Preparation key before hitting the slopes

Make sure you get in shape before heading out on to the ski hill this year to avoid injuries

As the days get colder, skiers start to think of making pilgrimages to the local hills. But rather than racing off to the mountain, and then feeling stiff and sore for a week after your ski day, why not be prepared?

Skiing and snowboarding should be about having fun on the slopes and staying injury free. So with that in mind it would be a good idea to get your body in some sort of shape first rather than trying to ski yourself into shape.

If you plan on starting your ski season in mid to late December it’s ideal to begin a conditioning program in November since it takes at least, two to three weeks to make even small improvements in fitness. But it’s never too late to begin a program no matter what time of the season it is.

Canadian Institute for Health Information shows more than 2,300 hospital admissions resulted from skiing and snowboarding-related injuries, compared to 1,114 hockey players who made hospital visits in 2011.

Last year the Canadian Paediatric Society documented the benefit of wearing helmets while skiing and snowboarding, as well as data refuting suggestions that helmets may increase the risk of neck injury.

They also found evidence to support using wrist guards while snowboarding.

In downhill skiing, the most common injury site is the lower extremity (40 per cent to 60 per cent) – knee sprains and leg fractures are common and observed more frequently in younger children.

Other typical injuries are to the head and neck, upper extremity, and thumb.

In snowboarding the upper-extremity had the highest injury rate at 50 per cent with the wrist being the most commonly injured site. Snowboarders also have a higher rate of head injury compared with skiers.

Improving your fitness level will reduce your chance of injury, enable you to have more fun on the hill because you are performing better, and help you recover more quickly after skiing.

Injuries during skiing usually happen when muscles become fatigued and coordination is reduced and while attempting a turn or a landing, ski tips may cross or you may lose your balance causing a fall resulting in sprained or torn knee ligaments, or other injuries.

Skiing and snowboarding require strength, balance, and flexibility.

These fitness components must be developed in order to perform well on the slopes. Your starting point depends on your current fitness level – if you are not very fit, you need to begin training more gently and build up slowly to a more challenging level.

Most of the exercises for skiing and snowboarding will involve the leg and trunk area, but they need to be done in a way that simulates the sport.

One of the most basic strength exercises we can do is the squat. It just so happens that the ski and snowboard position is a squat so this exercise is perfectly suited for these sports.

Balance is one of the most overlooked fitness components for many sports, but during skiing it may be the most important component of all.

It enables you to handle fast adjustments in body position with uneven terrains under fatigued conditions. There are a variety of devices that will help you train your balance in the gym including BOSU balls and balance boards. Seek help and guidance when using these devices.

And finally, wear protective gear such as wrist guards for snowboarding and helmets especially if you are younger.

Also keep in mind that injuries often happen when we overreach our abilities. Have fun, stay safe and enjoy the entire season on the slopes instead of from the sidelines.

Kerry Senchyna holds a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology and is owner of West Coast Kinesiology in Maple Ridge.