The days are getting shorter, the air is crisper and ski season is on its way back for another year. But no matter how you’ve spent your off-season, the first few days on the slopes are going to hurt.
As an avid skier, Vancouver-based physiotherapist Jamie Snow can commiserate with the early-season burn. Here, he offers some before-and-after advice for making the most of your first days out, while avoiding common injuries.
1. Pre-Ski: Getting in Shape
Getting in shape for skiing can be a challenge. “I’ve always found it doesn’t how much you train for skiing, ski muscles just seem to be different muscles, even though they’re not,” Snow acknowledges, “So you can be active in every other thing, and when you get out and go skiing, it’ll be difficult.” There are a few things you can do, however, to make things a bit easier on yourself on your first few ski days.
The goal is for your training to mimic the activity you are training for. For skiing? You got it: squats. “Basically what you’re doing over a top to bottom run is repetitive, lighter weight squats. So if you’re going to train for it, it makes sense to train the same way.”
Snow recommends starting with 3 sets of 20 reps two to three times per week, then adding sets (up to five), and then additional days, as it becomes easier. The key is to challenge yourself without overdoing it, so if you’re starting to feel sore for more than two or three days in a row, think about dialling it back.
The benefits of core stability can’t be overstated. The core, “essentially links our bottom half to our top half,” explains Snow. “So the biggest benefits will be injury prevention (it helps to support the spine), balance and control.”
The most straightforward core exercise is the plank.
If you’re new to the plank, Snow recommends starting on your elbows and knees. Your body should be as flat as possible while keeping your spine in a neutral position. The length of time that you hold the position depends on your fitness level, but Snow suggests starting with 30 seconds as a general rule.
If you need more of a challenge, try elbows and toes, or hands and toes -like the top of a push up.
“In the same way you want to challenge yourself to be stronger, you want to challenge yourself to be smarter, when it comes to balance,” explains Snow. “Ideally, it will become second nature.”
If you struggle with balance, start small. “Just start with one foot balanced up,” suggests Snow, “and that can just be done on a hard floor.” From there, add elements to make it more difficult until you feel challenged; balance on a couch cushion, or progress to a wobble board or a bosu ball. Once that becomes easy, Snow suggests tossing a tennis ball or closing your eyes to create a further challenge.
“Balance will always apply for skiing, and more difficult exercises can always be found no matter how good your balance is.”
2. At the Resort: Warm-Ups and Stretches
There is a physio’s ideal world, and then there is reality. In Snow’s ideal world, everyone would warm up properly before hitting the hard runs, and hold their post-ski stretches for at least 45 seconds. In reality, things might be a bit different. “I’m the worst because I know what you’re supposed to do and I don’t do any of it,” Snow confesses. Here’s how to do what he says, and not what he does.
Start out with some walking lunges in your ski boots, or swing your legs back and forth, to get things moving. Follow this up with a few easy runs, “to just kind of feel your way around a bit before you dive into the harder stuff.” This not only provides an opportunity to warm up and reacquaint yourself with your edges, but also to get a sense of the snow conditions before hucking yourself off that cliff.
Snow admits that this is a challenging ideal to live up to. “It’s tough when you sit in a gondola for 30 minutes and it’s kind of cold and you’re completely immobile because 10 people are jammed in there and you get out at the top and it’s a nice day and you just want to go to the best run right away.”
Your après-ski might involve a relaxing drink at the lodge or a frantic, traffic-jammed exodus from the resort, but does it include stretching? It should.
Focus on the quads, glutes, hip flexors (especially if you’re touring) and hamstrings. For quads, do a sprinter’s stretch, pulling your foot up behind you. To stretch your glutes, Snow suggests a sitting stretch, with one foot crossed over the opposite knee. Lunges are a good stretch for the hip flexors; for a good hamstring stretch in your ski gear, “just put your foot up on a bench, bend forward at the hips and keep the back straight.”
Making the most of the early season, and doing what you can to avoid injury aren’t complicated -they just take a little bit of will power.