By Indrek Kongats

Once the resort opens up for the season, skiing conditions and physical conditioning will not be as ideal as mid-season, so the skier needs to prepare early for both.

Let’s start with what to expect from the slopes early in the season. Be prepared to hit some spots on the hill that may put you in contact with bottom biting rocks that will leave long gouges in your bases. The remedy for this is to carry a Ptex candle with you to repair the gouge overnight or start with an old pair of skis that some people refer to as “Rock Skis.”

Those thin spots on the slopes will not only ruin your skis, but can throw you off balance, as will those death bunnies of frozen snow and those dreaded piles of freshly-made manmade snow, all of which could possibly cause a season-ending injury. So, besides taking care for your expensive skis, you also have to focus on protecting and preparing your body against injury.

Skiing requires a completely different set of muscles than the ones used for day-to- day activities like sitting around watching the Bills each Sunday afternoon or sitting at a desk five days a week at the office. Ironically, sitting is the exercise that will benefit you the most in developing those rock hard thighs and gluts and eliminate thigh burn on long downhill descents.

Unfortunately for you, you can’t use your sofa or chair to perform this exercise; you use nothing but a wall. The correct way to do wall sits is to assume a sitting position, with your knees bent at about 90 degrees, and your back resting against a wall for support. The exercise doesn’t take long and can be performed almost anywhere where there is a wall; even a tree will do if you are outside. After about 20-30 seconds, your thighs will start to burn. The trick is to let them burn for another 20-30 seconds and then stand up to relax. You should repeat this three times each time, holding the position longer to get more out of it. Eventually, you will be able to assume this position and finish your lunch without a struggle.

Of course, this isn’t the only exercise that you need to do, but it is the most important. Before any exercise, you need to warm up your body and this can be by going on a simple walk before hand or doing some jumping jacks if you can’t get outside. After the warm-up, you need to stretch your muscles; this is more important than the exercise that you are about to do. Stretching increases your flexibility and range of motion. Most injuries occur because you exceed your range of motion, whether it is in a minor catching your edge and overextending trying to recover your balance or an outright yard sale on the slopes. The more flexible you are, the less likely you’ll injure yourself.

Proper stretching is done in sets of three holding a particular stretch for a count of 12, for 36 in total. If you are stretching your quadriceps or calf muscles, you have to do each leg three times. If you do toe touches, you are working both legs at the same time unless you are crossing your legs stretching one leg at a time. The reason for three sets is that you increase your range of motion on each set until you reach your goal, which in the case of toe touches, could be that you can place your palms on the ground with your legs straight and knees locked. Stretching is gradual, slowly increasing your range, not abruptly.

Once you have your body in shape, you will also need to focus on your clothing. Too much clothing will cause heat exhaustion and if your clothing is too restrictive, all those range of motion stretches are for not. Layering is the universal truth when it comes to outdoor activities. Start with a base layer that has wicking properties and is stretchable and contains at least 5 percent spandex or similar material. No need in ripping your underwear on a fall.

Your second layer is an absorbing layer that, even when damp, will maintain body temperature and allow moisture to evaporate.

The final layer is for protection from the elements, especially wind and rain, and therefore, Gore-tex is the fabric of choice. As the season gets colder, your middle layer gets thicker to trap more air, but still absorb and evaporate excess moisture.

The more relaxed the clothing, although less fashionable according today’s trends, the more range of motion you’ll have and the less likely that you’ll hurt yourself in a fall.

Finally the protective gear that is becoming more the norm than not—the helmet!

Helmets are designed to reduce injury. They will not prevent someone from breaking their neck with a collision with a tree, only caution and common sense will prevent that. Helmets are to prevent head and brain trauma, especially when you least expect it— for instance, when you fall over in the lift line and whack your head on the hard shell of a ski boot, or maybe when someone lowers the bar too soon and hits you in the back of the head with the steel bar, or you are sitting on the hill after a fall and another skier’s ski comes off when he is trying to avoid you and his ski hits you in the head. These situations can all result in serious trauma to your noggin and possible concussions, gashes and bruises.

A helmet needs to fit snuggly so that your head will not collide with the inside of the helmet in a fall. Placing a hat on your head before placing the helmet will nullify the performance of the helmet. The helmet needs to be the right size and also the right shape for your head. Helmet fitting is an art and a good ski shop will have people trained just for that purpose. Passing down helmets is not a good idea nor is buying a used helmet. Once a helmet has been in a collision, it is compromised and needs to be discarded.

So now that your skis, body, clothing and helmet are all set for the start of another skiing season, you’ll hopefully enjoy it even more than before and be safer on the slopes as well.

Photo credit Ericka McConnell