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Keeping fit during ski season important

LARA MULLIN, Sierra Sun

Most skiers and snow enthusiasts are aware of the benefits of preseason conditioning, but while different experts may have varying suggestions and programs for the best way to achieve preseason health, almost all agree on one thing: fitness and preparation should not stop once ski season is underway.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, last season more than 800,000 injuries were reported as a result of winter sports, and many of these could have been avoided with some forethought.

The word ‘fitness’ conjures up painful images of running or unpleasant conditioning drills for many readers, but this broad term actually encompasses much, much more.

Conditioning can be broken down into three phases: pre-ski training, the skiing phase, and the post-ski element. In all three phases, fitness experts stress the need for fine-tuning one’s physical and mental health.

All of the elements of fitness – strength, flexibility, agility, balance and cardiovascular fitness – must also be paired with proper hydration, safe equipment and all-around responsible skiing.

The possibility of injury increases considerably when a skier or snowboarder heads out to the mountain without any preseason sweat-worthy motion. Legs, and more specifically knees and backs, are not prepared for the wear and tear of a day on the mountain when they have not worked except to rise from the couch to the refrigerator. The same holds true for athletes in the prime of the season – no matter how many days one has on the mountain.

“Continuous training and fitness definitely reduces the risk of injury throughout the season,” said High Sierra Fitness Center owner Mike Davis.

While a greater fitness level is achieved through repetitive days spent on the mountain and the legs stop burning after a few weeks of runs, there is no substitute for additional fitness.

“Keeping your body as tuned as your equipment is very important in keeping performance levels high,” Truckee physical therapist Ladd Williams noted. “Even with natural ability, you must constantly fine-tune it through strength and conditioning.”

Keeping abdominal muscles strong through weight lifting is essential to balance, cross training on a bike or through walking or jogging will enhance cardiovascular health and stretching or a yoga class will greatly improve flexibility. Trainers for the U.S. Ski Team stress the importance of stretching in the team’s training regimen, spending time every day to stretch and work on flexibility.

In addition to these more traditional conditioning practices, there are also vital fitness issues that do not involve heading to the gym. Proper hydration, keeping blood sugar levels high through smart eating, and wearing sunscreen and protective wear are all key factors to keep in mind before, during and after a day on the mountain. Often snowgoers become dehydrated or weak from not eating a sufficient amount of energy-dense food to sustain them through the day. This in turn causes exhaustion and can easily lead to injury.

Accident reports conclusively prove that most ski-related accidents happen at the end of the day when reaction times are slowed and muscles are tired. Increased muscle mass and “a combination of plyometrics, explosive training and weightwork can help to combat this muscle fatigue,” Davis says.

Local freeskiing legend Daron Rahlves utilizes the facilities at High Sierra Fitness Center both during the off-season and while the snow is falling. Ladd Williams also works with Rahlves at Bear Bones Physical Therapy in Truckee and noted that all of his athlete clients have a greater body awareness as a result of their training, which translates into everything from balance to nutrition.

In addition, recovery time from an injury is often less for athletes with greater muscle composition and strength. For competitive skiers and snowboarders especially, mid-season conditioning off of the mountain can make the difference in placing first or last in a race.

Equipment is another important factor that is often overlooked in the grand scheme of fitness and should be adjusted and monitored throughout the season rather than just before the first run of the year.

Faulty equipment is responsible for 32 percent of ski accidents, according to the Maine Sunday Telegram, and can easily bring a premature end to the ski season. Being aware and proactive of problems is one aspect of fitness that can even be done with a beer or chocolate bar in hand if one so chooses – dietary conditioning aside.

“Simply for general health reasons, it is necessary to condition and keep fitness levels high on a year-round basis,” Davis reminds.

If not for injury prevention and better overall health, year-round conditioning will also enable skiers to ski longer and stronger every time they hit the mountain – and who can complain about that?


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