“Back in the day, people thought skiers were just pot-smoking yahoos,” says Jonny Moseley. The freestyle skier, who’s best known for his gold medal-winning run in the men’s mogul event at the 1998 Winter Olympics and his subsequent dinner roll trick at the 2002 games, explains that skiers had a reputation as being inferior athletes to football, basketball and soccer players. Even within the skiing community, Moseley says there was hierarchy: the alpine skiers were the so-called athletes. But this notion that “skiers aren’t athletes” is outdated.
“I was like, ‘What the hell? Isn’t this how these guys make a living? Running!’ I mean, we did this for training!”
Skiers on the United States Ski Team have always been on some sort of program, says Moseley. Usually it involved weight lifting, plyometrics and off-season strength building. But these programs weren’t always event-specific. “We freestylers used to get handed the downhill programs for moguls,” says Moseley. “It took me a while to figure out that I didn’t want that.” Freestyle skiers needed to jump fast and land aerials. “I need to weigh around 165 and have good strength, but I don’t need to be able to sustain four g’s.” Freestylers didn’t need to squat as much as alpine racers, like Tommy Moe, either.
Moseley’s off-season workout circuit includes running uphill, jumping side to side over a large rock (similar to a big mogul), side-to-side compressions on a trampoline, kipping pull-ups and one-legged squats. As for reps and sets, Moseley says he’s not as precise with those as he used to be. “In general, I try to push for a minute, or as soon I as I want to quit,” says Moseley. “Then I count backwards from 30 slowly.” Moseley also does a several circuits of running for 10 minutes, then walking for five. “Essentially my goal is to keep my heart rate elevated no matter what exercise I’m doing,” says Moseley. The circuit is followed by some yoga-style stretching. He says he’ll typically sit in pigeon pose “for as long as takes to get to what I consider my set angles, my baseline range — or until my feet go to sleep.” He’ll repeat this with a straddle pose.
Moe’s off-season exercises include balance squats and lunges (3 sets x 15-20 reps) using lightweight dumbbells (between five and 10 pounds). Far from a gym rat, Moe says he goes hiking, trail running, mountain biking and nordic skiing, each for over an hour at a time, to “keep his lungs in check.” Before exercising, especially skiing, Moe does a number of leg-hold stretches (30 seconds apiece) and does yoga afterward to stretch out the whole body.
Moe won gold and silver medals in Men’s Downhill and Super G at the 1994 Olympics. He says that today’s downhill racers also train differently from the downhill racers of his generation. “Back when I raced we over-trained. We’d ski from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m., have lunch, then ski a little bit more.” Afterward they’d go to the gym and end up tired the next day.
Training for today’s skiers is very sport-specific, which Moe says has been the trend in the last 15-odd years. More recent skiers like Bode Miller and Ted Ligety focus a lot on on-snow training — basically their technique and speed skiing through gates. They also still do a lot of off-snow training: weight lifting, squats, lunges and other anaerobic exercises to build strength (which they need to cope with g-forces).
More interesting than the way skiers train is the way they recover — it’s become scientific. An article out of the University of Toronto’s Department of Exercise Sciences says that high-intensity alpine skiing results in lactate accumulation and muscle acidosis, which contributes to peripheral neuromuscular fatigue. Today, Moe says all professional skiers give a small blood sample after they train to check for lactate. “If they have a high lactate level, then they’d just spin on the bike to get rid of that lactate in your muscles.” That way, Moe says, there’s no over-training.
This training and recovery has produced skiers who are stronger and more fit than ever before. But are they athletes, in the traditional sense? Moseley says after hearing enough people say that “skiers aren’t athletes,” he started to almost believe it. Skiers aren’t measured by their sprint speed, broad jump or bench press. Instead, it’s speed and form.
But after winning his gold medal in the ’98 Games, Moseley was invited to a Superstars competition in Jamaica to compete against other top athletes, like former football players Jason Sehorn and JJ Stokes, in a number of sporting events like running, biking, kayaking, navigating an obstacle course and shooting hoops.
“I think, ‘I’m going to get my ass handed to me,'” says Moseley. “So I go down there and I’m having a good time, partying the whole time — and I ended up second overall.” Moseley says it floored him. In the half-mile-run competition, he won by around 50 yards. “I was like, ‘What the hell? Isn’t this how these guys make a living? Running!’ I mean, we did this for training!”