How to Prepare for the Backcountry: Strength and Mindset Training Tips

Tuning up our bodies & minds for the season

Winter is here and many of us are spending as much time as we can playing in the snow and the mountains! As we move through this winter season, let’s talk about how to tune up our bodies and minds for the season, too. Taking good care of yourself isn’t just something to practice in everyday life. We can bring self-care into the mountains too.

Taking time for cross-training both before and during the season can make your days on the mountain so much more enjoyable! Training helps us prevent injuries, keep up with our friends, and have more fun outside. But it can be hard to know how to adequately prepare for winter sports - especially for the backcountry. In this post, we’ll walk you through some simple exercises and mindset tips to practice.

We hope you use these moves and concepts to build your mind & body strength for this winter season! 

Training for Strong Winter Bodies

Let’s start with some simple moves you can do in your living room without any special equipment. We’ll talk about moves for:

  • skinning up the mountain 
  • skiing/snowboarding back down
  • warm-ups 
  • And mobility moves to support whatever you’re getting up to in the snow

Okay, let's jump in!

  1. Getting ready for the day

    Start your day with a dynamic warmup to build heat in the muscles, joints, and connective tissue. This will also help lengthen and activate the muscles. Dynamic warmups involve active exercises that increase the heart rate and engage muscles while also promoting mobility.

    Here are five sample warmup moves we love:

  2. Training for time on the skin track

    All that climbing can easily burn out our quads and hip flexors. The uneven terrain of the skin track is uniquely demanding too – and we can train for this! We have two priorities when training for this kind of terrain.

    Priority #1: The posterior chain

    First, booty power! We want to learn to activate and strengthen the muscles in the back body, specifically the glutes. Without a strong posterior chain, we’ll rely on our quads and hip flexors to do the work… and since women especially tend to be quad dominant, this can lead to muscle imbalances, knee troubles, and legs that fatigue easily. Strengthening the posterior chain helps to balance all of this out.

    One exercise we love for posterior chain activation is Step-Ups:

    If you have stairs in or around your home, that’s perfect! If not, grab a stable box or stool. For this move, think about driving your heel DOWN into the step and using that downward effort to drive the hips forward. This cue will help recruit your glutes as you step up. If you start to feel the burn in your bum after a few reps, that’s fantastic! Don’t forget to do this move on both sides.

    Priority #2: Unbalanced Stability

    Our second key priority for the skin track is learning to find a stable weight balance in an unbalanced position. Often a skin track is on a side slope, which means that one leg is higher than the other. It’s easy in this position to only weight the uphill or downhill leg, which often leads to slippage and fatigue. 

    For this skill, we love Stagger Squats:

    Use a yoga block (or stack of books) to elevate one foot in your squat. Do a couple squats, and then notice where your weight tends to go when you’re not actively tracking it. Try a couple squats with weight on the elevated foot, and then a couple with weight on the lower foot. Then try a few with evenly(ish) balanced weight between the two sides. 

    The heart of this concept is the ability to notice where your weight is between your feet, and where you feel most stable. In the backcountry, this helps us move our weight around between our two feet to adjust for stability depending on what the conditions require. 

    **BONUS** - Balance Challenge

    If you’re feeling fancy, we’ve got one extra move for you to try. Practicing balance is one of the ways we can help build strength in our stabilizer muscles, which support the bigger muscle groups in the funky things that we do with our body in the backcountry. Balance Challenges can also help us build the skills for the balance-y things we do on skis, like removing your skins without taking off your skis. 

    We call this The Sexy Skin Rip: 

    This move is a playful one and also can come in handy if you’re looking to impress your friends with your swift transition at the top of the skin track. 

    Feel free to hold onto a chair for support - remember in the backcountry you’ll have your poles to lean on! Don’t forget to try both sides. 

  3. Training for time on the slopes

    Whether you’re skiing (or snowboarding) groomers or out in the backcountry, the descent requires power, agility, and the ability to make quick & accurate decisions. For this, we have two training priorities: 

    Priority #1: Tensegrity

    This concept might be new to you! “Tensegrity” refers to your body’s ability to function as a spring. We want to be thinking about how we’re absorbing body weight as we land in our cross-training exercises, and how this translates into weight absorption as we make turns on our skis & boards. For skiers in particular, each turn has a rotational component that relies on the body’s rotational spring loading potential. 

    To training your tensegrity, try Ski Twists:

    Keep your chest facing forward and allow the knees & hips to rotate into each twisted squat. Notice where your weight balance goes naturally, and then try intentionally weighting each leg and feeling what an even weight balance would feel like. As you add intensity & jumps to this move, practice soft landings. Feel the torque that develops between your chest and lower body in the deep twisted squat, and the explosive release potential as you come out of the squat – much like a powerful turn on your skis. 

