How Many Calories Do You Burn Skiing? (More Than You Think)

by Simon Knott | Published: November 8th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

When you ski down a steep hill making plenty of turns and braking along the way, it’s easy to imagine you are scorching through the calories. But is that really the case?

On average in downhill skiing, a man will burn 500 cal per hour and a woman will burn 400. The number of calories you burn when skiing varies according to several different factors including, your weight, your body composition, the intensity of the exercise, and the temperature of your body.


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What Are Calories and Kilojoules? What Is Actually Getting Burnt?

Keystone United States

Key Takeaway: A calorie and a kilojoule are both measurements of energy. The technical definition of a calorie is the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C.

So, a single calorie is a very small amount of energy. The metric measurement for energy is the joule, where 1 calorie = 4.18 joules.

Men tend to have larger bodies and more muscle than women and so the recommended daily energy intake for both is different:


The metabolism that takes place in the human body is a series of chemical reactions where consumed food and drink react with oxygen to create the energy the body needs to function.

Even if we are not moving and using our muscles the body still consumes energy for a series of bodily processes, which include blood circulation, breathing, keeping hormones in balance, as well as creating and repairing cells and tissues.

Compared To Other Sports How Effective Is Skiing At Burning Calories?

backcountry skiiing
Photo by Andre Bach under CC BY-SA 2.0

Working out the energy expenditure for different sports can be deceptive. It would be easy to imagine that after seeing the expenditure a weightlifter makes to lift his weights that he would be burning colossal amounts of energy.

However, the reality is different, and this is because the expenditure of energy is only over a few seconds, the majority of the time the weightlifter is resting. You can see this effect repeated with downhill skiing.

Key Takeaway: Sometimes skiing feels like a demanding workout, however, you need to factor in, that for at least 50% of the time, you will be either taking a lift or waiting by the side of the run for your friends.

It’s only for sports where there is continual energy expenditure, such as in cycling or running that higher levels of calories get burnt.

These statistics are for a male weighing 155lbs (70 kg) and carried out over 30 mins:

Weightlifting108 cal/hr
Bicycling, moderate252
Ski Machine in gym342
Rowing, vigorous369
Downhill Skiing 250

An extra dimension to burning calories when skiing is highlighted by the fact that you are on vacation. Your intake of food and drink will be increased. Firstly, you are spending most of your day in the fresh air, exercising, so you are bound to have a healthier appetite.

And secondly, because you’re on vacation you feel you’ve really earned those extra desserts and drinks. Put the two effects together and you will be consuming a lot more calories than usual.

Interesting Fact: A ‘small’ day of skiing would be around 5,000 vertical feet, a ‘good’ day is considered to be around 25,000 feet, and a ‘big’ day would be anything about 45,000 feet. Learn More.

What Sort Of Exercise Does Skiing Offer?

ski jumper

For us to ski, we make use of aerobic exercise. Aerobic means ‘with oxygen' and so in aerobic exercise, we are breathing in extra oxygen into our lungs, which is carried around to all the muscles, where it is combined with fuel and then turned into the movements of our limbs.

The most effective method of training is interval training, where cycles of high-intensity activity are alternated with low-intensity aerobic activity. During the high-intensity phase, energy is created from carbohydrate that is already in the muscles, and then during the low-intensity phase, the body burns some of the stored fat for recovery.

By chance, most forms of skiing mimic interval training. We are resting on the lift climbing the mountain one minute and skiing down the hill burning calories the next.

Tip: Scientific research has shown that skiing, just by chance, is one of the best interval training workouts you can get.

Apart From Exercise, What Factors Affect How Many Calories You Burn?

Val Thorens Skier

1. Exercise Intensity

The more intensely you exercise the more calories you will burn. This seems like common sense, for instance, if you’re cruising along an easy green run you won’t be expending much energy.

There won’t be much need for muscle movement to control direction or for braking. However, transfer to a black diamond run and the roles are reversed. You will need most of your muscle reserves to keep control of the steep descent, and as you make frequent turns.

2. Your Weight

If your body is heavier than the average person, then you will have two expend more energy to move it. Conversely, if you are slim, your muscles won’t be working nearly as hard and so you won’t burn many calories.

3. Composition Of Your Body

A person whose body is made up of a high percentage of muscle will tend to burn a lot more calories than someone with a high-fat content in their body. Stored fat in the body needs little maintenance however muscle requires a constant source of nutrients even when resting.

4. Keeping Warm

Trying to keep warm when skiing is most people’s goal. However, waiting in line for a lift on an extra cold day quickly reminds you that the human body isn’t ideally suited to really low temperatures.

The body reacts in two ways to counteract the cold, firstly with non-shivering heat production, where brown fat is burnt to heat up the body and the second method is shivering, where muscles contract and release in quick succession to create heat.

How Many Calories Do You Burn With Different Types Of Skiing?

With all things the same, it's not surprising that downhill skiing burns fewer calories than cross-country skiing. Let's find out more.

Alpine Skiing

Photo by specialolympicsusa licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Downhill skiing requires a complex interaction between your upper and lower-body muscles. The core muscles, including the transverse abdominal muscles, your multifidus, and your internal and external obliques all help you to maintain balance.

Skiing also strengthens all the muscles in the legs, including your hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles, and gluteal muscles. Most of this muscle activity is aerobic, which quickly builds strength and endurance. In moderately intense skiing men will burn 350-500 cal per hour, while women will burn about 400 cal per hour.

Cross Country

cross country skiing

At first sight, cross-country skiing may not appear like an energetic sport. However, the input from the skier is constant. There are no lifts to give you a break, you are the lift.

Take a look at the size of the beefed-up thighs of cross-country skiers and you’ll soon come to appreciate the strength that practice creates. In cross-country skiing quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hips all get a good workout, while core and hip muscles are needed to maintain good body position.

Advice: Elite cross-country skiers can burn more than 1300 cal per hour, while even for recreational cross-country skiers the figure can exceed 600 cal per hour.

Downhill Racing

ski downhill
Photo by Sebastian Werner licensed under CC BY 2.0

Downhill racing skiers have a specific set of skills and abilities to achieve. Consequently, their physical training is complex and focuses on strength and endurance mainly, where they will be able to perform under some of the harshest conditions for short periods.

The race of a downhill skier will last only 120 secs, but he may achieve speeds in excess of 150 km/h. Competitive downhill ski racing burns an estimated 540 cal per hour.

Exploring Energy Exertion in Skiing

When you first think about the energy required for skiing it’s easy to ignore that for a good part of the day you will be resting, either by the side of the run or on a chairlift.

This is why cross-country skiing burns so many more calories. There are no natural rest periods with cross-country skiing and so, of course, you naturally burn a lot more calories.

By sheer accident, the recreational sport of skiing is an excellent way to take aerobic exercise, which will strengthen your heart and vastly improve your lung function. In addition, the nature of skiing, with its bursts of intense activity and then slower exercise, make it fall into the field of interval training, which is one of the most effective ways of building fitness and endurance.