Many alpine skiers and snowboarders have experienced it on the morning after their first winter day on the mountain — that searing pain in muscles that for months had gone unused.
Some snowriders figure they can simply ride their way into shape after a few days on the slopes. But conditioning in the weeks and days leading up to those first turns of the season can produce benefits all winter long.
“If somebody has a season pass, they think they might have all season to get in shape,” says Peter Schrey, physical therapist and strength coach at Focus Physical Therapy in Bend. “But they can be at risk those first couple days because they’re not ready to go and they get tired. If somebody’s paying a pretty penny in their budget for a four-pack (four-day pass), you don’t want one of those days … to be your conditioning day. Do that ahead of time so when you go to the mountain the first time you feel like you really have the strength to get the most out of the money for it.”
This fall, Schrey is leading a class for ski and snowboard conditioning at Recharge Sports in Bend. The class meets weekly for exercises that will prepare attendees for months of fun on the slopes. Most of the movements can be performed at home.
Mt. Bachelor ski area is tentatively scheduled to open on Nov. 24, and Hoodoo Ski Area typically opens in early December, so snowriders still have a few weeks to prepare their bodies for what could be another winter of numerous powder days in the Cascades.
Strength, balance and endurance are the key elements of preseason ski training, according to both Schrey and the Professional Ski Instructors of America.
Robin Barnes, a PSIA alpine team member, says skiers and riders should choose conditioning activities that match their goals.
“If your goal is skiing mogul runs top to bottom, you’ll have to do more than stroll through the neighborhood,” Barnes was quoted in a PSIA press release. “If your goal is to get comfortable on green runs, you don’t need to squat 200 pounds in the gym.”
Schrey starts his class with a dynamic warmup, which is a method of stretching without static holds. Participants stretch into a motion and then stretch out of the motion.
After stretching, Schrey gets into core and balance work, which is an area that many snowriders skip in their training, he says. Instead of starting with core and balance, they go straight into strength training and plyometrics (hopping and jumping exercises).
“A lot of our work is based on making sure that you can balance and that all your important core muscles are active and ready to go,” Schrey explains. “We go through strengthening up the entire core, doing a lot of single-leg stuff in all different planes of motion. A lot of times people only train in this forward plane of motion, and they don’t get enough side-to-side and twisting motion. Thinking of skiing as a movement that can happen in any direction is an important part of staying safe.”
One exercise Schrey incorporates for core and balance includes standing on one leg while holding a medicine ball overhead, then trying to shift the hips from side to side while balancing.
“That gets the knee ready for those side-to-side (ski) motions, where we have to weight-shift really easily,” Schrey says. “Those can be pretty surprising for people, how much they lose their balance.”
Schrey says the most common injury among skiers is a strain of the medial collateral ligament, located on the inside of the knee, so squats are an important exercise to strengthen quadriceps muscles that support the knees. Among snowboarders, the most common injuries are wrist sprains and fractures, Schrey says, so they are encouraged to perform workouts such as planks, pushups and burpees, which strengthen the hands and wrists.
“Once they have more of the core and balance going, then we progress to loading with weight or plyometrics, the idea of jumps, turns and hops,” he adds. “But you don’t want to do plyometrics every day. Two to three times a week max in these kinds of movements. You want to let your body rest, recover and adapt to this new stress you’re giving it, so you don’t want to overload it.”
Schrey says an example of a plyometric exercise is skier mini-jumps from side to side over an imaginary line. The jumps can be lengthened to increase the challenge and can also be performed in four-square style.
Schrey runs the ski conditioning class in Tabata interval style, meaning about 30 seconds of work followed by 15 seconds of rest — enough time for the class members to catch their breath without their heart rates going back down. This adds a cardiovascular element to the workout.
“And as we build, we’re building endurance,” he says. “So instead of doing 30 seconds of the exercise, we’re going to go to 45 seconds, then 60 seconds.”
Many skiers and snowboarders in Central Oregon are also into sports like cycling and running. So they might already have an aerobic base, but they need to get ready for having their legs in a different position and for using different muscles. In skiing, they are also contracting their muscles for a longer period of time, Schrey explains, because a typical ski run can range from one to four minutes. Pulsed lunges and pulsed squats can help prepare them for that.
“If it’s a powder day, you’re having fun, but your muscles are engaged that whole time,” Schrey says. “As somebody progresses in their ski conditioning, they should be starting to hold these things longer and longer, and pulsing and trying to hold for a minute or more, so that at the end of that run they still have the strength to protect themselves like they would at the beginning.”
For snowriders who have not started already, the time to begin getting fit for another Central Oregon winter is now.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,