Alternative Winter Cardio Training for Endurance Athletes

Jul 14, 2021

Waiting for the sun to warm up the world outside as you pour yourself another cup of coffee? The ground is slick and it’s dangerous for road bike tires. Your running shoes have nice traction, but the breathable mesh fills with snow as soon as you step outside. One cup of coffee quickly turns into three—maybe you’re just not that excited to train in the snow. Or maybe what you really want is to mix up your training and do something that invites cold weather and snow. There is no reason to suffer through winter just to get the training. There are plenty of other cardiovascular sports that require and celebrate snow. Embrace the weather and expand your routine to include some of Mammoth Lakes’ most fun winter adventures, while still benefiting from a cardiovascular workout at high altitude.

Cross-Country Skiing

More than four million Americans went cross country skiing last year according to the Outdoor Foundation, making it the most popular winter endurance sport. Nordic or cross-country skiing is considered one of the best winter snow sports for cardiovascular fitness, and it’s low impact, too. Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center offers lessons, rentals and access to a network of groomed ski trails that climb above 9,000 feet in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. For a shorter and more introductory day of cross-country skiing go to the public access Nordic trail system in Shady Rest Park, which departs from the Mammoth Welcome Center.


Snowshoeing is essentially walking on snow with baskets on your feet to stay afloat. It is likely the easiest winter sport to learn, and still provides the benefits of a great cardiovascular workout. Take a day off from the training grind and go snowshoeing on one of the trails for snowshoeing in Mammoth Lakes. On the way to the Minaret Vista you’ll climb to the 9,000-foot overlook with unparalleled views of the Minarets and Ritter Range. Or explore the Mammoth Lakes Basin on the Winter Access Corridor, which climbs through a lodegpole forest to Horseshoe Lake. Snowshoe rentals are available at Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center and Mammoth Mountaineering.

Ski Mountaineering and Touring

Backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, or skimo is a technically challenging way to get cardio exercise in the winter, but endurance sports athletes who make the leap say they gain winter fitness without running or cycling. Instead of riding a chairlift up, you’ll use skis and equipment with traction to climb the mountain before skiing down. You’ll need a pair of alpine skis with touring bindings and skins, or lightweight touring skis with scales. You’ll also want to invest in avalanche gear and education. It might take a little more equipment, knowledge, and skills than other winter sports, but once you are proficient you’ll find that ski touring is fun and builds aerobic fitness and strength. Equipment rentals and avalanche courses can be booked at Mammoth Mountaineering Supply.

Snow Biking

Cyclists don’t need trails and pavement to ride anymore. Snow covered roads and singletrack are ideal and fun for riding on fat bikes. The larger tires provide off-road traction over variable snow covered terrain. Fat bikes are the largest growing aspect of the bike industry and have opened up an entirely different ride for the winter season. Don’t have your own bike? Rent one from Eastside Wide.

Snow Running

A fresh dusting of snow on the trails can be fun and adventurous for off road winter running. If the snow is light and fluffy a pair of good trail runners will do, but a few inches of snow or ice might require additional equipment. Get a pair of traction cleats for your shoes, wear wool socks, and add a pair of ultralight waterproof gaiters. And like any winter sport, a warm hat that covers your ears, gloves, and a wind and waterproof jacket will keep you warm and comfortable for the run.   

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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