The days are getting shorter and it has been mighty cold the last few weeks. It certainly can seem like a drag—unless you are one of the many people who get excited that these same changes mean snow is around the corner! Although the meteorologists are sounding rather dire in their snow predictions, I have my fingers crossed. That means it’s time to get ready for the ski and snowboard season. I love this time of year and there is nothing worse than having your day on the slopes cut short by injury.
I generally think of preparing for a successful ski season in three categories: gear, body and mindset. The gear is the easy part. Check your boots and bindings, make sure that your boards and skis are in good shape and have skiing helmet without any dents or cracks. Preparing your body and mind can take a little more time and effort, but with the proper preparation they can be just as tuned.
As with all adrenaline-producing sports, skiing and snowboarding carry a significant risk of injury. Each discipline has a slightly different injury profile, but no injury is limited to skiing or snowboarding. Some of the more common injuries include:
- ACL and MCL sprains and tears. Less commonly the LCL can be injured
- Shoulder dislocations
- Shoulder separations
- Wrist fractures and sprains
- Clavicle fractures
- Thumb injuries
- Spinal injury
The good news is that most of these injuries can be prevented with adequate preparation and skiing in control.
Skiing and snowboarding are dynamic sports that require a combination of endurance, strength and agility. So, to adequately prepare the body to perform you need to do a little from each category.
Skiing is not a sprint! While each run may be short, typically we are at the mountain for a full day of skiing. For this reason, home preparation must include more than short efforts. Most experts recommend doing at least one long aerobic session of 60-90 minutes every week. Cycling and hiking (hilly routes) typically provide the best endurance. Running is also a good choice, but good running stamina does not seem to translate quite as well to the slopes.
Consistently finding those edges in varying snow conditions requires a good deal of leg strength. Dynamic exercises that build leg strength while also working on core stability and balance give the most bang for the buck. As with all strength training, good form and control through the entire range of motion is the key. And don’t forget the upper body — pushing off the ground or using your poles can take a toll on those arms. Some of the exercises I like to recommend include:
- Wall sits
- Ski to sumo squat jumps
- Ski squat twists
- Lunges with a twist
- Single leg deadlifts
- Pushup with rotation
The great thing about these exercises is that doing them with body weight can be an excellent workout—no weights required! If doing body weight exercises, I typically recommend increasing the repetitions, shooting for three sets of 20-30 reps.
The ability to quickly change direction and turn quickly to avoid changing snow conditions is key to avoiding injury and enjoying your day. Agility is one of the first things to go as we fatigue so working on this skill is important. Some great drills include:
- Lateral jumps
- Speed ladders
- Figure-8 hops
The last thing to address for an incident-free day on the slopes is your mindset. The single most important thing is to know your limits and always ski in control. Beyond that, keep in touch with your legs: as they fatigue, your ability to adjust to changing snow conditions drops rapidly. There is a reason so many people come to the First Aid Room saying, “…and it was going to be my last run!” As one seasoned skier told me, “Let’s ski two more runs and skip the last.” It’s always better to end your day in one piece than to get in that last run.
The above exercises are just a few of the many exercises that you could incorporate into your exercise routine to prepare for a fun day on slopes. Ultimately, the most important thing is to find something you enjoy and can do several times a week. If you are looking for group training, there are many physical therapy groups and gyms that host ski preparation classes. If you would like to simply discuss training plans, any of the Swedish Sports Medicine providers would be more than happy to discuss preparing for ski season. And if your luck takes a turn for the worst, we will be happy to see you and get you back on slopes as soon as possible.
Ronan Cahill, MD, is a Sports Medicine Physician at Swedish. To learn more about preparing for ski and snowboard season, visit the Swedish Spine, Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine website.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.