Burn Calories with These Winter Activities

January 6, 2021

Burn Calories with These Winter Activities

sled on snow

Blizzards and no-travel advisories can keep us cooped up – but they shouldn’t stop winter workouts outside. Yes, it’s cold and snowy – and there’s ice – yet the rewards can outweigh those obstacles.

“We’re Midwesterners and we can’t stay inside for one-third to half the year and be happy,” said Derek Ferley, PhD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and distance running coach at the Avera Human Performance Center. “Winter sports, along with activities and exercises we can do all year long, are great ways to break up the monotony that can come with a season that’s most often spent indoors.”

Wintertime outdoors activities can be a great way to add variety to exercise – with additional benefits that add up.

Here’s a guide to some winter activities to get you moving outside.

Winter Biking

  • Benefits: If you want to try winter biking, a fat-tire bicycle is worth considering. Their namesake wheels really chew through the snow and ice, and even in light snow or dry conditions, the big tires on these bikes make riding them a great workout.
  • Cautions: Fat-tire bikes are quite a bit heavier than even mountain bikes – they can take some getting used to, and they can be a strain to pick up off the ground if you fall or tip. Those extra-wide tires require plenty of push to get going and to get home – so don’t overdo it as you begin.
  • Calories burned: 1,000+ per hour

Cross-Country Skiing

  • Benefits: Cross-country or Nordic skiing, when compared to running, is easier on the knees. It’s a pastime that can include some thrills – from wildlife sightings and going down small hills. It’s also a challenge to master. Some outdoors-recreation facilities offer rentals.
  • Cautions: Requires snow and is best on groomed trails, can include fall risks as you learn the technique. Also requires skis, poles, ski boots.
  • Calories burned: 500-700 per hour

Ice Skating

  • Benefits: The thrills of going fast, spinning and other tricks on skates are notable. Like inline skating, the joy of rapid movement can take your mind of your exercise. Works core muscles, too, in order to maintain balance.
  • Cautions: Falls on frozen water can really hurt – and cause injury. Many rinks offer rental skates, but they can be tricky to fit for some people. Repurposing a bike helmet might seem a little silly, but if it prevents a concussion – go for it. Skating does take time to master as well.
  • Calories burned: 500-700 per hour


  • Benefits: Bundled up and layered, you can explore what seems like a different world when its wintertime. From tracking wildlife tracks in fresh powder to enjoying the stillness of a trail covered in a crust of snow – there’s plenty to enjoy outside in winter on a hike, whether you’re exploring new areas or just returning to a nearby region you know well.
  • Cautions: Pack water and snacks for energy, and work on learning how to layer. It’s always better to have to take off and pack along a jacket or under-layer than to find yourself shivering. Beware of ice, too, especially patches that could be hidden under snow. Keep your skin protected, too. Investing in a set of hiking poles can be a good decision if you’re digging into winter hiking.
  • Calories burned: 430-650 per hour

Snow Shoeing

  • Benefits: Much like cross-country skiing, snowshoes open a whole new reality. The sport lets you move faster in deep snow than hiking would allow, and some prefer a hybrid approach, donning the snowshoes when needed.
  • Cautions: There’s an awkward beginning to figuring out the equipment, but one that’s easier than skis. Not all snow is great for snowshoeing – but it’s fun to figure that out.
  • Calories burned: 400-600 per hour

Downhill Skiing or Snowboarding

  • Benefits: The heady pleasure of racing down a slope is intoxicating, and the exercise is great for legs, core muscles and more. Your shoulders and arms get a workout, too, because falls will happen, and getting back up takes some practice – and muscle.
  • Cautions: Falls at higher speeds can be downright dangerous and lead to broken bones or worse. It also requires rental or purchase of equipment, and with limited amounts of ski-worthy terrain in the Midwest, might not lend itself to something you do every day or weekend.
  • Calories burned: 300-450 per hour

Hockey or Broomball

  • Benefits: For cardio workouts, there are few activities or sports that beat the skating, shooting and checking that come with hockey, or its less-sophisticated cousin, broomball, which is played in running shoes on ice with volleyballs and – you guessed it – brooms. Players sprint, rest and sprint again, and interval training is proven to be a good way to get blood flowing.
  • Cautions: Even a pickup hockey game requires considerable investment in gear. Skates, pucks, sticks, tape, gloves, padding and helmets – they’re all important to be safe, and each will set you back. Broomball is much more affordable, but both sports involve body-checking, which can get rough, especially when it happens on a hard surface – so be careful out there.
  • Calories burned: 400-600 per hour


  • Benefits: What’s a better way to relieve stress than to let it go as you slide down a big hill on a tiny contraption? Hoofing it back up the hill is a good workout as well, and there’s a certain happiness that comes with zooming along carefree. Keeping yourself on the sled takes core muscles, too.
  • Cautions: While most sledding “wipeouts” are part of the enjoyment, they can lead to injuries. The thrill of getting back up the hill to do it all over again can lead some folks to overdo it, too, but sleds are inexpensive and there’s no real “wrong” way to do this – and no technique to develop. Just sit down and go!
  • Calories burned: 300-500 per hour

Note: All references to calories burned are estimates based on moderate to strenuous participation. Weight, age, gender and many other factors figure into the true number of calories used up in these activities.