Training for the mountains

Here is some advice on getting prepared for your trip. (Need to read - if you want to have some speed...)

Here are the 5 keys to having a successful start to your trip:

  • Be adequately prepared for your trip
  • Mental preparation
  • Physical preparation
  • Well, how do I train for it?
  • Rating the climbing


  1. Be adequately prepared for your trip. 
    Before you come, I strongly suggest that you prepare yourself physically and also mentally for the program. You will feel that much more at ease once you get here. Additionally, you are certain to learn many new and exciting things about the Alps. Being physically well prepared may seem evident. But please take the time to mentally prepare for your trip as well. 

  2. Mental preparation
    Learn a bit of French, read up on the culture, know where you are going. The most common thing people will say to me is "if only I had known" or "I had no idea"... Find out about what you want to do. Read some books, surf the web. The more familiar you are with the surroundings the easier and more enjoyable your vacation will be. 

  3. Physical preparation
    This is THE most important part of preparation. Sounds like a simple task but don’t underestimate it. It DOES take a lot of time to get into good climbing or skiing shape – especially if you are not already there…
    Plus there are lots of other things that get into the way, your job, family commitments, weather, other hobbies…
    Mountain sports, such as climbing and skiing are very physically demanding. They are also very demanding technically and psychologically. Investing ample time into physical training is crucial in having a successful trip.


Well, how do I train for it?
Lots of people ask me how to train for mountaineering and skiing and ask me what do I do? Well, I don’t really train… Say what? 
I am out climbing and skiing nearly all the time so I don’t really go out and train, so to speak. I am fortunate enough to have a job that keeps me in prime physical condition. I do however try to stretch whenever possible and I also stay active during the off peak periods by adding some other fun sports to my list; cycling, trail running, squash, anything that involves moving around. So, really I do train - like crazy.

So what can you do ? Well, it really depends upon your present state of fitness. Where are you exactly ? Be honest with yourself. If you don’t know, then get a physical done by a doctor that can give you honest answers. Tell he or she what you plan on doing.
This is an important element to take into consideration as your fitness will determine what you will be able to accomplish.
The very best advice I can give you is to get out there and move around. Nothing could be farther from the truth than to say that spending time on a stair master or an exercise bike will make you a great climber or skier. Both of these exercises will help your fitness, but you REALLY need to get up and out and move your bones around. The same goes for lifting weights. Spend your training time wisely, having big biceps isn't going to help you get up any mountain. Use whatever time you have train with as best you can. Highlight sports that involve stretching, balance and agility rather than weight training.

Take the hard way up – yeah that means using the stairs – on the way up and on the way down. Go walk to get lunch and while you are at it find something creative to do while on the way – walk along the edge of the sidewalk, along the bridge railing, do some stretching while you are standing in line waiting.
Exercise within your target zone of 75-80% of your max heart rate. Only by staying there for extended periods of time will you obtain optimal fitness.
Always try to incorporate activities that use balance and agility into your daily routine rather than classic ones.

Walking on even moderately rough trial is better than running on pavement. You have to develop and build the motor skills (yes, they are skills) needed when mountaineering or skiing, which all have to do with balance. The majority of either of these two sports involves balancing on small rocks, scrambling up and down boulders, stretching from one spot to another. Now what does this have to do with pumping iron in the gym???
Being able to move with ease on this type of terrain will allow you to save energy and therefore go farther with less effort which exactly what you want to do when you will be at higher altitudes.
It may sound simple, but these are all skills that must be learned. And you can’t learn them on the treadmill.

Now for those of you who want to get out there and fill your pack with weight to "simulate" doing something harder – STOP. Take a lightweight day- pack and go out and cover twice as much ground. Your joints will be better off and you will cover more ground and therefore be training much more effectively.

Here's how Kilian Jornet trains...

Rating the climbing

One of the most frequent questions I have is "How hard IS the climbing?" 
Well, as one can probably imagine, climbs vary according to the conditions, time of the year and your climbing level. The information found here should only be used as a base to give you an idea of what to expect. If you have particular questions on something, you always email me and I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can. Also - don't forget to check on the weather report, avalanche danger and if using a hut - reserve it !

How is the level of a climb determined ? In Europe we use letters to rate the difficulty of a climb.
F - easy
PD - fairly easy
AD - moderate
D - difficult
TD - very difficult
ED - extremely difficult

These ratings take into account the technical and physical levels of the climb as well as any objective dangers such as rock / ice fall, the descent, the exposition of the climb, the altitude, the length, and the overall commitment. There is a lot to take into account. Obviously, a climb can change dramatically from one day to another, let alone from year to year. Weather and the amount of climbers / traffic will also influence the routes and their ratings tremendously.
click here for more beta

Rating Table for rock routes


What makes a mountaineer ? 
In order to be a proficient mountaineer, you must possess the following qualities :

  1. Be in good health, physically fit and be able to endure harsh weather conditions or sudden changes in temperature.
  2. Proficient in the use of all types of mountaineering equipment.
  3. Knowledge about mountains and the type of weather you may encounter at higher elevations.
  4. Being able to navigate; read a map, use a compass and an altimeter.
  5. Skill in rope management on rock, snow and ice and in difficult situations or in emergencies.
  6. Being able to move quickly over tricky ground.
  7. Knowledge of crevasse rescue.
  8. Thorough knowledge of rappelling.
  9. Knowledge of the conditions that favor avalanches and how to foresee them and take evasive action.
  10. Sound judgment on route finding ability.

Some other frequently asked questions:

How much vertical terrain do you usually cover per hour?

Well of course that varies quite a lot. Altitude and time of the year (conditions) can make those numbers very different.
However a general rule of thumb is to figure on a benchmark of 300 vertical meters per hour ascent rate. On a given typical day in the Alps expect to cover roughly 1000 vertical meters gain.

I want to do technical climb, what is the best way to train for it?
Sure getting out and climbing is great but rock gyms and even bouldering are better. Nothing beats plastic for the ease in which you will improve your skills and techniques. Join a club at the gym, make friends and enjoy the climbing.

Why do we leave so early in the morning?
An often asked question, that has lots of answers...
- weather: as the day goes on, the temperatures rise and often create thunderstorms.
- heat: the snow gets softer, making it more difficult to walk, creates even more objective dangers (i.e. - slides, rockfall, etc...)
- it is also easier to breath when the temperature is cooler.
- sometimes we need the whole day to complete longer climbs.

Some selected books

Mont Blanc Massif (2 Volumes) - Lindsay Griffin / Excellent books in English.

100 Finest routes in the Mont Blanc range. - Gaston Rebuffat / the reference for classic routes available in English.

The Alpine 4000 meter Peaks - Richard Goedeke / good descriptions of all the big peaks of the Alps, in english.

Any of the Piola topo guide books - all of which are available in English.

Neige, Glace et Mixte - Damilano, Perroux / the complete up to date guide book for snow, ice and mixed routes in the Mont Blanc area, available only in French for the moment.