Why Does Downhill Skiing Burn So Many Calories? (You vs Gravity)

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

Skiing is one of the most invigorating recreational sports you can participate in during the wintertime and it's often considered a full-body workout, making it a great way to burn off some of those holiday calories.

Skiing is a great way to get your heart rate up and best of all, it doesn't matter if you're a beginner or an expert! The aerobic nature of the sport means that it burns a significant number of calories and continues to burn them when you're off the mountain.

Spring skiing in Colorado

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How Many Calories Does Skiing Burn?


When calculating how many calories you can expect to burn during a skiing session, you'll have to factor in your skill level as well as your weight. It will also depend on the type of terrain that you ski on, as downhill skiing and backcountry skiing are considerably different.

If you have to push through deep snow, you'll be exerting more energy and resistance than you would if you were casually skiing on a groomed resort run. That's not to say that resort skiing isn't an effective exercise, however.

On average, you can expect to burn somewhere around 500 calories an hour while skiing. Many people ski for longer than an hour, with breaks in-between. If you ski for 3-4 hours in a day, this may end up totaling 1,500-2,000 calories once you take off your boots and turn in to the lodge for the evening.

What Type of Skiing Burns The Most Calories?

Photo by Special Olympics 2017 licensed under CC0 1.0

If you're wondering how to get the best bang for your buck this winter, you may want to know the differences in the overall caloric loss between the various types of skiing. Above, you saw that for the average hour of downhill skiing you can expect to burn around 500 calories.

Cross country skiing, usually involving many different types of movements and ranging from smooth flat surfaces to intense uphill sections, is considered one of the best workouts you can get on skis. Depending on how fast you're going and what type of terrain you're skiing on, the calories will vary.

You can burn calories at a rate of 1,000/hour when skiing uphill due to the intense energy output required. Of course, this won't be sustainable for long durations of time and is usually interspersed with sections of flat and level ground.

Cross country skiing is the ideal choice if you're looking for an aerobic form of exercise that lessens the likelihood of an injury, as no single muscle group is being overworked to the point of exhaustion or strain. If you're looking for a low-impact option this winter, you may find that XC skiing is right up your alley.

Do You Burn More Calories Skiing Or Snowboarding?

Snowboarding falls just short of skiing and participants can expect to burn around 450 calories an hour. You can boost this number if you hit the terrain park and practice your tricks, such as twisting off a halfpipe.

And depending on your body type you may burn more snowboarding than skiing and vice versa. It's an average rather than a number unique to you.

All in all, the difference is negligible and you should choose the one that you enjoy the most. The more you personally enjoy a sport, the more likely you are to practice it and exert more energy during a particular session.

Unlike in skiing, you don't have poles to help balance yourself on a snowboard. You're going to be relying on your core to keep you upright, which may well leave you with a superior abdominal workout at the end of the day. You'll also build a greater sense of balance.

Overall, skiing is a great way to stay active and you'll reap a variety of physical benefits from the movements required. If you're looking for a fun way to get outdoors and breathe in some cold fresh mountain air, skiing is a great option

Is Skiing a Good Form of Exercise?

Skiing has often been compared to riding a bike or using a rowing machine in how it works the body and what type of exercise you can expect from the sport. Naturally, the level of benefit you receive from skiing will depend on your age, weight, and proficiency.

Is Skiing a Good Cardio Workout?


Like any solid cardio workout, skiing will strengthen your heart and lungs and therefore reduce your blood pressure and potentially your cholesterol levels as well. Due to skiing being a full-body workout, you're not focusing on just a single part of your body.

You're strengthening your lower body and using your upper body to hold on to the poles and balance yourself. Cross country skiing is often considered a slightly better cardio workout than downhill, as you're using your arms and legs to actively propel yourself forward instead of relying on gravity to pull you down the mountain.

What Muscles Do You Use When Skiing?

While skiing is a full-body workout, you do use certain muscles more significantly compared to others. Many people consider the sport to be a great form of lower body exercise, as the squatting position you must hold is great for your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

You're also engaging your ankles and feet, as they're helping to steer your skis and maintain your balance. You'll likely see an increase in your ability to balance and maintain your posture for longer periods of time.

Before ski season begins, you may want to consider hitting the gym a few months beforehand for conditioning purposes. Adding lunges, squats, sit-ups, and a variety of aerobic exercises (running, jogging, cycling, etc.) can help get your body and muscles ready for the trip.

Is Skiing Good For Weight Loss?


If weight loss is your primary goal with skiing, you may find it difficult to build a sustainable exercise routine. After all, you can only ski for a portion of the year and during the remaining months, you may lose the progress that you've made over the winter.

Due to the aerobic nature of the sport, it's ideally suited for losing weight and creating a calorie deficit. If you exert yourself during a day of skiing, your heart rate should stay elevated. Any sport or activity that gets your heart rate up will naturally burn fat as well.

Remember, if you go back to the lodge and eat an unhealthy and greasy meal and enjoy a few drinks every evening — you may very well negate the fat-burning effects that skiing has. If you're looking to lose weight, it's best to be mindful of what you fuel your body with before, during, and after a day on the slopes.

Is Skiing Hard On The Body?

Expert Skier

When you're considering skiing as an option for your winter workout routine, you may be wondering whether or not it increases your potential for an injury. Exercises like running and weightlifting can put intense strain on your knees and without proper form, can often lead to serious knee injuries.

If you're wondering which injuries are most common within the sport of skiing, then there are a few that consistently seem to plague skiers every season. Skiers are often at an increased risk for ACL tears, head injuries, wrist fractures, and medial collateral ligament tears. Both the ACL and the ligament tear affect the knees.

Knee injuries account for a hefty portion of all ski-related incidents. From a study that documented over 24,000 injuries across a 9-year period in California — knee injuries accounted for 35% of all the reported occurrences.

By far, you're most likely to harm your lower body during your time on the mountain. However, head injuries are often more serious in nature and are why helmets are strongly recommended.

There's no arguing that skiing is a tough sport and it can be rough on the body, which is why keeping your fitness in check throughout the off-season is important as well. You can spend the rest of the year strengthening your knees to give them further protection from possible strains that could lead to a season-ending injury.

Mont Blanc
Photo by blaise ulysse vincent verien licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


You may very well wish that you could ski year-round once you see how many calories you can burn while having the time of your life. After all, soaking in the mountain views is better than hitting the treadmill for an hour at your local gym.

Skiing, regardless of the type, can burn a significant number of calories in a relatively short time. Not only is the sport an effective form of exercise, but it's also a fun way to stay active with friends and family and you can't forget about the delicious variety of dining options back at the lodge that you've earned after such a strenuous workout.