10 Prep Tips for Ski Season

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Conditioning your body makes skiing easier -- and more fun.  You'll spend more time on the slopes then on the mend.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

If a ski trip is on your travel horizon, cool. Just don't hit the slopes cold. Aches, pains, and fatigue will hit harder if you don't condition your body.

"You want to come to the sport already in shape -- not use the sport to get into shape," Linda Crockett, MS, education director for the Professional Ski Instructors of America, tells WebMD.

By preparing your body for skiing, you can build stamina, strength, and flexibility. "You'll enjoy your skiing more -- you'll also spend more time skiing," she adds.

In the heart of New England's ski resorts, doctors see a fair share of broken bones and pulled ligaments.

A body-conditioning program can prevent muscle tears and hamstring pulls and help prevent more serious ski injuries, says Charles Carr, MD, director of sports medicine at the Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

The skier who "gets into trouble" is often the one "who pushes himself too far, who's not conditioned," Carr tells WebMD. "At the end of the day when he's tired, his muscles aren't there to protect him. That's when he hits that one mogul and twists his knee."

Crockett provides a few body conditioning tips for the novice skier:

1. If the ski vacation is a family activity, involve kids in conditioning, too. "The only advantage that kids have is youth, they recover [from injuries] more quickly. But they can get just as sore and tired as anyone."

2. Choose an aerobic routine you enjoy. Walking, cycling, swimming, treadmill, stair-climbing, walking hills -- they're all good aerobic activities. "Work up to doing half an hour comfortably, at a pretty brisk pace," Crockett tells WebMD. In fact, walking hills is about the best form of conditioning for skiing, she says.

3. Add sport-specific training. Downhill skiing involves short, intense bursts of activity. Your conditioning routine should be similar. When running, biking, or walking, interject a brief push -- "go at a level you couldn't sustain for more than two or three minutes, then back off," she says.

4. Remember stretching exercises before and after every workout -- you'll be less sore later.

5. Build strength in your legs, for speed. Classic exercises like squats and lunges can help. Build balance by doing abdominal curls -- on your back, with knees up.

6. Check into exercise balls, for developing both strength and balance, Crockett says. The balls run about $35 to $40, and are available in various sizes for adults and children. Each ball comes with exercise instructions.

7. On the slopes, take a water bottle and snack -- either trail mix or an energy bar (one that won't freeze too hard to eat), Crockett advises. It's easy to become dehydrated, which leads to fatigue and accidents. Adequate hydration also helps prevents altitude sickness.

8. Take lessons. Your ski instructor will make sure you have the right equipment. Also, you will progress faster, and have a lot more fun, if you learn how to ski correctly. You will feel more secure on the slopes.

9. Don't take big risks. Spend the first day or two on the beginning and intermediate runs. If you've made progress in handling your skis, you're probably ready for more challenging runs by the third day.

10. Don't ski when you're feeling tired. "Studies have shown an increased incidence of accidents at the end of the day when skiers are tired. They can also happen on the first run, when you're not adequately warmed up," Carr tells WebMD. "Perhaps you should not do that last run, push it beyond your level of endurance."

Also, people with cardiac or respiratory conditions need to see their doctor before beginning a conditioning program, Carr adds.

Originally published Dec. 20, 2002.

Medically updated Dec. 1, 2003.

SOURCES: Charles Carr, MD, director of sports medicine, Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H. Linda Crockett, MS, education director, Professional Ski Instructors of America.

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