There’s a great ad about an obsessive skier sticking his head in a freezer to get that wintery sensation when he can’t be at the hill.
Unfortunately, ice facials, eating nachos every day after work, and walking around your living room in ski boots are not the optimum way to prepare for your ski vacation.
As much as it is a cultural phenomenon, a lifestyle, and a badge of honor, skiing is also a sport (Sorry, desk jockeys). It’s well-worth giving your quadriceps advanced notice that they’re about to be called to duty.
Caroline Perrin grew up on skis in Ontario’s Collingwood Alpine Ski Club. “When I turned 16, my parents told me I could take my first instructor certification or ski alone because they weren’t going to pay for lessons anymore.” Sixteen years later, with stints at New Zealand and Silver Star, and CSIA Level 3, CSCF Level 1 and CADS Level 1 certifications under her boots, she’s putting Whistler Blackcomb guests through their paces in MAX4 alpine group clinics. Perrin is also qualified as a rehab assistant helping people recover from brain and other injuries, and can hold plank pose in her ski boots for a seriously long time.
When I asked her how late I could leave my pre-trip training, she dished the straight goods, which basically meant no free pass for my lazy ass.
“Let’s face it, skiing is a sport and sports require fitness,” says Perrin. “Jumping into your skis without it sets you up for early fatigue and injury, so every skier should do some training in the gym (or on ‘dry land’) before hitting the slopes to maximize their vacation time. A realistic routine should be a few weeks long and lead as directly as possible into your ski vacation. Being that most of us book vacations ahead of time, you should be able to allot between 4 to 6 weeks. Any less than two weeks probably won’t make a difference.”
Better Fitness Now is the Bottom Line
Sore thighs? Out of breath? Cramps? Technique getting worse as the day progresses?
Here comes the moment of truth: “Those are all symptoms from a lack of better fitness.”
Ditch The Ski-Yourself-Fit Approach
Caroline disabused me of the hopeful notion that I could just ski myself into condition. “Trying to ski your way to fitness can take a couple of weeks, including rest days, so unless you have unlimited vacation time, get in shape beforehand.”
Squats, Squats and More…
One obsessive friend of mine would prep for her ski trips by taking her entire shower in the squat position. (I was too humbled by her commitment to ask how she managed to shave her legs.)
“Anyone who’s ever skied will tell you to strengthen your quads, and they’re right. What most people miss are the rest of the leg muscles that also work to stabilize and properly move your joints. A deep squat will make all those muscles work in synergy so that they strengthen and work together.”
While Perrin endorses the power of the squat, she advocates a slightly more holistic approach.
“A well-rounded routine should incorporate some balance, strengthening of the lower body and strengthening of the core.”
A simple workout 2-3 times a week would comprise a warm-up (10 minutes on the bike or treadmill, or even a brisk walk), followed by a choice of strengthening exercises, wrapping up with a stretch of all the muscles you’ve worked. (For at least 30 seconds afterwards, your body will thank you). Balance it out with some cardio days and you can say goodbye to Quadzilla, the Killer Leg Burn, right off the mark.
Show Your Knees Some Love
Knee injuries are a skier’s nemesis. The knee-bones, in case you’ve forgotten how the song goes, are connected to the butt and hamstrings, so be sure to spread the love.
“Your butt muscles help control your hip joint and ensure that your knee flexes correctly, making you a biomechanically stronger skier. A traditional clamshell exercise will achieve this.
“Your hamstrings help hold your knees together. You can do a simple hamstring bridge or curl for that.”
Perrin says that good form and low reps (start with 3 sets of 8) are more important than cranking out as many as possible.
Once you are comfortable, you can increase reps to 12, or boost the difficulty by gradually adding weight or using resistance bands, bosu balls or yoga balls.
Want the Double Black Diamond option? “Challenge your balance by standing on one foot and timing yourself. Balance on one foot with your eyes closed. Balance on one foot on a bosu ball.”
The Core Counts
As a final point, Perrin recommends finishing every work out with some core exercises.
“The core, especially deep core muscles like Transverse Abdominus, is vital to good balance, injury prevention and overall athleticism.”
Variety is the Spice
“Try to change the exercises up so you don’t get bored,” says Perrin, advising that the interweb is full of variations on all the above exercises.
For motivation, keep the end in sight. Change your screensaver. “Watch ski videos; watch your own old GoPro footage to relive past good times; check the snow report leading up to your trip.”
If you have to, stick your head in the freezer every now and then. Just apply the wisdom of German ski bum, Goethe: “Begin it now.”