    We need a strong core to support tensegrity, and this next move in plank adds extra core focus. Here’s how to do Plank Tucks:

    From a plank position, walk or hop both feet up toward your right hand, then back through center & over to the left. Shoulders stay stacked over wrists and the lower body twists. For additional challenge, use gliding discs (or paper plates) under your feet and slide your feet in and out of the twists. 

    Priority #2: Strength & Power 

    The second key concept for downhill skiing and riding is a little more familiar! The demands of gravity and mixed conditions require lots of strength and explosive power to adapt to changing terrain. For backcountry strength & power, we love Snowboarders:

    You can step or jump this move. Keep eyes facing forward as you rotate between deep squats in a wide, snowboarder-esque position – first facing to the right, then facing to the left. As you add speed & jumps to this move, balance will get harder! Notice where your weight naturally goes, then look for an even weight balance between front & back foot. Then check the weighting in each foot – are you leaning toward your toe-side edge, or your heel-side? What does balancing out that weight feel like?  

  4. Post-Ski & Recovery

    After your long day outside, taking care of your body is key! It’s so easy to go straight into beverage-mode and sitting for the carpool home, but if you can squeeze in a bit of stretch time either at the trailhead or once you’re home, your body will thank you!

    At the end of the day, Static Stretching is where it’s at. This means you’re holding your stretches for a few breaths, without the need for active movement like we did at the beginning of the day. Think about giving the muscles and joints a chance to re-lengthen after all of their work for the day - particularly hamstrings, quads, inner thighs, shoulders, and glutes.

    Here are three simple static stretches we love:

Training for Strong Minds

Everything we do in the backcountry and in our training is influenced by the state of our nervous system and our mental health. When we train and adventure in partnership with our nervous system, we build capacity and self-trust without overriding our system’s stress responses and putting ourselves at risk for overwhelm and stress-injuries.

So how do we do this? Here are three skills to practice for nervous system-informed training & adventuring.


Titration refers to adding challenge to our workouts and backcountry time in small doses. We want to increase difficulty in manageable steps, giving ourselves the space between challenges to pause and integrate that increased intensity.

Taking on increased difficulty in exercises and backcountry adventures is always optional, and that opting for an easier modification or ski destination may be the appropriate choice for your nervous system. Remember, taking care of yourself is always the right call!


In between titrated challenges, we want to be able to pendulate back into a felt-sense of safety in our body. Ideally, if the challenge was an appropriate size for your system, you’ll be able to recover fairly easily from it. As you’re recovering, notice if your heart rate is able to slow down, and if the tension in your body dissipates.

Pendulation allows your nervous system the opportunity to pause and return to safety between challenges. This is what helps the system learn that those challenges were within its capacity, which ultimately strengthens our nervous systems!

Tracking your mental space 

As you’re moving through different stressors in your workouts and outdoor time, notice what happens in your mind. Do certain challenges bring on negative self-talk, or images of what could go wrong? Learning to notice when your mental space feels supportive vs critical is a helpful cue for how your nervous system is doing with this amount of challenge.

Backing off of intensity, or replacing negative self-talk with a mantra like “I’ve got this” or “I’ve been training for this” can be helpful ways to stay in that supportive mental state. Seeking ways to stay in that mental space helps both fun and growth.

Want to Learn More Moves and Mindset Tips Like This?

Ski Babes — our online training program for winter sports enthusiasts — was created to help you train for winter with a structured-but-flexible program, supportive community, anti-diet culture nutrition, and nervous system-aligned training. 

At Mind & Mountain, we use Mindful Interval Training to practice all of the above strategies — titration, periodization, multi-directional movement, and playfulness —  to build functional strength for outdoor rec from your living room in a way that doesn’t get in the way of your outdoor time. 

Try our FREE 2-week Workout Trail! We’ve designed this trial to give you a really good idea of what it would be like and how it would feel to train with Mind & Mountain. We do this by: 

  • Introducing you to the schedule (and teaching you how to bend it to fit your life) 
  • Giving you a taste of our Mindful Interval Training philosophy
  • Showing you some of our favorite outdoor rec specific moves to help you build functional strength for your fun times outside
  • Providing support along the way (if you want it!) 
  • Keeping things kind, mental health informed, and diet culture free

If you’ve been on the fence about signing up for our programs - this is an excellent opportunity to give our workouts a try.

And if you’re ready to jump in, check out our current program offers here


50% Complete

Yes! So glad you're here.

Add your email below to open up your access to the 20-Min Busy Day Workout. 

You'll also be included on my email list, where I send out updates & resources on fitness, mental health, and adventure. It's low-pressure, lighthearted, & easy to unsubscribe at anytime should you wish to.