Five ways to prepare for the slopes

A little preseason training can make a big difference
December 2nd, 2015

Ila Piddington In a sport like skiing, where gravity and the elements play such a pivotal role, expect to accumulate some bumps and bruises along the way. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can be done to enjoy a safe season on the slopes.

Following a proper preseason training program may not only reduce the risk of injury, but also may help to boost the fun factor.
Are you ready for ski season? To get the most out of the slopes this year, UCHealth experts recommend a little preseason training.
“There’s nothing worse than getting done with your second run of the day and being tired,” said Alyssa Joel, a fitness specialist and personal trainer at UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Medical Fitness in Windsor. “Or having to sit around the next day because you’re so sore.”

Here are five ways to prepare for the slopes.

Ila Piddington lifts her left leg as she holds a plank position on an exercise ball during the Fit for the Slopes class at UCHealth’s Poudre Valley Medical Fitness in Windsor. Strengthening the core muscles can help a skier remain stable and aligned on the slopes. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.

Strengthen the core

Because skiing is lower-body focused, Joel said it’s crucial to address the abdominal and spinal muscles — the core — to keep them aligned and stable while making all those turns.

She has her clients do rotational movements with resistance bands and isolated exercises like planks and crunches, and then mixes in variations of squats and lunges. These kinds of movements target the powerful muscles in the thighs and buttocks, while simultaneously training the core muscles to behave like a corset.

“It’s important to do functional exercises that mimic the motion of skiing, like standing up then squatting down again,” Joel said.

The goal is to elicit fatigue during training so that making the actual turns feels easy. For a better carryover from the gym to the slopes, she advises performing these exercises for time (start at 10 seconds and work up) instead of the traditional method of counting repetitions.

Build up endurance

A typical powder day can last several hours, and each successive run sucks a bit more energy.

According to Dr. Rocci Trumper, an orthopedic surgeon at Orthopaedic and Spine Center of the Rockies, the majority of ski injuries (knee ligament tears, fractures and thumb injuries) are caused by falls and are most likely to happen when fatigue sets in. So having good endurance, or the ability to effectively use muscles over a length of time, can make the difference between quitting before noon and catching the last chair up.

“Getting yourself in good cardiovascular shape in addition to strengthening work can give great benefits,” Trumper said. “You’re going to be able to ski more and you’re going to have more fun doing it.”

Doing muscle-burning squats, lunges and planks for up to a minute each with very little rest in between sets can help bump up one’s aerobic fitness level. And spend at least 20 minutes on a stationary bike at moderate to high intensity two to three times a week to ready the heart and lungs as well.

Master the art of balance

The continuous changes in direction combined with factors like other skiers and mountain conditions make one vulnerable to collisions and falls. Having well-honed balance reactions can change that fate.
Alyssa JoelAlyssa Joel, a fitness specialist and personal trainer at Poudre Valley Medical Fitness, assists Heather Cofer with an exercise designed to prepare for ski season. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.
“Your body has to quickly plan for those unexpected situations,” said UCHealth physical therapist and lifelong skier Michelle Bardino. “If you’re training your hips, knees and ankles to work together, you’ll be better prepared to react quickly to prevent injury.”

Spend time standing on unstable surfaces to sharpen reflexes in the lower extremity joints and improve the chances of avoiding injury-causing accidents in the first place.
Steve GrohSteve Groh lands a box jump during the class. Exercises like this and squat jumps can help build the explosiveness needed when coming out of turns while skiing. Photo by Kelly Tracer, UCHealth.
“Do activities on Bosu balls to mimic the lack of stability that you get from being on snow and on a slope,” Joel said. Standing on one leg and lifting things from the floor or tossing a tennis ball against a wall, or reaching an arm forward or kicking a leg backward also are great for stimulating natural balance reactions.

Train for your level

“One of the most common factors leading to injury is attempting to ski terrain that your skill level and conditioning are not suited for,” Trumper said.

Beginners tend to take things slower, so their main focus should be on building stability from the ground up, he said. Basic strengthening exercises that target the calves, quads, hamstrings and buttock muscles can help keep the knees stable, which decreases the strain on those oft-injured ligaments.

For more advanced downhillers, who have probably already built up a solid base over the years, attention should be on building power.

“Things like box jumps and squat jumps help build up that explosiveness when you’re coming out of your turns, and help you get on your edge a little more and move more dynamically,” Joel said.

Take the time to train

Most people make the mistake of not considering skiing as a strenuous activity, Joel said.

“Skiing tends to be one of those sports people really don’t train for like they would for a marathon,” she said. “They do a few runs and get tired, and they can’t maintain proper posture. That’s where injuries happen.”

The ideal conditioning program should involve two to three sessions per week of all the ski-specific exercises mentioned here for six to eight weeks. For those newer to skiing or not as active in general, consider extending that to 12 weeks before the anticipated first powder day. Then, gear up and hit the slopes with confidence.

About the author

Andrew Kensley is a Colorado freelance writer, published author and physical therapist for UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.