Getting the most from the slopes

2006-01-23

David Enright
David Enright, Evergreen Outdoor Center

There's more to preparing for the slopes than getting the edges of your skis or snowboard sharpened. While marveling at the mirror over how well that snowsuit still fits, consider what's underneath. Experts say fitness is the real key to getting a lift out of the downhill experience.

Some fitness tips even the most casual of skiers and snowboarders should bear in mind. In fact, the more casual they are, the more being in shape helps. A well-conditioned core and pair of legs are essential. But Evergreen Outdoor Center's Dave Enright says the real key for beginner and veteran alike is, "just being flexible."

"Stretching is probably the biggest thing - whether callisthenic, aerobic, yoga - they're all based on how the body works," says Enright, 32. He opened Evergreen in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture five years ago after growing up on the slopes and working ski patrols in his native Vancouver, Canada and later Japan. "A lot of people arrive after sitting for hours on planes, busses or trains. Then they start using a lot of muscles they don't normally use."

Of course, using those muscles more during the off-season is essential for getting the most out of your slide down the slopes. Working the quads by running steps, doing squats and other regiments are ideal. For most non-athletic recreational skiers and boarders, however, the challenge is more about how to make it routine.

"Running and cycling to get strong legs - quadriceps - and knees, core conditioning and weight training are very good, but a general fitness regiment is most important for skiing," says Julia Nolet, head of Tokyo-based Shin Yi Ski Club. As ski season draws near, she says those who don't workout regularly should at least, "walk more or take the stairs instead of the escalator."

Evergreen staffers stay fit during the summer leading hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and other tours. Enright advises the less fortunate to, "Do things you enjoy - bicycle riding, walking; it doesn't have to be work. For the average person, I would say just be active and have bit of stretch."

Whether it's the sprained wrists and dislocated joints snowboarders can get from breaking a fall or the potential for skiers to torque knees and ankles, being fit and limber are your best edge on the slopes.


Along with pushing the bounds of one's skill level, "lack of fitness training," is the culprit behind most injuries, says Scott Walker, 40, veteran ski instructor and owner of Scott Adventure Sports (SAS) in Niseko, Hokkaido. "Many people come to ski or snowboard that don't exercise. This increases the injury rate."

Evergreen's Enright offers a couple of examples: "A lot of times when people aren't really active they don't have very strong ankles," he explains. "It can cause beginning skiers not to tie up their boots all the way because they find it uncomfortable." It's an invitation to ankle injuries. And flexibility helps ensure the stiff neck and shoulders novices boarders may experience their first few days out will be all they suffer: "Snowboarders do a lot of falling - especially when they first start. That's why we always do a stretch beforehand and recommend a hot onsen afterwards."

The learning curve is also higher for fit fist-time skiers. "Within one day we can get a person snowplowing and doing basic turns on the snow," Enright says, of Evergreen's cross-country, telemark, backcountry and downhill ski instructors. "Some people who are more athletic can usually learn to do more in a day."

As for the experienced, getting better acquainted with snow and equipment are usually in order. "Some experienced skiers have never skied on powder, which calls for holding your weight differently." And former avid skiers often only see the slopes once a year later in life. "We show them how to get more of a fluid motion by putting more weight in the center of the skis, not leaning too far forward or standing up too strait when they get on the new carving edge - and how to use the polls more efficiently."

Of course, there's more of a workout off the well-groomed resort slopes. "With downhill (skiing) there's not a lot of cardio if you're just taking the lift and going down. Although you're obviously using a lot of muscle turning and things," Enright says. "With cross-country, backcountry or snowshoeing there's a lot more cardio. If someone wants to be more active or is thinking of fitness I recommend those three.

"Cross-country skiing is one of the best workouts you can possibly do," he adds. "You are using your lower body, upper body and can regulate your heat if you know what kind of clothing to wear. Backcountry skiing is the best of both worlds - a cardio workout hiking up the mountain and using the leg muscles to ski down. You don't really meet too many obese people in the backcountry. If you do they've just started and will burn it off or they won't be back.

"The best thing about all these activities," Enright adds, "is you're out in the clean fresh air not riding a bike behind cars in downtown Tokyo or in a gym with other sweaty people."

Learn more about the expertise Evergreen Outdoor Center has to offer at: http://www.evergreen-outdoors.com. See http://www.sas-net.com/a.asp?l=e&a=about for more info on Scott Adventure Sports. To contact Shin Yi Ski Club email: jnworwor@gol.com.



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