Here, for the holiday season, are a few tips based on today’s knowledge of skiing fitness, injuries and gear.
1. Training: There is no other sport that puts you in the flexed position, loading the front of your knees, for four to six hours at a time. So training for skiing and boarding actually helps. Increase your time in the gym doing squats, Pilates machine exercises and uphill cycling. These are the most efficient training tools.
2. Balance: Given the current shapes of skis and boards, carving requires balance more than strength. Train on a balance board or a slack line, or simply stand with one leg on a pillow and close your eyes.
3. Cardio: Snow sports are rarely at sea level. Most people do not enjoy their first few days in the mountains, due to the low atmospheric pressure of oxygen and the dehydration. Increasing your cardio training and upping your water intake at high altitude makes a huge difference.
4. Flexibility: Can you lay all the way back on your skis or board and get up? Try it at home. If not, start stretching. Pool workouts combining cardio and flexibility are the fastest way to improve both.
5. Arthritis: If you have it in your knees and it’s too late to replace the cartilage or resurface the bones before ski season, there are three things you can do: Start on glucosamine for its joint lubrication properties, visit your doctor for joint lubrication injections, and work with a physical therapist to maximize your range of motion. We give our patients a prescription that says: “Must ski fresh powder.” Every knee, it seems, can miraculously ski and board a fresh powder day.
6. Equipment: Softer boots have replaced rigid stiff boots for older knees. With shaped skis and boards, the effort required to turn is significantly less — and in skiing, the mid-stance position is far more comfortable. Invest in new gear.
7. Poles: Remember, the most-common injury on the hill is a thumb injury from falling with your hands in the pole straps. Many orthopaedic surgeons won’t use pole straps. Do you really need them?
8. Bindings: Shockingly, binding technology has improved only minimally for decades. Bindings that have both toe and heel lateral releases are probably better, though there is still no clear data that they reduce ACL injuries. The most-common error for recreational skiers is having the bindings too tight.
Unless you are jumping, racing, skiing in hard moguls or chutes, set your bindings slightly lower than the recommended DIN settings. We see far fewer pre-release injuries than injuries in which bindings didn’t release.
9. Speed: It kills on the highway, and it ruptures ligaments on the slopes. “I got a little out of control” is the most common comment.
10. Fun: If it isn’t fun, it isn’t snow sports. Quit when it isn’t.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.