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My Rude Awakening: The Alpine Training Center

December 24, 2009 Ski 2 Comments
Joe Push

By Rob Coppolillo

Going big in the backcountry requires a little prep time, they say. But what would I know of that? I mean, I climb 7c off the couch and rip early-season turns with the best of ’em.

“Uh, I think you mean 5.7+. And bombing the ‘White Ribbon of Death’ on opening day in Summit doesn’t count,” says a guide buddy with the annoying habit of shooting me straight.

Touché, my friend, touché.

So it turns out I needed a little tuning up heading into ski season, just like most folks. The Alpine Training Center (ATC) in Boulder does just that, offering workouts specifically tailored to climbers, skiers, and sundry backcountry samurai. The gym began as an affiliate of Mountain Athlete, out of Jackson, Wyoming, but since has refined its workouts and become its own gig—the ATC.

I dove in, late October, just as they were beginning ski-specific conditioning. Bottom line: It’s hard. It’s old-school. And it works…even for off-the-couch non-heroes like me.


Rob Sandbag Getup

I. I heard about the ATC from Micah Dash. We’d bumped into each other at the coffee shop. We said hellos across the room, and he hobbled over to join me, lowering himself into his chair on quivering legs.

“I can barely walk,” he half-laughed.

“What now?!” I asked.

The year prior Micah had nuked a foot in a ledge-fall above Chamonix. He’d been hit by icefall on the Drus before that.

“It’s this class, Mountain Athlete. This chick Connie (Sciolino)…she just works you. You should check it out sometime,” he said, a little dazed.

That was the last time I saw Micah—he died climbing in China later that spring. Mornings when I wake up sore and tired from the ATC, I recall our conversation. Yeah, bud, I think, it’s as rough as you said.

II. “Boot camp” doesn’t really describe it, because everybody’s friendly and Connie doesn’t shout in my face. It’s not exactly “Fat camp,” either. I mean, I’ve smuggled donuts in a couple of times. But going there voluntarily—maybe it’s a self-esteem thing. You gotta hate yourself a little bit to make it hurt this bad.

Kevin Ice

III. The ATC takes old-school exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, box-jumps, lunges, wall-sits, free weights, kettlebells) and employs them using new-millennium science. The workouts are structured to improve strength, power, power-endurance, and anaerobic threshold. You can do the “general” session, which raises overall fitness and strength, or sign on for a climbing-specific session. This time of year, the climbing workouts are all about ice and the general workout tilts slightly toward the skiers in the bunch.

Kettlebell Swing

IV. You quickly discover your limitations. As we transition from ski-focused training to overall strength work, it’s apparent my upper body lags behind my legs. But I’m blessed: What I lack in strength, I make up for with a tremendously low pain threshold. Yes, it’s been a bumpy road for me.

Joe Squats

V. This poor sucka, a professional mountain guide no less, showed up and announced it was his birthday. No, they didn’t produce an ice-cream cake, but they did let him do the entire workout with a 40-pound pack on. So much for a celebration…

Ab Lifts

VI. Oh, she’s a mean-spirited mistress, the ATC. Core strength is important for just about everything, except playing World of Warcraft. Yes, that is a heavy-ass plate hoisted above a bad-ass woman. Sit-ups with a 35-pound plate held straight-arm above the victim.

Keg Lift

VII. Yes, it’s a keg. Yes, there’s beer in it…maybe a third full. The exercises at the ATC demand not only strength, but coordination, using core muscles and legs to perform what would normally be an upper-body session. Just to be clear: there is no tap on hand at the ATC.

Bag Hops

VIII. The dreaded plyometrics of pre-season ski conditioning. This unfortunate soul hopped furiously back and forth over the bags and then, adding insult to injury, was forced to use them (now sweat-splattered) for squats later in the session. Workouts usually last about an hour, with almost no down-time.

IX. Connie Sciolino runs the Alpine Training Center (thealpinetrainingcenter.com; 303/859-4579; 1840 Commerce St., Boulder, 80301). She has a master’s in exercise physiology from Montana State University, as well as certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Despite inflicting unspeakable pain upon her subjects, she’s actually pretty cool.

Rob Sandbag Hops

Helping her at the ATC is Jeremy Jenkins, who is finishing his BA in exercise science, is a veteran of the Air Force, and is a certified sports-performance coach from the US Weightlifting Association. He devises workouts no one can finish.

The sweaty mook in the photo at right is me, Rob Coppolillo. In addition to being an underpaid freelance writer, I’ve completed my level I, II, and III certifications from the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education, and I’ve done my rock, alpine, and ski courses with the American Mountain Guides Association. I am stronger now than I was in October.

All photos by Connie Sciolino

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. kelly says:

    nice! great article, rob. awesome training sessions, too. i love not only the physical benefits from those types of workouts, but also the mental aspect — they’re hard to finish, hard to go hard, and build great mental toughness. way better than sitting on a bike with a silly little cartoon monitor to convince you that you really are working hard, or whatever… good stuff.

  2. […] O’Neill and Colorado MoJo contributor Rob Coppolillo shred the gnar at Berthoud Pass. Film by Cedar Wright at Vertical […]

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