5 Snow Sports That Will Make You Work up a Sweat

When winter's chill seems to drag on for years, it's tempting to give up on the outdoors, resigning yourself to curl up in a cushy chair next to the fire, keeping company with a cup of hot chocolate or tea. But before you snuggle in too deep, consider all the fun you're missing out on.

Snow and ice create an environment ripe for challenging activities that can bring a smile to your face while you work up a sweat. So go ahead, pick one or two new snow sports you'd like to try, and recruit your family and friends to join you. Come spring, when the sun starts heating things up and you start stripping off those layers of warm clothing, you'll be glad you kept moving all winter long.


Skiing or Snowboarding

snowboarding winter sport
Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images

Admittedly, skiing and snowboarding aren't "new" activities, but if you live anywhere close to a mountain range, you've got to try one of these sports at least once. There is a learning curve, of course, but spending half a day with an instructor will set you up to tackle the bunny hills or green (beginner) trails with a modest amount of confidence.

You may think you're just sliding down a hill, with little effort involved, but even though gravity does play a role in taking you from top to bottom, skiing and snowboarding each requires glute, hamstring, quad, and core engagement to guide your movements and remain in control. You may be surprised how much you sweat, even on the chilliest of days, after tackling a tough run.


Cross Country Skiing

Nordic skiing, winter holidays in Alps

You don't need a big mountain range to take advantage of cross-country skiing—all you need is equipment, snow, and a few open trails. Believe it or not, cross-country skiing is an incredibly effective cardiovascular workout that engages your entire body as you pole and glide across the snow. SparkPeople estimates that a 150-pound person who cross-country skis for 30 minutes can burn 264 calories. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon outside.



snowshoeing winter sports
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Snowshoeing is just hiking through snow, but it's more challenging than you might think. In fact, SparkPeople estimates that a 150-pound person walking a 20-minute, three-mile-per-hour pace for 30 minutes would burn about 115 calories, but that same person snowshoeing for 30 minutes? The calorie burn jumps to 264 calories.

The reasons for the difference come down to equipment and environment. Snowshoes, in and of themselves, are awkward and require more intentional stepping than when you're walking without snowshoes. Then, you have to consider that you're walking in the snow. The snowshoes are likely to sink a few inches, requiring you to lift your knees higher and make other mechanical adjustments to maintain a steady pace.

Mechanical inefficiencies in snowshoeing recruit more muscles and amp up the challenge, ultimately leading to greater calorie burn.


Ice Climbing

Ice Climbing Snow Sport
Jose Azel / Getty Images

Climbing up a vertical sheet of ice may seem like an extreme sport (and it can be), but if you enlist a certified instructor to get you started, ice climbing is actually surprisingly accessible for beginners. In fact, because you wear special shoes (crampons) with spikes on the front, it's actually easier to get your footing than when going rock climbing.

In rock climbing, you have to find footholds before taking each step up the side of a cliff. Conversely, when you go ice climbing, you simply kick your shoe's spikes into the ice and make your own footholds as you go. Similarly, you use ice axes to create your own "handholds," so you can literally climb straight up the ice.

But because your entire body is engaged in climbing, and you're holding semi-awkward positions as you make your way up the ice, the challenge is intense, and you're likely to experience cramping in your forearms and calves.

Take your time and take breaks as you go. Climbing is a team sport (you have to have a partner belaying you as you climb), so communicate, stop when you need a break, and enjoy the experience.


Fat Biking

fat biking winter sport
Andrew Bret Wallis / Getty Images

You don't need to give up on cycling as soon as cold weather hits, but you might need to rent or buy a bike designed to take on the snow. "Fat bikes" are outfitted with oversized fat tires.

"The beauty of the fat bike is that its over-sized tires allow its rider to cruise in all types of conditions, including on pavement, sand, trails, and even snow," says Ben Popp, the executive director of the non-profit ski and outdoor organization, American Birkebeiner Foundation. "In winter weather, riding groomed single-track trails, frozen lakes, or fresh powder, fat bikes have extended the biking season and added a whole new twist on winter adventures. If you don't want to ski or snowshoe, it's another great way to recreate in the great outdoors."

Otherwise, the benefits are about what you'd expect from a cycling workout—you're going to enjoy a tough leg workout while raising your heart rate for some cardio. Most bike shops in cold regions can set you up with a rental and answer any questions you have about getting started.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SparkPeople, Inc. Calories Burned - Skiing: cross-country.

  2. SparkPeople, Inc. Calories Burned - Snow Shoeing.

  3. SparkPeople, Inc. Calories Burned - Walking: 3 mph (20 minutes per mile).

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.