Looking for some sweet slalom before the summer kicks up? We hear you. And we want to make the transition from lying on the couch to soaring down the slopes as easy as possible with this guide to everything you need to know before you go skiing.
This guide isn't just for beginners. Sure, you'll find basic lingo and gear, but we've also included a list of the best mobile apps, how to train for a smoother run, and tips for avoiding injury. Whether you're looking to shred some powder or getting on the slopes for the first time, here's our Know Before You Go guide to skiing.
Before Hitting the Slopes
Hitting the gym can help build endurance and prevent common ski injuries when it comes time to hit the slopes. But while the traditional approach to ski training is: training harder = training better, there’s a lot to be said for the benefit of low-impact aerobic training.
For skiers, low-impact aerobic training is definitely the way to go. Shredding at the gym by doing high-impact cardio for an hour will fatigue muscles, make recovery harder, and doesn’t prep for the long-term endurance required during a day of skiing.
Shorter, less intense runs, elliptical workouts, and exercises like yoga and pilates are great, low impact aerobic activities that still help build leg strength for any sport The time-frame of acute resistance exercise effects on football skill performance: The impact of exercise intensity. Draganidis, D., Chatzinikolaou, A., Jamurtas, A.Z., et al. Democritus University of Thrace, Department of Physical Education & Sport Science, University Campus, Komotini. Journal of Sports Science. 2013 Jan 9. [Epub ahead of print]. Training like this helps build muscle mass and endurance in the legs while keeping the knees healthy, which is a definite plus considering that knee injuries account for about ⅓ of all skiing injuries. Low impact exercise also increases circulation in the legs and helps skiers recover quicker from workouts so there’s more training and less recovery time. More training = stronger, better performance.
Going on three to four low impact long runs a week, combined with two to three higher impact resistance and strength training days, is a great way to combine low impact, supportive endurance training with higher-impact aerobic exercise ((Muscle activity during knee-extension strengthening exercise performed with elastic tubing and isotonic resistance. Jakobsen, M.D., Sundstrup, E., Andersen, C.H., et al. National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark. International Journal of Sports and Physical Therapy. 2012 Dec;7(6):606-16..
Gear and Tech
Gear includes (of course) the usual suspects that any skier will need: hats, gloves, and jackets. But there are other necessary (and sometimes not so necessary but totally fun) additions to a day on the slopes, including:
- Eco-friendly poles for better steering and a better environment.
- Hand and foot warmers to bid frostbite good-bye.
- Ski sunglasses to protect eyes from UV rays, snow, ice, and wind.
- Long underwear to layer under snow pants.
Three Must-Download Mobile Apps
Looking for something a little more digital? These three apps can help skiers of any level get down the mountain in style.
- SkiPursuit is a ski-tracking app that records essential run stats like duration, speed, ascent, and descent. It is even equipped with GPS imaging to view runs on a real map. Cost: Free. Available iOS and Android.
- SkiPhone lets users keep their gloves on while using their phones on the slopes. Simply shake the phone to activate voice controls that operate the phone. Cost: Free. Available for Android.
- ActionShot transforms movement into a super-sweet action shot. Perfect for jumps and speedy descents. Cost: Free. Available for iOS.
Yoga for Skiers
Since "low-impact training" is the name of the game when prepping for ski season, yoga is a great way to train without a ton of weight-bearing, repetitive motion on the knees. Yoga helps strengthen the muscles of the leg and increase overall flexibility, which is a major part of preventing injuries from happening. Incorporating just a few knee-strengthening yoga poses into resistance training will help hip-knee-ankle alignment, build core stability, and loosen up tight hamstrings and hip flexors (another main contributor to knee injuries).
Hip-opening poses like Pigeon or Goddess can also help knee health by strengthening and stretching the hamstrings. Hammys will often volunteer for the job of moving the leg if hip flexors are too tight, even though this is usually the job of the glutes Strengthening and neuromuscular reeducation of the gluteus maximus in a triathlete with exercise-associated cramping of the hamstrings. Wagner, T., Behnia, N., Ancheta, W.K., et al. Kaiser Permanente Southern California Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Residency Program. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010 Feb;40(2):112-9. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2010.3110. The relationship between hamstring length and gluteal muscle strength in individuals with sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Massoud Arab, A., Nourbakhsh, M.R., and Mohammadifar, A. J Man Manip Ther. 2011 February; 19(1): 5–10.. If glutes are weak, the hamstrings take over and stop supporting the knee in movement. Strong glutes, combined with flexibility and strength in the hamstrings, will help keep the knee properly aligned and able to move without tension or pain.
