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Eating spaghetti bolognese at skiing resort in the sun

Why skiing is an excellent exercise for burning calories


One thing I love to do when I go skiing is to take a break in a restaurant with a scenic view. I have one thing, that I have to have on each skiing trip and that is spaghetti bolognese in the sun at around 10.000 feet. Also, I like to have an energy bar or two with me on the slopes.

Being such a foodie, I have often wondered just how many calories do you burn while skiing or snowboarding?

The calories you burn while skiing or snowboarding depends on several factors including your body weight, the intensity of your exercise, and the amount of time you ski. You can use the MET value (Metabolic Equivalent of Task) to calculate how many calories you burn while skiing. You do this by multiplying the MET value with your body weight and the time you’ve been skiing. If you’re an intermediate skier weighing 80 kg (176.37 pounds), doing average intensity skiing (MET = 6) for 90 minutes, you would have burned (80 x 6 x 1.5) = 720 calories. Let’s look into this in more detail below.

Is skiing considered an exercise?

I often hear the question, if skiing is considered an exercise. And I can understand why people might ask that question.

When you look at downhill skiers gliding down the slopes, it looks so easy and as if it isn’t hard at all. And when they reach the bottom of the slope, they just get into a chairlift and sit and relax all the way to the top again.

I mean, how hard can it be, right?

But anyone who has tried to ski downhill can testify, that in fact, even skiing at a recreational level is a pretty hard workout.

At the end of the afternoon, my legs are usually pretty shaky from fatigue and I know, I have to take extra care not to fall.

I’m just an intermediate skier, but I can assure you, by the end of the day, I’m usually ready to drop!

When you spend the whole day moving your body, falling over, trying to get up again and walking in the snow at high altitudes with heavy boots, you’re bound to burn some calories.

So just how many calories do you burn skiing?

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, you can use the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) value to calculate, how many calories you burn in a day by skiing.

But what exactly is a MET?

According to the Compendium of Physical Activities (2011), one MET is defined as 1 kcal/kg/hour. That is roughly equivalent to the energy cost of sitting quietly.

In other words, if you weigh 80 kg and sit quietly for one hour, you will have burned approximately 80 calories.

So how can you use MET values to calculate how many calories, you burn while skiing?

Well, in order to do so, you have to know the MET-values for skiing.

Luckily, a lot of bright people have invested a huge amount of time researching the MET values for all kinds of daily activities – from sleeping to running to having sex. These are all available at the Compendium of Physical Activities.

I’ve dug into the compendium and found the MET values for skiing, which you can find below.  

I’ve included all the MET-values which relate to skiing including snowboarding and cross-country skiing for comparison’s sake. I’ve highlighted the MET-values related to downhill skiing (in bold):

  • skiing, general (MET = 7.0)
  • skiing, cross country, 2.5 mph, slow or light effort, ski walking (MET = 6.8)
  • skiing, cross country, 4.0-4.9 mph, moderate speed, and effort, general (MET = 9.0)
  • skiing, cross country, 5.0-7.9 mph, brisk speed, vigorous effort (MET = 12.5)
  • skiing, cross country, >8.0 mph, elite skier, racing  (MET = 15.0)
  • skiing, cross country, hard snow, uphill, maximum, snow mountaineering (MET = 15.5)
  • skiing, cross-country, skating 19140 13.5 winter activities skiing, cross-country, biathlon, skating technique (MET = 13.3)
  • skiing, downhill, alpine or snowboarding, light effort, active time only (MET = 4.3)
  • skiing, downhill, alpine or snowboarding, moderate effort, general, active time only (MET = 5.3)
  • skiing, downhill, vigorous effort, racing (MET = 8.0)
  • skiing, roller, elite racers (MET = 12.5)

As you can see downhill, alpine skiing and snowboarding have a MET-value between 4.3 (light effort) and 8.0 (vigorous effort). So if you’re an elite skier competing, you spend almost twice the energy, compared to the recreational skier just chilling on the slopes.

