Get in shape for ski season |

Get in shape for ski season

Ski season is a large part of why we live here. Make sure that you have a safe and healthy season this year.

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By Katie Coakley
Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente

Though the outside temperatures may belie the fact, ski season is fast approaching. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is open, and the nearby resorts will open soon. If you haven’t already, it’s time to evaluate your gear, purchase any replacements or new items that you need and get ready for snow.

But wait — there’s more to preparing for ski season than just the gear and getting on the slopes. There’s your physical preparation to consider, too.

“Preventing injuries is paramount to having a great ski season,” said Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, family medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente Frisco medical offices. “Skiing and snowboarding require significant amount of endurance. Getting in shape prior to ski season … will help prepare you for a healthy ski season.”

The most common injuries and why they occur

Unfortunately, injuries can occur while skiing and snowboarding. Buying a lift ticket means that you accept the inherent dangers in skiing and riding. However, a day on the slopes does not have to come with a visit to a clinic or hospital.

“Skiers frequently are injured when skiing beyond their ability and on conditions they are unfamiliar with such as deep powder or icy conditions,” Dietzgen said.

Timing can be a factor, too — many injuries occur at the end of the day, after muscles are tired and fatigue has set in. Shoulder injuries like dislocations and sprains can occur when you put out your arm to break a fall; if you fall with a ski pole in your hand, skier’s thumb can occur.

Dietzgen also said that some of the newer ski designs, like the “fat skis” that help skiers stay above soft snow and deeper powder, can often cause knee problems for skiers because they require more twisting force and require more muscle effort. As a result, knee injuries are common, both sprains and ACL tears.

How to get in shape

Improve your endurance and you’ll lessen the chances of injuries on the slopes from fatigue. Hiking, biking, using the elliptical, swimming and running will help you build up your cardio endurance, but building muscle is also important. Think about the muscles that you use: leg strength, as well as core strength, are both important. Build leg strength and develop core strength with lunges, squats, wall sits, lateral lunges and jumping.

“Muscle balance between your quadriceps and hamstrings is vital,” Dietzgen said. “Work on a balanced approach.”

Flexibility is also a key component in injury prevention.

“Muscles act as shock absorbers as we ski downhill, over uneven terrain and through moguls,” Dietzgen said. “Stretching before and after skiing will help you avoid strains and soreness. Yoga can also be valuable in helping maintain good form on the mountain.”

Tips for staying safe this ski season from Dr. Dietzgen:

  • If you are out of shape, select runs carefully and gradually build your way up to more difficult runs. Match your runs to your ability level.
  • Warm up and stay well hydrated. Drink water before, during and after skiing. Even mild levels of dehydration can affect endurance and physical ability.
  • Cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up before you take a run.
  • Even experienced skiers should take it easy for the first few runs of the year.
  • Avoid alcohol and marijuana. Both can slow your body’s reactions and response time, which is not something you want to deal with when traveling at high speeds on slopes. Plus, you pose a risk to others.
  • Statistics show that helmets can help prevent significant head injuries. Wear a sport-specific helmet for skiing and snowboarding and be sure it is a high visibility helmet. But don’t just rely on a helmet to protect you. Practice restraint and common sense to help reduce injury. Skiers and boarders often reach speeds of 30 mph on steep slopes, and hitting a tree at that speed can easily exceed the ability of the helmet to protect you.

Ski season is a large part of why we live here. Make sure that you have a safe and healthy season this year.

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