I like to think I deserve a monstrous meal and a few extra beers after a long day of skiing because of how hard I worked on the hill But do I? To answer this question, I did some homework and even ran some tests on myself to discover how many calories one actually burns while skiing and snowboarding.
Harvard Medical School created a table for calories burned according to the exercise one is participating in and his or her bodyweight. For downhill skiing, the table cites that a 125 pound person burns 360 calories an hour; a 155 pound person burns 446 calories per hour; and a 185 pound person will burn 532 calories per hour.
Meanwhile, Snowsports Industries America (yes, like the enormous convention in Denver each January) estimates that skiing burns 500 calories an hour, while snowboarding is just short of that at 450.
But before you go grab that extra slice of cake to congratulate yourself, please note that none of these numbers include the time spent on the lift. Rather, they are based only off of time spent while skiing and riding. But the redeeming fact may be that these studies do not take exertion level into account, as hitting the moguls will definitely burn more calories than cruising groomers.
I took matters into my own hands and used a Polar M400 watch with a heart monitor to record how many calories I was burning while snowboarding. I ran the watch for three consecutive days for three hours a day, only varying the intensity of terrain I was riding. And for a more realistic and easier to comprehend approach than the previously mentioned studies, I let my watch run on the lift and while hiking.
Day 1, High Intensity:
I hiked the Aspen Highlands bowl and spent the morning on the steeps under the Deep Temerity lift- neither being anything close to light riding. I burned 1215 calories in the three hours, coming out to 405 calories an hour.
Day 2, Medium Intensity:
I headed to Aspen Mountain for a good mix of moguls and groomers. I burned 975 calories in 3 hours, which is 325 calories an hour.
Day 3, Low Intensity:
I hit Snowmass for some wide groomed runs. In the time here, I burned 752 calories, coming out to250 calories an hour.
To compare these numbers with other activities, I mountain biked for an hour and burned 650 calories, and ran 3 miles in 27 minutes and burned 345 calories (which would be 767 calories if I ran for the entire hour). But these two highly aerobic activities where you are constantly moving would expectedly exceed skiing and snowboarding in terms of calorie burn.
The Bottom Line:
Although skiing and snowboarding burn less calories than activities like nordic skiing, mountain biking, and running, they are still great exercise.
A medium intensity snowboard day for my 150 pound self came out to be around 325 calories burned per hour. To figure out what you are burning add more calories to my numbers if (1.) you are heavier than me, (2.) you are having a high intensity mogul or powder crushing day or (3.) you ski (according to Snowsports Industries America, but I'm not sure I buy that). For the most accurate test, grab a heart rate monitor and get recording!