How to Ski
Hint: the workout starts before you hit the slopes
From the ATP home-base in Seattle it is impossible to ignore the influx of people moving to the Emerald City. Many drawn here by tech jobs, others by the allure of the bountiful adventures offered in the Pacific Northwest. With so many people beginning activities that are new to them, we often face questions at our physical therapy clinics along the lines of “how do I get started doing ‘X’?”
Beginning a new sport, be it hiking, biking, running, climbing, or skiing, places new stresses on the body and it’s important to remember that our joints, muscles, and soft tissues need preparation and a gradual introduction to adapt to the new demands. Strategically training your cardiovascular, neurologic, and musculoskeletal systems to rise to the challenge will not only make your experience more enjoyable when you get into the great outdoors, but it will also help to reduce your risk of injuries.
When it comes to skiing, we’re here to help guide you in an effective approach to improve your mobility, strength, and response-time so that you are tuned up and as bomb-proof as you can be before clicking your boots into those binding and starting to slide on snow. Ideally you will want to give yourself at least 6-8 weeks of lead-time to allow adequate tissue adaptations in your muscles, tendons, and joints, but even 1-2 weeks can be enough to start to notice improvements.
Step 1: Start with mobility and movement quality
Before you slide your foot into the boot and assume the “ski-ready” position, you must make sure that your joints and muscles have the range of motion available to achieve these positions. Key regions of mobility for skiing include proper ankle mobility, hip mobility, and trunk mobility. In the ankle, specifically being able to dorsiflex or bend the ankle will help you to get into the boot and properly distribute weight towards the ball of your foot. In the hip, having enough hip flexion mobility will help you achieve the athletic stance with a slight hip hinge without compromising your back and being able to side-bend your trunk will help your legs and upper body be able to work independently as you progress your skiing.
Check out these entries for more information about hip mobility and ankle mobility.
Once you’ve ensured that you have the proper movement available, it’s time to train your body to use this motion properly. The basic stance for skiing is a shallow squat position with feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. The trunk should be leaning forward slightly with a flat back. Performing squats with good form repeatedly can help to create good motor planning or “muscle memory” so that your body knows the go-to position when you start sliding on snow.
Step 2: Build foundational strength and balance.
It is important to build up a base of strength and endurance before jumping into your first ski day. Key muscle groups that help provide power for skiing are the quadriceps (thigh muscles), gluteal (buttocks), and core. Other supporting muscle groups that help with control and injury reduction are lateral hip muscles, hamstrings, and foot and ankle stabilizers. Unlike many activities that you can ease into gradually, skiing is more committing – having driven to a resort, acquired all the gear, and purchased a lift ticket – we tend to start out jumping in day one doing multiple hours of skiing. This makes it even more important to do exercises beforehand to prepare your muscle. It also makes the day more fun when you are not fighting fatigue!
In addition to building strength, you will benefit from working on balance in order to train your systems to respond quickly to the dynamic movements and weight-shifts associated with skiing. Exercises such as standing on one leg while performing different challenge-tasks can help speed up your body’s responses.
We have designed a 6-week on-ramping program with three progressive phases to target these muscle groups specifically. Check it out here.
Step 3: Progress your strength and add plyometric activities
Once you have built up a good base for 2-3 weeks, you may be ready to progress to higher-level activities. Building longer-holds for endurance, moving from 2-legged activities to one-legged activities (while maintaining good control and alignment of course!), and adding jumping activities will move your motor systems towards being ready for the specific types of challenges that skiing presents.
Now get ready to head for the hill!
Follow these steps to prepare your body to charge the slopes (or at least to slide your way through your first day with more ease!). Avoid pesky knee injuries like ACL tears and meniscus tears.
Equip yourself with proper outdoor clothing and attain rental gear from your local shop or at the ski hill. Remember to use gear that is appropriate for you and have your binding’s DIN settings adjusted by a professional to make sure that they are set to release properly for your body size and skiing ability/style.
We highly recommend taking a series of beginner lessons from professional instructors if you are getting started as an adult. These are available through most resorts. While heading out with willing friends, family members or significant others may seem like a fun and economical way to get started, we’ve found the fun to tears ratio to lean in a much better direction when receiving instruction from someone who has training in how to teach as well as knowing the skills of skiing! Get fit, then get learning to enjoy the beauty and magic of skiing.
Kristen is a co-founder of the Alpine Training Project as well as an avid backcountry and freeride skier. She grew up slashing pow in Whitefish, Montana and now enjoys finding new lines at Crystal Mountain in Washington or exploring volcanoes and peaks of the Cascades. Kristen is a physical therapist at Union PT in Seattle and loves the process of helping people work through injuries in order to get back out there, doing what brings them alive. She also coaches womens freeride clinics in the Pacific Northwest and appreciates the work and joy that come with progressing in a sport.