Using alternative endurance activities to build Base?

Hi Fast Talk, I’ve been listening since the beginning, and appreciate the science directed training advice! You are my go to podcast for training advice, thanks for your great work.

I wondering what the consensus is on how important general vs specific endurance for cycling during the early base months. Living with winter 6 months a year in Western Canada has forced/encouraged me embrace winter sports as a way of getting a lot of base miles. I hate long rides on the trainer, and usually do 1 or 2 workouts a week on the trainer to do my intensity (5x5 min is a go to workout). I am able to get some large volume hours ski touring and cross country skiing (15+ hrs per week). I can usually start get some good hours on the bike in April, weather dependent. Race season usually starts middle to end of May for XCO/XCM and I’m looking to hit some longer gravel races in the summer as well.
Is it reasonable to assume that there is transferable benefit by getting a lot more volume on skis vs having significantly lower volume but specific bike hours? Can I optimize the general fitness increase into a more specific bike fitness for the summer? Or should I be trying to get longer rides in other the winter base period?
Thanks in advance,


From Eastern Canada (for my first 53 years) now west for the rest.

I was involved in cross country skiing heavily when I was an athlete (skiing was my job). I never used to race much because of how much I worked but I did get to ski 20-26 hours a week.

I was always ready to race even in the early spring. The better you are at skiing I feel the more you can do.

I did used to always finish to long skis each week with a 1 hour ride on the rollers at higher cadence - it always felt like I did a long ride (I learned this from a pro road racer who was a good skier).

After I started coaching I always taught my cyclists (all mtb racers) to pole run for fall training, and both classic and skate ski technique for the winter.

We would do a few specific intervals here and there but not really until Late Feb.

At this time the athletes had all made the national team, there was 6 of them. Once they got on national team they started to train in Arizona, riding road most of the time. I noticed that they early season performance was not as good at the first 3 Canada Cups.

I feel mountain bike training would have helped this early season riding , but they didn’t have access to their mtb often until before the race season at the time.

Anyways long story but I feel skiing will really help build a better base if you are efficient at the sport.

When the athletes started to cross country ski I took a lot of lactates and they would just stay on the flattest trails to keep the lactate low and steady. As their technique improved over the years, lactate came down, they could then ski on more terrain.

If you can’t tell I am a big believe in the fitness one can gain from skiing than specificity.

All the best and I would keep skiing!


Thank you for your insight and experience, Coach Neal, you have a huge depth of knowledge and experience in this area.

I’ve been skiing for a long time, and my technique is reasonably efficient to be able to stay within targeted zones. It is interesting to see how athletes have used xc skiing with successes at higher levels. Sara Poidevin is a young pro roadie who I have seen hammering around the nordic centre here, putting in some serious miles on her skate skis, and she has been been have some solid success, especially in the mountains.

From your experience, it seems reasonable to add a 1 hour high cadence spin at the end of week after a long ski (rollers or trainer) ? That makes sense from a neuromuscular perspective, and doesn’t seem like an overwhelming session to add to the end of the week of training, and could be a good way to wind down a bigger volume week.

From personal experience, the years that I have put more time on skis, I feel fresher coming into the season vs. the seasons where I have focused on fat bike/trainer miles. My first race is usually mid May and if I don’t do enough race specific intervals, it is the most painful race of the season!

I was lucky - I worked at a ski resort and had my bike and rollers inside already.

But 2 times a month I would classic ski at a different resort - take my rollers and set them up beside my car - finish my ski - ride beside my car outside all dressed up - it was awesome.

I think some fat bike miles can really help with some specificity - pedal stroke - and just learning to adjust wattage while you ride at usually variable rpm - cornering is also enhanced and so is focus on most narrow fat bike trails - if possible a fun long fat bike ride once a week I think would be a great addition to the skiing – and much better than a trainer!

when you say efficient at skiing what does that mean? I xc ski most weekends, and this year we have tons of snow. I can say I am not a great skier so it is not likely I will hit any intensity, my usual heart rate is in Z1-Z3 unless climbing a hill or pushing through deep fresh snow, we do open country skiing meaning we make our own tracks. So for instance I can easily get in a 2 h ski on a Sunday and for the most part stay in the lower zones. For me on skis it is nearly impossible to get high intensity because I do not have good enough technique to go that hard or fast… I do like to fat bike but this year there is so much snow it is hard to find opportunities. But I had also wondered if xc skiing at low intensities was good as part of the base period long endurance distances.

Hi when I say efficient I am referring to having lactate levels that are in the same range as heart rate levels.

If you are backcountry or cross country classic skiing breaking your own trail this is likely optimal training.

When beginning resort skiing with steeper hills starts to cause too much intensity and lactate at high levels, so if at a resort just take the steeper hills easy or plan it as an intensity day for that week.

thanks for the reply, my heart rate data does say I am going easy, and as noted it I were to try to increase intensity (other than climbing a hill) I would likely fall over… :wink: so my ability limits my intensity.

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