Common Injuries Explained
A Little Biology
File it under #fairlyclassicskierproblems, but ACL and knee injuries are infamous among skiers for a reason Factors associated with injuries occurred on slope intersections and in snow parks compared to on-slope injuries. Ruedl, G., Kopp, M., Sommersacher, R. et al. Department of Sport Science, University of Innsbruck, Austria. Accid Anal Prev. 2013 Jan;50:1221-5. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.09.019. Epub 2012 Oct 5.. The knee joint is like a hinge: It has one main way of bending, and although the kneecap and surrounding ligaments can take a little side-to-side movement, the nature of skiing can tweak the knee into bending the way it’s not supposed to while supporting the body and bracing the impact of landing a jump Three-dimensional Knee Joint Loading in Alpine Skiing: A comparison Between a Carved and a Skidded Turn. Klous, M., Muller, E., Schwameder, H. Department of Health and Human Performance, College of Charleston, South Carolina. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2012 May 10. [Epub ahead of print]. This action is what can cause tears and other painful injuries.
The best way to prevent a ligament tear is to strengthen the muscles around the joint in question. For skiers, this means it's important to strengthen the quads and calves in addition to building flexibility in the hamstrings.
Women and Knee Injuries
- Wider hips: While great on the dance floor, wider hips mean a less straight-and-narrow path to the ankles. The narrower the angle from hip to ankle means less strain and wayward movement of the knee joint.
- Guys have thunder thighs (and thicker ACLs): Okay — thunder thighs of muscle. Men typically have proportionately more muscle mass in the quads and calves, which simply means more stabilization of the knee joint and strength for keeping it aligned. And because men's ACLs are genetically thicker than ladies’, the less likely they are to tear completely.
- Intercondylar notch: This fancy term refers to the place where the ACL attaches to the bone (after going through and over it). In men, this little opening is a bit wider and rounded. In women, the intercondylar notch is slightly narrower and sharper. It’s much more likely for the sharper jab of bone to slice completely through ladies’ thinner ACLs, instead of only partially tearing the ligament.
Preventing Injuries Before They Happen
It's impossible to stop every possible injury ahead of time, but there are some simple ways to make sure your time out on the slopes is as safe as can be.
- Training: Increasing strength in the leg muscles is a great way to stabilize the knee joint, especially for skiers who are pretty flexible in the hamstrings and knees.
- Falling the right way: While on the slopes, falling “the right way” can help prevent skiers from sustaining injuries while getting up. When skiers are on the ground, feet bound, with hips and knees bent, the knee becomes the fulcrum of a forceful push back to standing. It's important to wait until the movement has stopped and the whole body can help itself up before you return to vertical.
- Find your bindings: Bindings that release the foot when skiers “catch the inside edge” keep knees safe from the torqued movement that can cause tears. Most bindings don’t release this way, but investing in a pair that does could reduce the risk of injury by up to 75 percent.
Learning the Basic Lingo
Looking to talk the talk on the slopes? ABC of Skiing has a great ski glossary of ski terminology, but here are some essential terms to keep in your back pocket:
- Green Circle: The easiest slopes (aside from the Bunny Hills).
- Blue Square: Average to Intermediate difficulty level.
- Black Diamond: Generally the most advanced slopes (some mountains will have double-black diamonds or other demarkations).
- Powder: Fresh, new, fluffy snow.
- Pressed Powder: Powder that has been groomed and compressed to make it an easier surface to ski.
- Freshies: Unpacked powder snow.
- Gaper: The tourists and lame-os of the slopes. This is not a term of endearment.
- Catching the Inside Edge: This is what happens when the force of snow is pushing on both the tip and tail of the ski (think of it like hitting a pothole on a bicycle). The extra outside force intercepts the momentum forward, making it easy to fall or get a good ol' knee injury (ouch!).