Tips from the top: Glacier skiing

Tips from the top: Glacier skiing

So, you got access to a glacier this summer? Lucky you. Those happen to offer some of the best training opportunities during the dryland season! After all, skiing is the best, most specific training for skiing.

Madshus caught up with World Cup cross-country racer Hailey Swirbul (USA) on how to make the most of your glacier training camp, dos and don’ts and her favorite glacier workouts.

“My main focus for training on the glacier is volume. I like to look at every kilometer I ski on the glacier as an opportunity to ingrain new habits and practice them with good technique,” Swirbul says, explaining that skiing is the best and most specific training for skiing.

“The glacier camps are a great for building strength in the right movement. Pick a task, and really focus on doing it well. For instance, during skate workouts, I try to focus on skiing with spring-loaded, powerful leg movements.”

Hailey Swirbul is part of Madshus Generation Next: Young, hungry and seriously fast. Last season, she posted her first World Cup podium season, in the 10-kilometer skate event in Davos (SUI). Now, the 23-year-old is chasing a spot on the US team to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Related coverage:
Meet Hailey Swirbul  
Look at them go!

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Hailey Swirbul (USA) cruising into third place in the 10km skate race at the FIS World Cup in Davos (SUI) on Dec 13, 2020. Photo: Nordic Focus

After several years with glacier training, Swirbul has extensive experience with what to do and how to train at altitude in order to get the most out of your altitude camp. This is her best advice.

DOS: Top 3 training tips
– The best kinds of workouts to do at the glacier are volume and technique-oriented training.
– Arrive on the glacier with a structured plan for the training you want to do, and divide the day between skate and classic sessions
– Have a specific goal for each workout, both in terms of intensity and

DON’TS: Top 3 advice
– Don’t go off the marked trail. After all, it is a glacier and there might be crevasses and dangers lurking under the snow.
– Don’t train too hard or too long. Altitude makes training feel harder, so you might need to reduce the intensity compared to similar workouts at sea level. However, there is a fine line: You need to ski fast enough to maintain good technique. Accordingly, you might need to cut the workouts a bit shorter in order to do that.
– Don’t forget to fuel and drink up; you burn a lot of calories during a glacier camp.

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Hailey Swirbul (USA). Photo: Madshus

What to keep in mind when skiing on the glacier:
Safety first: Don’t go off the marked trail. There might be crevasses and dangers lurking under the snow.

Most glaciers are situated at high altitude, which comes with certain issues: sun exposure, dehydration and oxygen deprivation, all of which can make workouts feel harder on the glacier than similar workouts at lower altitude.

Swirbul’s advice is to make sure you stay well hydrated, pay attention to your heart rate and overall exertion/total workload, and don’t forget sunscreen: even on overcast days, because the UV radiation is stronger at altitude than at lower elevations.

“The sun is so intense at altitude. For the same reason, don’t forget to bring lots of snacks and water on all your workouts,” Swirbul says.

What to bring to the glacier:
In addition to lots of sunscreen, dark sunglasses and snacks, Swirbul also brings her running shoes. There is a running trail at the Eagle Glacier training center, which Swirbul likes to use occasionally in order to maintain her running form as well as for variety and injury prevention.

“Also, it can get really boring up there, so bring something fun to do between workouts,” Swirbul says.

For Swirbul, a typical week on the glacier might look something like this:
Day 1:
Theme – volume/distance
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 2: Theme – volume/distance
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 3: Theme –Threshold intensity
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 4: Theme – volume/distance
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 5: Theme – speed: Threshold intensity
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 6: Theme – speed: Sprint simulation
Morning workout, skate: 2 hours to 2 hours and 15minutes
Afternoon, classic: 1 hour 45minutes
Day 7: Theme – volume/over-distance
Morning workout: 3.5 hours long over-distance either skate or classic

Hailey Swirbul’s favorite glacier workouts:
Intensity workout
“Team sprint intensity workouts are really fun. First, we do two 8-minute intervals at threshold intensity on our own. Then we divide the group into teams and organize a team sprint where we take turns skiing laps around a loop that takes about two or three minutes to complete at above-threshold intensity,” says Swirbul, adding that she also enjoys the controlled-effort threshold workouts.

“Our threshold intensity sessions are usually on a loop where we have two major hills that each take about 10-15 minutes to ski at a controlled threshold pace. So, for these workouts, we just ski around that loop a few times, until we have a total of 45-60 minutes of threshold level intensity. I like these sessions because at a controlled effort, you can really focus on technique as well.”

Distance workout
“The long, over-distance workout on the last day is my favorite distance workout on the glacier. Although I’m always tired from a big training week, it’s really nice to get a long ski on the last day. I often download a couple of podcasts and just enjoy skiing,” Swirbul says.