If you’re a regular skier or snowboarder, it’s about that time of year when you’re probably considering a trip to the mountains for a dose of the white stuff. But, if this is your first time heading to the slopes, then you might be wondering how best to prepare yourself physically.
Although there’s no physical training quite like skiing itself, improving your ‘ski fitness’ will make your time on the mountain more enjoyable and, crucially, will reduce the likelihood of injury. It’s never too early to think about how to get ready for the beating your body will no doubt receive once you hit the slopes; even the most laid-back piste cruisers can experience pain in places they had forgotten existed.
So, if you don’t want those pesky dorsiflexors, or that hitherto forgotten gluteus medius muscle, to start playing up after your first morning’s blue run, then Ben Birt, an instructor with Ski Connections ski school, has got all the tips you need to make sure you’ve done your pre-slope prep.
Try new gym exercises
A dedicated gym programme that combines muscle strengthening, especially the core, with careful stretching is a great way to get yourself fit and raring to go. You’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on your thighs, so it’s worth incorporating exercises that work your hamstrings, quads and glutes. Hamstring strength is vital if you want to avoid anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries – one of the most common knee injuries you can pick up while skiing. By building up your hamstrings you can stabilise the knee joint and improve your chances of keeping those ACL woes at bay. Squats are also particularly good for quads and glutes and help improve your endurance.
If you’re not a frequent gym-goer, though, take care. Getting the right weight and repetitions is crucial and it’s often best to talk to an instructor first to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. A personal trainer is even better as they can help you build that strength up slowly, but, invariably, a trainer is not the cheapest option.
Try dynamic strength and agility training
Good skiing can look effortless, but rarely is. Muscle strength and stamina are important, but the very best skiers put in years of hard work and training to be as agile and dynamic as possible. You don’t have to be an Olympic champion to build this training into your own pre-season preparation, though. Riding to work, for example, can give you a great cardio and leg strength workout, but it’s also worth adding in a sport that focuses more on agility – in other words, your ability to change your body’s position efficiently. Sports like squash, tennis, football, touch rugby, basketball, and even skateboarding are all great for this. As well as stamina and strength, they all require quick thinking and rapid changes in direction and speed. When you’re on the slopes you’ll need to make quick decisions based on what’s in front of you – whether it’s another skier, an unexpected tree, or fog.
Try mountain biking
If, like me, you’re lucky enough to live near some good mountain biking terrain, get out there and use it. Mountain biking has the advantage of working several key muscle groups that you need in skiing, as well as getting your heart rate up. And, on the way down the trees, roots and rocks are always trying to catch you out, testing that all important balance and agility.
Keep it fun
Pre-season training doesn’t have to be serious and devoid of fun. The key to all exercise is to find activities that you love – you’re more likely to stick at it when it’s enjoyable. The good news is that there are so many ways to get the blood pumping and the muscles and joints moving.
Ben is a ski instructor, mountain leader and mountain bike instructor working with Ski Connections ski school in Serre Chevalier, in the French Alps. He is also the author of the Serre Chevalier section of FATMAP.
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