Get on the Right Track for This Season’s Slopes

Whether you’re hopping on a plane for black-diamond skiing or a cross-country trek, here’s expert advice on how to warm up before clicking into bindings for the first ski of the season.

A pre-season fitness tune-up could mean the difference between skiing all day and being forced to peel off the ski boots at noon. We asked the experts for their best workout tips before flexing your Nordic or alpine muscles.

Kevin Eaton, snow school director for Lake Louise Ski Resort, advocates a balanced approach to fitness. The skiers and boarders who end up injured or in early-season pain usually fail to ease into the season, going from couch potato one day to charging downhill the next. Eaton stresses the importance of taking the time to find your ski or snowboard legs with shorter, easier days – and most importantly, listening to your body.

Downhill: Exercise Your Legs

Cardio exercise is crucial for downhill skiing, but so is training ski-specific leg muscles. Besides cycling and jogging, a regime of squats using light free weights or seated leg presses is good for targeting the quadriceps (thigh muscles).

Downhill: Strengthen Your Core

Lower back pain is a common complaint from downhill skiers and snowboarders, especially early in the season. Air bike (lying on your back with legs raised and moving in a cycling motion) and crunches (partial sit-ups) are two good core-strengthening exercises that help prevent back pain. Also, always warm up on easy green runs before tackling steep and bumpy terrain.

Cross-Country: Improve Your Balance

Balancing and hopping on one foot, then alternating feet, is great conditioning for newcomers to cross-country skiing, says Gary Martin, an expert instructor who has been teaching at the Canmore Nordic Ski Club for 15 years. There are two cross-country skiing styles with differing equipment: classic and skate skiing. Start with the former. Arms and legs move with the same synchronized rhythm as when you’re walking or running.

Cross-Country: Train Your Arms

A lot of cross-country skiers complain of early-season upper-body weakness; in other words, we tend to neglect the arms in our pre-season conditioning. Rollerblading, or simply hiking or jogging with poles while mimicking the motion of cross-country skiing, is a fantastic way to build upper-body strength. You can also work with free weights or, if gym apparatus isn’t your thing, go for a regular regime of push-ups and pull-ups (buy one of those chin-up bars designed to fit any door frame). Dips can also help: Place your hands on the back of a bench or chair, facing out, and lower your body with your legs until your shoulders are below the elbows. Then push up until your arms are straight again.

Downhill and Cross-Country: Remember to Stretch

Finally, once the season is underway, the importance of stretching can’t be overemphasized. Before you hit the hot tub or indulge in après-ski socializing, spend a few minutes doing a standing quad stretch and lying spinal twist, as well as other stretches that focus on key muscle groups and help maintain mobility for dynamic turns and edge control.