Is Skiing Aerobic Or Anaerobic? (Downhill Vs Flat)

by Alaina Johnson | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

Suppose you're looking to get yourself conditioned for the upcoming ski season. In that case, you may be wondering if you should focus more on aerobic or anaerobic activities to train up your body.

While skiing can have both aerobic and anaerobic aspects to it, it's generally considered to be aerobic exercise. Avid skiers enjoy great cardiovascular conditioning from the sport and they often find that their endurance and stamina are increased from their time on the slopes.

Girl on Ski

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The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

If you're not entirely clear on the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise or even what these words mean, then you'll find an easy-to-understand breakdown below. Avid skiers should know what type of exercise they're participating in, as it helps keep you in tune with your health and body.

The word aerobic means "with air" and can refer to exercises that use oxygen in order to produce energy — meaning; exercises that last for a longer duration and require metered breathing throughout.

On the other hand, Anaerobic means "without air" and is often used to refer to exercises that reach a higher intensity and last for a shorter duration. Instead of a slow release, your body relies on a burst of energy to complete the movements.

Powder Snow Down Slope

If you're skiing so quickly and furiously that you don't feel like you have a chance to catch your breath, you may be entering into anaerobic territory. Be careful before keeping this level sustained for a period of time, or you may find yourself feeling lightheaded.

Oftentimes, casual skies go at a pace that allows them to breathe easily and sustain the activity for hours on end. Don't worry, you're still getting a solid workout in even when you don't find yourself out of breath at the bottom of the slope.

Which Is Better: Aerobic or Anaerobic Workouts?

Depending on your end goal, you may find that aerobic workouts are better suited to your fitness goals. Aerobic exercises often build endurance and are a great form of cardiovascular exercise, as they strengthen your heart and lungs.

Anaerobic exercises can also benefit your overall cardiovascular health but don't often increase endurance in the same way. Weight lifting, for example, is anaerobic, and while it's excellent for building strength and fitness — it won't sustain an increased heart rate the same way running on the treadmill will.

Not to mention the cardio benefits you can receive from aerobic and anaerobic workouts, but they both provide positive stimulation for your mental health. It's important to choose a skiing exercise routine that best fits your needs and that you're most likely to habitually participate in, whether lifting weights or hitting the slopes.

Any well-rounded exercise routine will include both anaerobic exercises to increase strength and overall power, as well as aerobic activities that help build stamina. They're both great for losing any excess weight, especially when you consider the after-burn effects of an intense anaerobic workout.

So, Is Skiing An Aerobic or Anaerobic Sport?

While skiing does include some anaerobic elements, it's generally considered a sport that's more on the aerobic side of things. It also depends on which type of skiing you're considering, as downhill and Nordic skiing require different muscles and differ in their overall intensity.

Fat skiing

Cross-Country Skiing

Nordic skiing or cross-country skiing is a great example of aerobic exercise, and it's ideal for people who have suffered from previous injuries on the slopes or off. No muscle group is being overtaxed and overburdened, so you're likely to be able to participate in a session for a more extended period.

Most skiers who opt for cross-country can maintain a high heart rate for a sustained period, which helps to build endurance and is one of the key elements of any aerobic exercise.

Downhill Skiing

Downhill skiing, on the other hand, is more of anaerobic activity. This is due to the skier being at periods of rest in between short bursts of intense energy. During the periods of coasting, the skier's heart rate can drop down to a normal rhythm instead of staying sustained and elevated.

It's possible for aerobic activity to become anaerobic once the energy levels reach a point of mass over a period of time. Wearing a heart rate monitor and tracking device is a convenient way to understand the peaks and valleys of your heart rate and the period in which the rate stays elevated.

Is Skiing a High-Intensity Workout?

Athlete Skier

While skiing isn't often considered a HIIT workout, there are moments of high intensity during most ski sessions. Most high-intensity workout routines involve a few minutes of incredibly high energy output, followed by a period of rest.

Due to the intensity of such a routine, it's challenging to sustain it for a prolonged period. Many people ski for 4-5 hours a day, especially if they've traveled a significant distance to the resort. It's unreasonable to expect to keep a highly intense rhythm up for such a long time.

High-intensity workouts include sprints, jump roping, pushups, and any combination of such exercises in quick succession. Even an aerobic type of skiing such as cross-country, while it's a relatively consistent energy output, doesn't require participants to stop every 60-90 seconds for a rest.

Freestyle Skiing 20
Photo by Lori Gillan licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Leading up to ski season, doing some HIIT routine circuits is a great way to get your body conditioned and in shape for the slopes. These circuits can build endurance, strength, and get your mobility up to help you avoid injuries while skiing.


It's no secret that skiing is a great way to get your body active during the cold winter months. Instead of opting for running on the treadmill, you can strap on your boots and grab your poles, and head out to the mountain to get a great snowy workout in.

If you choose to cross-country ski, you'll definitely be in the aerobic workout territory. Downhill skiing can be considered anaerobic on occasion, due to the periods of rest when you're coasting down the mountain.