Keep in mind, that what you might consider a vigorous effort as a beginner skier becomes a light effort over time, as you become more proficient.

How to calculate the number of calories burnt during a day of skiing?

In order to calculate, how many calories you spend in a day while skiing, you have to multiply your weight in kilograms, with the MET-value and the time, you’ve spend skiing.

That translates to an equation, which looks like this: weight x MET-value x time.

Remember that weight in this equation is always measured in kilograms.

Well if I take myself as an example, I’m a medium build guy at 75 kg (approx 165 pounds). I might hit the slopes at 9 am and finish the day at 4 pm. I also need to eat and take some breaks including the ones riding chairlifts. So let’s say that I’m usually skiing for five-and-a-quarter hours (5.25 hours) a day.

I would categorize myself as an intermediate skier who likes to take it slow and only from time to time challenge myself on some steep slopes. I’m getting older! So I’ll estimate my average MET-value to be around five.

Thus the number of calories, I’ve burned each hour that day is calculated like this: 75 kg x 5 (METS) = 375 calories/hour.

If I ski 5.25 hours that day, I get 5.25 x 375 calories = 1.969 burned calories.

If you want to get a more exact measurement, you can always divide the day into segments of 30 minutes and decide the MET-value for each.

Metabolic Equivalent Values are only rough estimates

You should always keep in mind though, that MET-values are only rough estimates. The exact number of calories you burn also depends on your metabolic rate, body mass, body fat, age, gender, skill level as a skier and the altitude at which you ski.

Also, the time spent in a chairlift doesn’t count as skiing, but being pulled by a surface lift up a steep track might to some extent do.

As a recreational skier, it is also hard to estimate the exact MET value. If you want to be more precise, you have to do tests, where you push yourself to your limit in various conditions and terrain, in order to get a better sense of when you max out.

However, it is a good choice to get a rough estimate of the calories, you burn while skiing. And you can use it to compare skiing to a lot of other daily activities such as sitting, walking, sleeping, running and even having sex. That way you estimate how hard you find skiing to everyday activities, that you know well, and get a good indication of which MET value, you should pick.

You can find MET values for all kinds of daily activities at the Compendium of Physical Activities website.

Be aware of what you eat on the slopes

Eating a bounty in Sölden

So back to the Spaghetti Bolognese on the mountain peak. I looooove Spaghetti Bolognese. And a big coke to go with that. And maybe an Irish coffee too. And a piece of chocolate cake for dessert. You get hungry, when you ski.

You might begin to see, where I’m going with this?

Because let’s face it. Most restaurants you find at ski resorts and on the mountain tops aren’t exactly serving the most healthy food, there is. Burgers, french fries, sausages, pizza, hot chocolate, and sugary beverages are the norm.

So I’ll use myself as an example again.

Let’s say that during those same hours of skiing, I eat and drink:

2 x Chocolate bars = 410 calories

1 x Spaghetti Bolognese = 350 calories

1 x Cola with sugar (half a liter) = 210 calories

1 x Cup of hot chocolate = 237 calories

1 x piece of cheesecake = 257 calories

That totals to an amount of 1.464 calories.

(Source: calories.info).

So if I can’t keep my sugar addiction under control I would have only burned 1.969 – 1.464 = 505 calories in those 5.25 hours of skiing.  That is only approximately 151 calories more burned than if I was sleeping – or around one-fifth of the calories in a whopper with cheese.

Now if I had added a burger, some french fries and a couple of beers, the result would be even worse.

Skiing is an excellent exercise if you’re mindful of what you eat

Alpine, downhill skiing is really an excellent sport for burning calories, even if you’re just doing it as a hobby at a recreational level.

However, with great skiing also comes a lot of opportunities for consuming unhealthy food and beverages.

Instead of buying a burger with french fries and a giant coke, you might consider making a ham and cheese sandwich and bring a bottle of diet coke instead. You can even make some hot coffee and put in a thermo too.

That way you can just pick a good spot to take a break, and have a picnic in the terrain and enjoy the landscape instead.

In the end it all comes down to just having fun.

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