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Getting ready for powder days; Proper early training can head off painful injuries

LARA MULLIN, Sierra Sun

About 20,000 skiers will tear their anterior cruciate ligaments, or ACL, this year, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

These and other common ski and snowboard injuries are preventable. A small amount of pre-season preparation and conditioning can make an immense impact in the long run.

“Regardless of your ability level, don’t make the mistake of assuming you can ski or board yourself into shape,” says Dave Merriam, head coach of the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Ski Instructors demonstration teams. “These are demanding activities, and if you haven’t conditioned your body accordingly, you tire quicker, become sore more easily, and also stand a greater chance of getting injured.”

Northstar-at-Tahoe Marketing Administrator Maggie Adams echoes the need for conditioning prior to opening day. Employees at Northstar have been preparing for the season with traditional orientation and mountain awareness courses.

“We have physical conditioning and strength and flexibility training for everyone from the ski patrol to the housekeeping services department,” added Adams.

Housekeeping employees, Adams explains, train to strengthen abdominal and back muscles to prevent injury.

“Now is the perfect time to get yourself into skiing shape, incorporating aerobic exercise with strength and flexibility training,” said Merriam.

Many skiers and snowboarders overlook the need for conditioning, and instead pledge to ski easier the first few days in an effort to gradually attain fitness. Early ski conditions, however, are often uneven and outright dangerous, involving quick changes of form and position. This is where early fitness is key, according to the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

While everyone wants to start out the season skiing in the fashion in which they ended last year’s season, this is an impossible task, said Merriam. It is clear from the first hour that the legs just don’t respond as quickly and the air seems to have diminished. For tourists from sea level, the thin air of the Sierra Nevada heightens breathing difficulties even more.

While sore muscles and quick fatigue are inevitable to some extent – even amongst world-class athletes with vigorous off-snow training routines – a few dry land training programs can make an immense impact.

“There is no 100 percent guarantee against injury but there are steps people can take to significantly decrease the risk of injury while skiing,” said Dr. Wayne Gersoff, an orthopedic surgeon at Columbia Rose Medical Center in Denver.

Skiing and snowboarding affects knees, wrists, thumbs, elbows, shoulders, hamstrings and ankles. Each of these areas can be stretched and strengthened with the right combination of ski training.

Programs such as the North American Ski Training Center in Truckee offer multiple week-long total immersion courses designed to prepare even the most out-of-shape skier for the demands of an early powder day.

For those not prepared to spend hundreds of dollars for expert training, Merriam says “a balance of sprint interval running or mountain biking, and free weight training will provide a solid base for the slopes.”

“Even if you haven’t been conscientious about training throughout the off-season, you should focus on a regime during these fleeting days before the snow flies,” notes Linda Crockett, also of Professional Ski Instructors of America.

With early snow this year, nearly every mountain is open for visitors in the basin area, yet it is not too late to prepare for the heavy snow to come. Exercises as simple as daily stretching, stair climbers, aerobics and swimming for 20 to 30 minutes a day will significantly reduce the early season aches and pains, according to Gersoff.

“A training program should at least include cardiovascular exercise with abdominal, stretching and flexibility exercises three days a week,” Gersoff says.

Increased flexibility equates to more balance on the slopes, something everyone can use whether boarding, skiing, telemarking, or snowshoeing.

If injury prevention and reduced medical costs are not enough motivation to start preparing for the ski season early, perhaps showing up your sedentary friends will spark some action in the last few weeks before the season heats up.

At the very least, a few weeks of conditioning can ward off those extra holiday pounds.


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