Work It Out: Yoga for backcountry and telemark skiing
Special to the Daily
Avalanche levels 101
After the April snowstorm last weekend, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center elevated the avalanche danger for most of Summit County to moderate, or level 2. Conditions can change from area to area and day to day, especially when traveling above tree line. Here’s a look at the CAIC ratings, known as the North American Avalanche Danger Scale:
Low (level 1) — Watch for unstable snow on isolated features. This includes cornices and windlips above treeline.
Moderate (level 2) — Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern. Persistent slab avalanches (layers of heavy snow piled on a single weak layer) are the biggest concern.
Considerable (level 3) — Dangerous avalanche conditions; cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Persistent slab avalanches can be triggered from a distance and flat terrain.
High (level 4) — Very dangerous avalanche conditions; travel above treeline and into any avalanche terrain is not recommended.
Extreme (level 5) — Avoid all avalanche terrain. Slides will be large and might trigger in several different areas.
With a recent dose of spring snow, it’s time for these boots to start walking — uphill, that is. It’s true that you have to work for backcountry turns, but getting off-resort and off-piste offers fresh tracks, priceless silence and no lift lines. (Technically, no lifts at all — but still, no lift lines!)
Whether you’re on alpine touring, telemark or splitboard gear, the more you can prepare your body before heading out, the more fun you’ll have on the mountain.
That said, these postures are well suited for skiers who free their heels on the way up and down the mountain. Of all the articles I’ve written about yoga conditioning for mountain sports and activities, the following postures are the most intense, challenging and invigorating of the bunch, chosen to increase stability, strength and range of motion.
The benefits of an increased range of motion in your hips are not limited to telemarkers. If you sit most of the day (or enjoy sports that demand strong legs), these postures will greatly benefit you as well, as constant use and contraction of the thighs can result in tight hips.
The following six postures are made to perform in sets of two. Take a few minutes every day to better condition your body for alpine touring and telemarking. Be smart and safe in the backcountry, respect the mountain and, as always, have fun!
1. Low lunge with quad stretch
The first two postures in the sequence open both hips and legs. If you feel any joint pain during your practice, back out. You can also reduce sensitivity in the back knee by placing a folded towel under the knee.
Start on hands and knees.
Bring your left foot between your hands and bring your left hand to rest on top of your left knee.
Reach back with your right hand for your right foot. If you are blessed with stiffness and your hand doesn’t reach your foot, wrap a strap, belt or tie around your foot.
Sink your hips down and forward.
Pull your heel toward your glute.
Stay for 5 breaths.
Follow with HALF SPLITS (next posture) and repeat on opposite side.
2. Half splits
As you set up for this posture, ensure that you’ll be comfortable enough to maintain a natural breathing pattern. Using blocks or placing a pile of books under each hand makes this posture more welcoming.
From LOW LUNGE WITH QUAD STRETCH:
Release the back foot (right foot) to the floor.
Place both hands on the floor (or books, blocks) on either side of the front leg
Straighten the front leg.
Flex your left toes toward the ceiling.
Stay for 5 breaths.
Return to LOW LUNGE WITH QUAD STRETCH and repeat on opposite side.
3. Crescent lunge
The next two postures in the sequence are designed as complementary sets, with a mix of lifting and lowering the back knee to build strength in thighs and glutes. These postures also improve coordination, build strength in the ankles and feet and engage your core to help with balance.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and take a big step back with your right foot.
Bend your front knee until it is directly over the ankle.
Bring arms overhead, making sure the back heel is lifted off the ground.
Gently square the hips forward, draw the lower belly up and pull the navel to spine.
Follow with CRESCENT LUNGE WITH HOVERED KNEE.
4. Crescent lunge with hovered knee
From CRESCENT LUNGE:
Bend your back knee and hover it a few inches off the mat, keep your front knee bent at a 90-degree angle.
“Cactus” your arms by dropping your elbows to be parallel with your shoulders and stacking your wrists over your elbows.
Press into the back of your hands and lift your sternum, opening your chest and strengthening your shoulders.
Return to CRESCENT LUNGE and repeat two-posture sequence 5 times. Repeat entire sequence on opposite side.
5. Warrior 3
The last two postures are focused on balance. Moving from Warrior 3 to Geva squat and back to Warrior 3 will improve not only balance, but also coordination and strength in your glutes and core.
To improve balance, try Warrior 3 followed by a Geva squat. Again, practice these postures in a single sequence to increase balance and coordination.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
Press your palms together and bring your thumbs to your sternum.
Begin to lift your right leg as you lean your torso forward. (The intention here is to keep a straight line from your elevated heel to the top of your head. You don’t need to bring the elevated leg so high that it is parallel with the floor.)
Rotate your right pinkie toe toward the floor. This will internally rotate the right thigh.
Pull your naval to your spine and reach your arms overhead, keep biceps next to your ears.
Follow with GEVA SQUAT.
6. Geva squat
From WARRIOR 3:
Press your palms together at your sternum. Actively pressing them together will help with balance.
Bend both knees.
Tuck your right knee behind the left, keep your right foot lifted off the floor with toes flexed.
Return to WARRIOR 3 and repeat sequence 5 times.
Repeat on opposite side.
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