While skiing is the best physical conditioning for skiing, instructors and physical therapists who train skiers and/or repair their injuries say it’s best to lay the groundwork before the snow flies.
"The sooner you start getting in shape, the better," said Stephanie Roberts of Peak Physical Therapy. "Who knows when the first snow will be here."
The advice holds for skilled skiers and duffers as well as children who participate in daredevil competition.
At the extreme end of the conditioning spectrum are the students – ages 8 to 18 – of Kirk Rawles, head coach of the Durango Free Style Team. The youngsters train at the Stillwater Foundation gym at the Tech Center where they bounce on a trampoline, climb ropes, perform back flips and do dips on the parallel bars. The regimen stands them in good stead in competitive meets, in which they perform aerial as well as terrain maneuvers.
Josh Dalley, coach of the Durango Nordic Ski Club, which develops competitive skiers, already is two weeks into conditioning his athletes. They run the slope at Chapman Hill or find a less-traveled road such as East Animas Road (County Road 250) to roller ski, which involves a short ski with a small wheel on either tip on which students propel themselves with ski poles.
In the off-season, running, mountain biking or road biking is the best exercise because it builds cardiovascular endurance and strengthens muscles, Dalley said. But once it snows, get out in the snow, he said.
Dalley also uses interval training – bursts of energy alternating with rest. Or the ladder variation – exercise for 3, 4 or 5-minute spurts, then step down at the same intervals, 5, 4 and 3.
But even for recreational skiers, who aren’t trying to go others one better, physical conditioning before the season starts can prevent aches and pains later.
"Diversity is the best way to train for and remain in shape for skiing," Phil Rambo at Integrated Physical Therapy said. "Cardiovascular training – running or cycling – is good going into the season, because starting cold is not good."
Rambo favors standing exercises.
"We do all our work standing – the weight-bearing position – because that’s how you ski," Rambo said. "Interval training is OK for competitive skiers, but most other skiers need to concentrate on balance and control of muscles and joints."
Rambo suggests single-leg squats, alternating legs because it helps strengthen weaker areas. Otherwise, the strong side becomes stronger and the weak side weaker.
"The dominant leg tends to take over, to compensate for the weaker side," Rambo said. "We want the legs to share the load and not let the dominant one cover up for the weaker one."
Another good exercise is to stand on one foot and reach in different directions to build balance and control, Rambo said. He also suggested imagining oneself on the slope.
"Get into the ski position, hold it and envision going downhill," Rambo said. "Keep the feet shoulder width apart with knees and hips flexed and the trunk tall. Shift your weight back and forth and hold the position for 30 seconds – or two or three minutes if possible."
Rambo also suggested warming up and cooling off by walking before and after skiing. Don’t get on skis right away and simply jump in a vehicle to return home.
Roberts said overall conditioning is important.
"Work on your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, abs and the muscles along the spine," Roberts said. "You have to build strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, coordination and stability."
An overall good exercise, Roberts said, is the bridge. This starts from the supine position with knees doubled and touching the floor or elevated on an exercise ball.
"Lift the buns," Roberts said. "This benefits the glutes, hamstrings, quads and back."
In any exercise, use a measured pace, which means slow repetitions, Roberts said. She recommends counting to two on the initial movement, hold for two counts, then return to the starting position through four counts.
Roberts also has students stand on one leg when doing bicep curls, with advanced students holding dumbbells. Tossing a ball with a partner also can be done on one leg, she said.
Smart skiers take it easy at the end of the day when they’re tired or slope conditions have deteriorated, Roberts said. Statistics show that most injuries occur near the end of an outing.