Vail health column: How does a mature skier prepare for a great season on the slopes? (video)
Vail and Beaver Creek are great retirement destinations for many alpine enthusiasts. Not only do these mountains provide a vast diversity of terrain, but the communities also support many active interests for this vital demographic.
I have had several mature athletes ask me about the best cross-training preparation for skiing as they get older. I think it is important to look at the demands of alpine skiing, as well as the typical physical reductions we experience as we age.
Strong skiing is a series of dynamic, anaerobic efforts supported by our aerobic engine. These efforts require a lot of strength in the pelvic girdle and core and are performed at various speeds. Good skiers have tremendous balance and also possess good visual skills for reading terrain.
The scope of this article will be limited to three primary areas that degrade as we age and that negatively impact our skiing. These areas can be trained, however, to help your performance on the slopes and reduce the incidence of injury.
• Mobility — As we age, our range of motion tends to decrease unless we do specific work. This can even be seen in the simple walking pattern of older individuals. If we train older athletes through full range of motion with light weights or body weight, then it allows them to sink into their turns better. The increased range of motion helps the skier drop his or her center of gravity, thus becoming more stable and safer on challenging terrain. Increased mobility helps skiers drive from one ski to the other more effectively.
Range of motion work should focus on hip, ankle and thoracic spine mobility. This can be done with the help of a qualified athletic trainer, specific yoga classes and some Pilates.
• Balance — This is the area of decline most older athletes recognize. They notice that they just don’t have the balance they felt when they were younger. Some of this is due to a decrease in core strength and stabilizer muscles. But other contributing issues are postural, a decrease in sensory perception and a decline in internal spatial orientation. These can all be trained with specific, focused gym work.
Older athletes looking to increase their balance should do a lot of body-weight work standing on a single leg. It is also good to focus on postural drills and working in multiple planes of motion.
• Strength — Muscular strength declines at a faster rate than our cardiovascular fitness as we age, especially in the type II fibers that are necessary for dynamic turns and being able to control the compression forces required in alpine skiing. Data show that without targeted strength training, the all-important proximal muscles in the pelvic and shoulder girdles degrade substantially. Training these muscles is imperative to skiing well but also to help prevent injury.
A good strength program should progress over several weeks as we get closer to ski season. This program should focus especially on gluteal strength and core stability.
“My skiing has felt stronger and more athletic since I started doing specific drills to strengthen my gluteals and core,” said Vail local Axel Wilhelmsen, 68. “I feel better on multiple runs and have less pain in my knees.”
Oftentimes, older athletes prepare for the ski season with other outdoor pursuits such as hiking and cycling. These are wonderful for keeping the aerobic engine fit, but it is smart to also supplement these activities with a good program of mobility, balance and strength.
Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist and owner of Dogma Athletica. For more information, visit http://www.dogmaathletica.com.