Ski fitness and safety



Key points about ski fitness and safety

  • To enjoy skiing, it is important to follow some key safety tips and build up your fitness.
  • Unless you are very active every day, most people will benefit from following a skiing-focused training and exercise programme before heading for the slopes!
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Nothing ruins a great day of fun as much as an accident that didn't have to happen. To reduce the risk of injury:

  • Make sure you are using appropriate skis/boards/equipment fitted to you individually for your snow sports needs. Inadequate or poorly fitted equipment puts you at greater risk of injury.
  • Warm up before you start skiing or snowboarding, as you would before any physical activity.
  • If you're inexperienced, it's well worth getting lessons from a qualified instructor – they can teach you important techniques such as how to fall safely.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with, and follow, the Snow Responsibility Code endorsed by the New Zealand Snow Sports Council.

The Snow Responsibility Code sets out desirable behaviour for skiers and snowboarders so that everyone has the best and safest possible experience while on the snow.

  1. Stay in control at all times. Know your ability, start easy, be able to stop and avoid other people.
  2. People below you have the right of way. The skier or boarder downhill of you has the right of way, also look above before entering a trail.
  3. Obey all ski area signage. Signs are there for your safety, keep out of closed areas.
  4. Look before you leap. Scope jumps first, ensure the area is clear of others, use a spotter on blind jumps.
  5. Stop where you can be seen. When stopping, try to move to the side of the trail and where you can be seen from above.
  6. Don’t lose what you use. Equipment must be secured while walking or stashing.
  7. Stay on scene. If you are involved in, or witness, an accident, remain at the scene and identify yourself to Ski Patrol.
  8. Respect gets respect. From the lift line, to the slopes and through the park.

Skiing is usually great fun for anyone who gives it a go, either as a recreational activity or as a serious sport. But the physical demands placed on the body – the all-day exertion – not to mention the cold and other environmental factors, can test the best of us.

There is nothing worse than having a great day skiing and looking forward to the next day, then waking up on the second day to find you have great difficulty in getting out of bed due to muscle soreness!

By doing a movement/muscle-specific exercise programme at your local gym in the weeks before your ski trip, you can reduce the aches and pains and increase the fun on the slopes. Also, pre-ski training should reduce your chances of having an injury, which can put a dampener on even a weekend ski break. 

Drawing on his own personal experience of skiing, Peter Mellow, a senior lecturer at the AUT School of Community Health and Sports Studies in Auckland, has put together a training and exercise programme you could undertake in your gym.

Lower body muscle groups – strengthening exercises

Tibialis anterior (shin): The tibialis anterior is used in the ski boot to pull your body forwards when you feel you are falling backwards. Suggested exercise: Low pulley dorsiflexion – rowing with your feet strapped in firmly so on the recovery stroke you recruit the tibialis anterior.

Soleus (calf): As most skiing is carried out with the knees bent, the gastrocnemius muscle (calf) can't effectively operate. The soleus muscle (calf) is often used to stop you falling forwards. Suggested exercise: Seated calf raises. 

Quadriceps (thigh): The “quads” are used constantly in downhill skiing. To protect the knee, the quads should be strengthened. Suggested exercises: Isolated exercise – leg extension; Compound exercises – squats, leg press, lunges and step-ups.

Gluteus maximus (backside) and the hamstrings (back of thigh): Flexion (bending) at the hip in skiing is maintained by the "glutes" and the "hammies" working to maintain stability and absorb shock. Suggested exercises: Isolated exercise – butt blaster, leg curl (both standing and lying); Compound exercise – squats, leg press, lunges and step-ups.

Hip adductors: The three adductors are used (especially by beginners) to control the width of the ski track, and strength here is very important. Suggested exercises: Low pulley adduction, lower leg raises, lying bench adduction, seated hip adduction machines, and the standing multi-hip machines.

Hip abductors: The two abductors are excellent hip stabilisers and assist in some steering manoeuvres. Suggested exercises: Low pulley abduction, side leg raises, seated hip abduction machines and the standing multi-hip machines.

Hip rotators (internal and external): The hip rotators are a very important muscle group for beginners and are still used by more advanced skiers. They are the fine steering-control muscles. Suggested exercises: Low pulley hip rotation, isometric hip rotation strengthening exercises in a doorway.

Most of these lower body muscles are worked on when you do aerobic work like cycling, rowing, stepping, running, skipping, swimming, aerobics and slide. While this is also covered later on, specific strengthening of these muscles in the gym should be undertaken as well.

Upper body muscle groups – strengthening exercises

Erector spinae (lower back): The flexed-trunk stance most people adopt when skiing downhill means the lower back muscles “work overtime”, so specific strengthening will help reduce back ache. Suggested exercises: Back contractions, alternate arm-leg raises, back extension on the roman chair and the 45-degree back extension.

Rectus abdominis and obliques (stomach): Strengthening the abdominal muscles increases intra-abdominal pressure and supports the spine from the front. Keeping these postural muscles strong is important. Suggested exercises: Abdominal curls, crunches, oblique crunches, cross-over reverse crunches, opposite crunches, hip raises.

Latissimus dorsi (upper back): The “lats” are used for the strenuous use of poles needed on flat ground or for moving uphill. Ski-specific exercises such as low pulley row are needed. Suggested exercises: Lat pulldown, reverse pulldown, low pulley row, T-bar row and bent over row.

Triceps brachii (upper arm, outer): The triceps are used in the forceful final phase of the poling push-off as the arm is extended behind the body. Suggested exercises: High pulley tricep pushdown, dumbbell tricep kickbacks, lying tricep extension, French press.

Biceps brachii (upper arm, inner): In conjunction with the lats, the biceps assist forward movement through elbow flexion and, by contracting, they stabilise the shoulder joint via force applied by the long head of biceps through the bicipital groove. Suggested exercises: Reverse pulldown, dumbbell concentration curls, barbell bicep curls, hammer curls, low pulley row.

Reps and load

When doing your selection of these conditioning exercises, you need to remember two things. You need strength in movement-related ski muscles like the hip rotators and endurance in the postural muscles. So do a multiple-set system for strength (low reps, heavy resistance) and a lighter weight and increased reps for the muscular endurance.

Stamina – build up cardiovascular endurance

Cardiovascular fitness is important for skiing, not so much for performance but more for the general endurance you'll need to last a full day on the slopes. More skiing accidents happen in the afternoon than in the morning – this is due to people becoming fatigued in the afternoon and not concentrating enough to prevent accidents.

Choosing weight-bearing exercises is more specific than non-weight bearing exercises. So running, the stepper and slide are preferred to cycling and rowing. Also, any aerobic exercise that involves sideways movements will assist as well. The slide and roller-blading are particularly good.

Individual considerations – your personal fitness level

As with any exercise programme, you must always take into account personal differences such as fitness levels and injuries – each of us is different. Remember this and tailor a programme around your needs, injuries and fitness.

While the above exercises are ski-specific, they are guidelines only, and your ability to carry out these exercises safely depends on guidance and supervision from a trained fitness instructor. Use this information as a starting point to advise them of what you want to achieve.

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Credits: provided by Peter Mellow, senior lecturer at the AUT School of Community Health and Sports Studies, Auckland

Reviewed by: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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