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Schriever Sentinel

Ski, snowboard fitness key to injury-free days on slopes

Before Team Schriever members hit the slopes like these 2010 SnoFest participants, the Schriever HAWC and 50th Space Wing safety officials suggest they perform warm-up and stretching exercises (Courtesy photo)

By Scott Prater

Schriever Sentinel

With snow now falling in the high country, ski and snowboard season will soon be upon us. A few mountains have already opened with limited trail access and most Colorado resorts plan to fire up their lifts by mid December.

Military members receive discounts at most resorts around the state and even benefit from reduced-priced season passes and weekend getaways.

The fun and excitement of shredding down a mountain drew more than 6.8 million skiers and snowboarders to resorts around the state last year, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.

Many forget, however, that skiing and snowboarding are strenuous activities, and unlike a workout, people tend to stretch the activity into all-day affairs.

“Hopefully, skiers and snowboarders have already prepared themselves for this ski season,” said Chris Woodruff, Health Educator at Schriever’s Health and Wellness Center. “I think it’s a myth that someone only needs about a month of prep time to get ready for the season, but a lot of people think that way. And some don’t even take that much time.”

For someone to be in their optimum shape for ski season, Woodruff recommends they prepare three months in advance of their first trip to the mountains.

“You really need to give yourself a base period where your body adapts to added stresses,” he said.

That said, those who plan to ski or snowboard as early as December may not be able to get themselves in optimum shape prior to their first trip, but they can build strength and balance and improve their cardiovascular fitness, which should lead to a better experience on the hill.

“Cardio is big because most people will be on the mountain all day,” he said. “Running provides the best cardio training, but you’ll want to alternate days with elliptical training or cycling. On those days where you’re getting low impact exercise, your joints still get the rest even though you’re still getting the cardio benefit.”

Balance is also important in skiing and snowboarding. Both sports demand that riders maintain proper balance simply to stay upright.

“You’ll want to engage your core, which is where your balance comes from,” Woodruff said. “Find an aerobic ball and do crunches or back extensions off that. Mostly, you want to create an unstable environment. You can do squats on fit discs or a Bosu Ball. That will help you find your center of gravity as you go through the squat motion.”

Improving their sport-specific fitness will help skiers and boarders enjoy their experience more, but the best motivation for getting ski fit is to avoid injury.

Tech. Sgt. Sarah Law, 50th Space Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of ground safety, Woodruff and orthopedic surgeons with Vail’s Steadman Clinic agree on one key aspect of downhill sports: national statistics show that injuries occur more often during the afternoon — as skiers fatigue and lose focus.

Snowboarders tend to incur more injuries to wrists, arms and upper extremities, while skiers tend to sustain more injuries to knees and legs.

“If you’re conditioned, you’re less likely to suffer injuries,” Law said. “And make sure you warm up and stretch as part of your skiing ritual.”

Woodruff recommends warming up upon waking, starting with jumping jacks and lunges. Once on the mountain, he says it’s a great idea to strap on your boots and walk up a hill.

“You want to warm up and heat your muscles up before you give them a good stretch,” he said. “And it’s important to stretch because you’ll have a better range of motion, which is important when you need to brace yourself if you fall. You don’t want to end up tearing a shoulder muscle or a rotator cuff during a fall.”

Law put snow sports into perspective, saying skiers should consider the experience much like many other physically demanding sports.

“Skiing is a physical activity just like running,” she said. “You wouldn’t run a marathon without preparation, right? The bottom line from a safety point of view is that being physically prepared and trained, as well as aware of your surroundings, will make the skiing experience safer.”

For more information on developing a ski or snowboard fitness plan, visit the Schriever HAWC or call 567-4292.

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