Pre-season conditioning is essential to an injury-free winter

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Skiing and snowboarding involves muscles and body movements that aren’t always worked during summer months. Without the proper conditioning exercises before the season, skiers and snowboarders can leave themselves more vulnerable to early-season injuries.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

We asked Dr. Erik Dorf, an orthopedic surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and a team physician for the U.S. Ski Team, about all the things skiers and snowboarders should be doing now in preparation for winter

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Vail-Summit Orthopaedics

Summit Daily News: What happens to our bodies in between ski seasons if we don’t do the right exercises?
Dr. Erik Dorf: As anybody knows, the best way to get into shape for skiing or snowboarding is to ski or snowboard. The feelings of fatigue in the back, legs and core after a long day in the season are a yearly reminder that our summer activities do not prepare us for the demands of skiing or snowboarding. Unless you are doing a dedicated ski or snowboard conditioning class, the muscles in your glutes, low back, deep core and lateral quads will weaken relative to the muscles you are using for biking, hiking or running.

SDN: What kinds of exercises should people be doing now in advance of the ski season?
Dr. Dorf: Because much of what we do during the summer is straight ahead, with an emphasis on endurance and putting one foot (or pedal) in front of the other for hours at a time, we need to diversify our movement patterns. So in addition to doing specific core work (look on You Tube to see Lindsey Vonn’s core workouts), agility work — including side to side exercises, short sprints, trail running, or a ski conditioning class at one of our local gyms — is critical. We should also be thinking about specific stretching exercises to address tightness in areas like the hip flexors, low back and glutes.

SDN: Why is it important to physically prepare the body for ski season and not just head right out for the slopes?
Dr. Dorf: There are really three reasons to put some time in now in preparation for the ski season. First and foremost is injury prevention. There is nothing worse than getting really excited for a big season, and then having an early season injury change your plans. The only way to guarantee a big snow year is to have an early season injury that keeps you from enjoying your winter. Secondly, all the time you put into your ski fitness now will make your enjoyment of the early season so much better. The (early-season) slopes are frequently crowded and the conditions suboptimal, so the more on the ball you can be the better. The third important reason to prepare for the upcoming season is so that you can maximize your improvement over the winter. If you spend half the season fighting for your fitness, that only allows you another half a season to take advantage of this fitness to make significant strides in your technique. I have been skiing for 47 years now, and I am continually trying to get better, or at least, not get much worse!

SDN: What are some of the most common early-season ski injuries? How can they be prevented?
Dr. Dorf: I can’t tell you how many people end their ski season in November or December after injuring the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) of their knee. ACL injuries typically occur after an athlete gets into a position where their body weight is behind their feet. The core is at a serious disadvantage in this position and the athlete then struggles to keep the feet under the center of mass. The weight of the body rotates around the lower body, resulting in a twisting force across one of the knees. The all too familiar pop that is experienced in the knee at this time is almost always the result of a complete tear of the ACL. This season ending injury is another guarantee for a great snow year.

SDN: What kinds of exercises should people continue doing well into the ski season in order to prevent common injuries?
Dr. Dorf: Stretching is probably the most important thing to do throughout the season. Again, low back, hamstring and quad mobilization can help you to enjoy a long and healthy ski season. A short core session 2-3 times per week can also be really helpful to keep the core engaged throughout its full range.

SDN: What kinds of mistakes do people make when prepping for ski season? What advice do you have for them?
Dr. Dorf: We all obviously try to hang on to summer for as long as possible. As the days get shorter however, you have to start to diversify your workout routine. The most common mistake I see is that people just completely blow off their pre-season conditioning because they are trying to hang on to summer until the very last minute. Start to diversify your routine now, and you will have a full 6 to 8 weeks of improving fitness as we move into the next season. Remember, at this point in the year there are only marginal gains that can be made from continuing with your bike or running routine.

SDN: What does your pre-season ski conditioning routine entail?
Dr. Dorf: I joke with people that the only time I ever run is if I am in the airport, however I will break from this tenant as we approach winter. Some short trail runs and cyclocross add a completely different stress to my body and help me prepare. I combine short, hard indoor bike rides with core exercises and agility work. This helps me to get stronger for the upcoming winter and helps me to engage muscle groups that have been relatively dormant throughout my summer season.

SDN: What other advice do you have for skiers and snowboarders as they start to think about physically preparing for ski season?
Dr. Dorf: First and foremost, think snow! Let’s all do a routine that incorporates at least one good snow dance before November. Start now by getting your equipment dialed in, skis or boards tuned up. Get your boots sorted now so that you are not trying to coordinate 100 things the day the mountain opens. If you are skiing or snowboarding competitively, talk to your coaches. No good season starts without watching some old school Warren Miller movies and probably a Matchstick Productions flick as well. In all seriousness, sometimes that is all it will take to get you motivated to start making the transition from glowing aspens and dirt trails to deep powder, steep lines and arcing corduroy.

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