with skimo skis and practice skinning on slight uphills with kicker skins. To develop a race strategy, take a trip out to Friends Hut to assess the conditions for the course or gain insight from other racers who have done the course before.

Although I could fill pages on my two cents of how to train, I want to emphasize the most important element of training which is attitude. Kilian Jornet – a top level ski-mountaineering athlete and trail runner once said, “If you don’t enjoy training, you will find it very hard to improve.” Mark Twain also said, “work is something you are obliged to do, whereas play is something you are not obliged to do.” Training should be fun, or maybe perceived as a method to get outside and enjoy the solitude of a sunset. Coaxing our tired bodies out of bed and exercising may seem like a chore, but I think enjoyment and self-fulfillment can be found in forming goals and persevering through training sessions to achieve them. Skinning or running up to a peak is training, and it offers gratification knowing you have summited a mountain. If you have any further questions regarding training, please contact us at

I hope to see you at the starting line for the Grand Traverse in a couple weeks!