Attention, skiers of a certain age. Remember when prepping for ski season consisted of reaching up to put your skis on the ski rack and bending over to buckle up your boots? Hate to tell you but once you hit 50, those cavalier attitudes ain’t gonna cut it anymore if you want to ski into your 80s.

 According to the experts…

Prepping For The Slopes: Cardio, Balance & Strength Exercises For Senior Skiers

PHOTO CREDIT: Katie Cleese Photography

“Bodies don’t tolerate surprises the older you get, so the older you get, the more you need to prepare,” says Dr. Carlin Senter, associate professor of medicine and a specialist in primary care sports medicine at UCSF’s Orthopaedic Institute at Mission Bay in San Francisco.

To prepare properly for ski season, you’ll need to cover at least three of the four types of physical activity that Dr. Senter and several major health organizations say are the keys to staying healthy:

  1. Cardiovascular
  2. Balance
  3. Strength

These three things make up the fitness trifecta for skiers and boarders. (Yoga is an ideal way to take care of flexibility, the fourth piece of the fitness pie.)

Dr.Senter continues, “It’s recommended that adults do 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity weekly [a mere 22 minutes a day!] at a moderate intensity to stay healthy. The more you do it, the better the outcome.”

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Exercises to prepare for the slopes

Since you need a few months of exercise to get to an optimum level of fitness, what can you do now with skiing right around the corner? Dr. Senter suggests simulating what you’ll be doing on the slopes, intensity- and duration-wise. “Focus on strengthening the quads and doing exercises that focus on balance,” she says. “The night before skiing, avoid alcohol and get a good night’s sleep, and while skiing remember to stay hydrated; drink lots of water.”

Here are a few of my favorite “low-tech” activities and exercises or exercises that are easy to integrate into your daily life with a minimum of cost or hassle (or even thought, once they’re habits!):

Cardiovascular prep

  1. Whenever possible, take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator (at least for a few floors).
  2. When parking in a parking lot, find the farthest parking spot in the lot and park there.
  3. Find a good 45-minute, low-impact aerobics workout program to follow among your cable-tv listings or on your smart phone and do it twice a week, or better, find a bi-weekly class to attend (I go to free classes at the senior center that’s operated by my city’s Park and Rec department two blocks from my flat and where I regularly witness 80-year-old, fellow classmates doing burpees with no problem!)

Balance prep

Prepping For The Slopes: Cardio, Balance & Strength Exercises For Senior Skiers

PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Eastwood / Royal Gorge Ski School

Every other day, set aside five minutes to do a series of balance exercises or yoga poses (you’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve if you keep at it!). Here are a few you can start with:

  1. Warrior III pose – Elevate one leg straight behind you and lean your torso forward with your arms stretched out straight in front of you to form a horizontal plane perpendicular to your standing leg and hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then alternate.
  2. Standing upright, grab your ankle and bring it up behind and against your thigh and hold for 30 seconds, then alternate.
  3. Standing upright with your standing leg slightly bent, extend one leg and both arms out in front of you parallel to the floor and hold for up to a minute, alternate.

Strength prep

Three times a week, work with hand weights for 30 minutes (the same length of time as your nightly network news program!), doing a variety of exercises that work your shoulders, arms, and core. If you haven’t been working with weights, start with 3-lb weights and then graduate to heavier weights as needed for a good workout. Remember, working with weights is most effective with smooth, slow movements.

To strengthen your legs, start with a series of simple lunges or squats, upping the number of reps and sets as you progress. With your back pressed against a wall, slide down and put your feet out about a foot so that your thighs and lower legs are at right angles (as if you were sitting in a chair), holding that position for up to a minute.

To strengthen your core, do a variety of plank exercises.

For more fitness tips…

Dr. Senter recommends that senior skiers should visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The National Institute on Aging. Skiers should focus on programs that emphasize cardio, balance, and strength.

And here are two places you can visit right on this site to find exercises and a regular workout regimen that might work best for you:

Some untrivial trivia

Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably still skiing. But for those friends of yours who have given up the sport for this or that reason, you might want to share with them these two fascinating snippets of info from Dr. Senter.

1. Cross-country skiing is a great alternative to downhill skiing or boarding.

Prepping For The Slopes: Cardio, Balance & Strength Exercises For Senior Skiers

PHOTO CREDIT: Sugar Bowl/Royal Gorge

Says Dr. Senter, “When it comes to a cardiovascular workout, you definitely get more bang for your buck with cross-country skiing. One hour of cross-country skiing is the equivalent of 2-1/2 hours of downhill skiing!”

2. Joint replacement surgery is NOT a winter sports deal breaker.

Far from it. A recent study conducted by a Scandinavian sports medicine group discovered that individuals who had undergone knee replacement surgery and participated in recreational skiing over a 12-week period had a significant increase in muscle mass over individuals who did not participate in the program. (One should check with one’s surgeon first before getting out there.)

In closing, I leave you with this ready-set-go mantra. Cardio! Balance! Strength!

Rose Marie Cleese is a correspondent for, an e-magazine devoted to winter sports enthusiasts aged 50 and up.

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2 responses to “Prepping For The Slopes: Cardio, Balance & Strength Exercises For Senior Skiers”

  1. […] •Check with your doctor before starting any physical training •Choose a low-impact exercise regimen that includes stretches, half-squats, drive-ups, lunges, leg curls, crunches—avoid polymetric exercises, such as box jumps •Include weight training in your exercise program—start with light weights and low reps, gradually increasing both •Don’t over-train; alternate among walking, biking, stretching, and active rest. •If you’re over the age of 50, see our tips for cardio, balance and strength exercises that senior skiers can do to prep for the slopes. […]

  2. Ron says:

    Radiation treatments to my leg resulted in very very slow muscle recovery after skiing. I take amino hydration supliments but still cannot maintain hard skiing after a day or two. I am a 74 year old skier unwilling to give up the expert terrain. Any suggestions…

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