4 Reasons You're at Risk for a Ski Injury & What to do About It

10th December 2013 | Danielle Shapiro

Ski conditioning class

Stephanie Levinson gets skiers ready for the season.

Copyright: Sports Club/LA - Upper East Side (NYC)

Have you ever seen that commercial for DIRECTV where the main character grows fed up waiting on hold for his cable TV provider’s customer service and, after a series of events, ends up with an eye patch in a muddy ditch on the side of the road? The announcer, in a stern voice, warns: “Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch. Get rid of cable and upgrade to DIRECTV.”

If that commercial was about the consequences of taking a ski or snowboard trip without doing any preseason training, it might feature a character who plans a trip, neglects his workout before leaving, crashes from fatigue during his vacation, ends up in a cast or brace, then watches from the lodge as his friends rip the fresh pow without him. “Don’t watch your friends rip the fresh pow without you,” the announcer might say. “Hit the gym and train for you trip.”

It’s simple advice really and a recommendation you won’t regret following.

1. OFFICE CHAIR TO LIFT CHAIR

“The hardest thing on the body is to do absolutely nothing for nine months and then ski all day for three days in a row,” says Dr. Rob Brophy, associate professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and a team physician for the St. Louis Rams. “And then you wonder why you get tired, you’re sore, you may increase your risk of having an ACL injury because you are fatigued and your muscles aren’t keeping your balance as well as you’d like,” he adds.

This isn’t to say that you can’t get away with jumping from your desk in the city to your skis at 10,000 feet once or twice a year without getting hurt. You could get lucky. But doctors, trainers and other experts agree you’ll have more fun, ski or ride better, and reduce your injury risk if you train before you go.

The basic idea is that the shift in force on the body from relative inactivity to skiing or snowboarding is an intense one. For the average recreational downhiller, the weaker your body is, the less control you have, making you more injury prone.

According to a review of ski patrol reports from 15 resorts during the 2010–2011 season, there were about six snowboarding and two-and-a-half skiing injuries for every 1,000 visits, says Jasper Shealy, professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, who analyzed the data. The most common injuries for skiers are lower-extremity and knee-related like that torn ACL. Snowboarders suffer upper-extremity and wrist injuries most.

Donkey kick.

Copyright: Danielle Shapiro

2. NOT ENOUGH TRAIN TIME

Dr. Brophy of Washington University outlined two broad principles for preseason training: leave yourself enough time for a gradual increase in activity—most experts recommend training for at least six weeks in advance of your trip—and tailor your preparation to be sport specific.

Tiffany Boucher, a nationally-certified personal trainer based in New York City, (and my own fitness guru), said the main objective of a ski fitness program, “has to do with strengthening the muscles that support the joints that will be taking the stress from skiing. So the knee and the pelvis and hip area.”

That means building strength in the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip abductors and adductors, and gluteal muscles. Boucher suggested exercises including leg lifts, bridges on the ground, removing one leg at a time as your strength builds, and wall squats, gradually increasing the time you hold the position.

Although perhaps not as obvious a part of ski training, core muscle strength is essential to support the spine and overall body alignment. So, Boucher cautioned, don’t neglect your abdominal workout.

3. FIT ALL-OVER?

Alex Figueroa, a group fitness instructor and personal trainer at Sports Club/LA in Boston, teaches a ski-specific class called Aspen Ascents. The workout includes four segments: strength, power, core and flexibility. Lunges and squats are some of the key movements, often done with discs under the feet used to slide across the floor in different planes and directions thus mimicking skiing and riding movements. Boucher suggested doing side shuffles and other lateral exercises that you can gradually make more dynamic with speed and weight as another way to emulate the on-snow activity.

To include power in his class, Figueroa has students add jumps and turns to some exercises. For core strength, he uses planks, often adding the discs under hands and feet and directing students to slide their extremities out and back in. Finally, Figueroa spends about 15 minutes on flexibility at the end of his class to improve his students’ range of motion.

The beloved side plank.

Copyright: Danielle Shapiro

4. FLEX & FLEXIBILITY

William E. Buckley, a professor of exercise and sport science and health education in the Department of Kinesiology at Penn State University, also stressed the importance of stretching.

“If they do things without stretching, there is a potential for injury because their body part will get pushed to a limit they are not used to and which they haven’t prepared for by doing some kind of flexibility,” he said. “And that’s when injury occurs.”

Buckley urged downhillers to warm up before skiing, perhaps by jogging in place or walking uphill with skis or board in hand, stretching for 15 minutes, and then hitting the hill. For the ever-essential cardiovascular work that must accompany all this training, intervals are effective because they also simulate the rhythm of skiing and riding. Buckley recommended first being able to run at least 30 minutes continuously then getting into intervals to best stimulate change.

The take-home message is a simple one: “Just don’t go out and do it,” Buckley said. “That’s putting you at greatest risk. Anything you do from a training and conditioning perspective, even if it’s a week, is better than not at all.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 11 EXERCISES THAT WILL WHIP YOU INTO SHIP SKI SHAPE

Follow the link to the photo gallery for exercises that would be an excellent part of a ski and snowboard fitness program. Each movement should be done in two to three sets of 15 repetitions. Some can be made more dynamic by adding speed or hand or ankle weights. The exercises are performed by Tiffany Boucher, a nationally-certified personal trainer, photographed along the Hudson river in New York City. 

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