How to prepare for winter sports

Dec. 15, 2022
a man prepared for the winter sport of snowshoeing.
There are ways to best prepare for winter sports so you can prevent injury and feel your best. Source: Getty Images.

Whether you’re a teen, a senior, or somewhere in between, a little planning and preparation can ensure that snow and cold temperatures won’t shut down your athletic pursuits.

“You have to be prepared for whatever is thrown your way in the winter,” said Justine Elder, a certified athletic trainer with UCHealth SportsMed Clinic who supports student athletes in the Steamboat Springs and Hayden school districts. “Make sure you are ready for the elements so you can continue to enjoy doing what you love.”

Elder has plenty of winter sports expertise for teen competitors who participate in winter sports such as wrestling, basketball, hockey, and downhill and cross-country skiing. The same advice she gives student athletes can carry over to active adults.

She recommends caring for any lingering fall maladies before plunging into a new sport. That includes muscle sprains and strains or concussion-related injuries.

“Reach out to your coach, athletic trainer or primary care physician for injury management,” she said.

Understand sport-specific demands when preparing for winter activities

It is important for athletes to realize that activities have a specific demand – either aerobic or anaerobic – and training should be done accordingly to promote optimal athletic performance.

For instance, sports that require endurance, such as cross-country skiing, rely on aerobic or cardiovascular exercises that increase breathing and heart rate for a sustained period. That means athletes should build up their stamina through indoor cycling, swimming or running, and strengthening exercises that maintain good core, hip and gluteal muscle strength.

Anaerobic sports such as basketball, wrestling or hockey need quick bursts of energy over shorter periods of time and rely on stored energy rather than oxygen to help fuel the body. Training for these sports should include different cross-training and interval activities that may include cardio, weightlifting and plyometrics, or exercises that use speed and force.

“Most sports rely on both aerobic and anaerobic energy,” Elder said. “Understanding the physical demands of your sport can help you accomplish your goals.”

The right way to keep warm for outside athletics

Environmental conditions are also important components of training in cold weather.

“There’s a proper way to layer clothing to avoid cold-weather injuries such as frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia,” Elder said. “Time and duration of your workout make a difference.”

Elder believes in three layers for outside athletics – a base layer, a mid-layer and an outer layer.

The base layer is the most important and should be made of wool or synthetic material, like nylon or polyester, to move sweat away from your body.

“Avoid cotton,” Elder said.

The second layer should insulate to trap the body heat that you radiate and should be wool, fleece or down. The third layer, or a shell layer, must prevent moisture and wind from penetrating.

According to Elder, socks made with a wool blend that quickly moves moisture to the surface to dry are best. A warm hat or helmet, depending on the activity, and gloves or mittens with warmers, complete your outdoor winter activity wardrobe.

“Always keep extra clothing with you in your car, locker or sports bag, so you have the ability to add a layer or change, especially if you get wet,” she said.

Don’t forget sunscreen, protective eyewear and coating your lips with something that has SPF in it, too.

Hydration and nutrition key when participating in winter sports

When temperatures drop, many people decrease their consumption of water and other fluids, which can be detrimental, especially when exercising in places with higher altitudes, like Steamboat Springs.

“We tend not to want to drink as much water as we do in the summer, but dehydration can be just as common,” Elder said.

Elder wants student athletes to drink fluids before, during and after working out. If the activity is less than an hour, water is fine. If it’s longer, she suggests mixing in a sports drink containing carbohydrates and sodium about two hours beforehand as well up to two to three hours after.

A healthy meal or snack is also essential to performance. Pre- and post-exercise food should focus predominantly on high-quality carbs, with some protein and healthy fats. Long drives to and from activities make for hungry athletes, so pack snacks to replenish energy.

“Steamboat is a great place to be active, no matter the age,” Elder said. “Practice healthy indoor and outdoor exercise habits so you can enjoy your winter sport, whether through school or the greater community.”

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Mary Gay Broderick is a Denver-based freelance writer with more than 25 years experience in journalism, marketing, public relations and communications. She enjoys telling compelling stories about healthcare, especially the dedicated UCHealth professionals and the people whose lives they transform. She enjoys skiing, hiking, biking and traveling, along with baking (mostly) successful desserts for her husband and three daughters.