Objective: To examine the physiological characteristics of experienced ski mountaineers and to determine the physical demands of ski mountaineering competition.
Design: Descriptive field study.
Setting: An international ski mountaineering competition characterized by 20 400 m distance and 1869 m altitude difference that took place in March 2009 in the South Tyrolean Alps (Italy).
Participants: Nine healthy and experienced male ski mountaineers.
Interventions: Bioimpedance measurements for body composition definition; maximal exercise testing (Bruce protocol) to determine maximal heart rate (HRmax), maximal oxygen uptake (V̇o2max), and ventilatory thresholds (VT1 and VT2) and to define individual exercise intensity zones; HR registration during competition.
Main Outcome Measures: Exercise intensity distribution, occurrence of respiratory symptoms.
Results: Ventilatory thresholds were found on average at 70.5% ± 5.0% (VT1) and 90.9% ± 2.6% (VT2) of V̇o2max (68.18 ± 6.11 mL·kg−1·minute−1). The overall exercise intensity, defined by the ratio between mean HR during competition and maximal HR in the laboratory (0.87 ± 0.02), was high. Partial times (% of race time) spent competing in 4 defined performance zones were on average 20.4% ± 17.0% (maximal intensity), 59.8% ± 12.5% (high intensity), 12.8% ± 5.6% (moderate intensity), and 7.0% ± 5.9% (low intensity). Five participants reported respiratory discomfort during competition, with cough being the most frequent symptom. Statistical analysis revealed percent body fat mass to correlate with the partial time performed above VT2 (r = 0.782, P < 0.05); the latter was associated with a worse final placement (r = 0.734, P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Competitive ski mountaineering is characterized by an important cardiopulmonary strain and requires a high degree of physical fitness.