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How to Prepare Yourself Now for Skiing This Winter

By Steve Share - Twin Cities Sports

Winter fitness season is here and weather willing youll be skiing local cross-country and alpine trails in a few weeks. Until the snow comes, youve still got some time to train so that you dont wake up stiff and in pain the next day.

Cross-country skiers

Serious skiers, of course, never really let up on their ski conditioning. They’re the folks you may see on roller skis, poling and gliding around some cities all summer.

Chad Giese, a top racer and coach in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, is among them. Giese races in the United States Ski Association’s continental circuit, and he won the Mora Vasaloppet last year.

Roller-skiing is a major part of his training, though he doesn’t start it until June. At the beginning of the summer, he roller-skis one or two times per week, eventually progressing to four or five times per week by the end of the summer.

If you haven’t logged in miles and miles on roller skis, hopefully you’ve run or biked to keep in shape. That’s great, but now you need to mix up your workouts: Increase the intensity, try some interval training, and especially work on core strength and upper-body conditioning.

"Until the snow flies, getting out and hiking and running with poles is probably the best thing you can do," Giese says. "Hiking with poles is an excellent workout."

Take an old pair of poles you don’t care about, ones 5-10 centimeters shorter than your cross-country ski poles. As you walk or run, push with the poles, just as if you were classic skiing.

Add some uphill "bounding" with poles to your dry-land hiking. Bounding helps develop your quickness and agility, according to Ahvo Taipale, ski coach and owner of Finn Sisu ski shop.

Start with 15-20 steps uphill, leaping or bounding and stretching out your stride. Then come back and repeat 10-15 times. "That will develop quick power for your legs," Taipale says.

Bounding with your poles also helps develop coordination.

"It’s critical that you develop your core strength," Taipale says. "Your skiing technique is as good as your weakest muscle."

In Finn Sisu’s dry-land training programs, partners throw and catch a medicine ball, practicing forward, lateral and backward passes to develop core strength and balance.

Alpine skiers

Upper-body and core strength are also important to alpine skiers. Running and bicycling, popular cross-training sports for many skiers, don’t do enough to get you ready for skiing.

"I want you to take one of those days off from running, and I want you to go to the gym," says Chris Fellows, director of the North American Ski Training Center in Truckee, Calif.

He recommends squats, leg curls, pull-downs, bench presses and dead lifts.

"The core stuff is key. All your movements center on your midriff."

In addition to strength, he recommends training for speed, endurance, flexibility and balance. He suggests taking a yoga class for flexibility and balance.

"You have to add a balancing component to the mix," he says. "I don’t care if you stand on one leg in your office … Your best training for skiing is going to be skiing. [But] you can do a lot to get yourself ready. You can do a lot to prevent injury."

For women skiers

Special considerations apply to women skiers considering preseason training.

"Women especially need to work on their arms and upper body," says Kim Rudd of the Minneapolis Ski Club. Rudd coordinates the club’s annual Thanksgiving Cross-Country Ski Camp.

Stephanie Sloan, a former world champion freestyle skier, agrees. "If you don’t work out in the gym, you waste a lot of time trying to ski yourself into shape," she says.

In addition to working the core muscles, Sloan recommends weight-bearing exercises, which help build calcium — particularly important for women as they grow older.

"We’ve got to be a little more concerned about losing our bone density," Sloan says.

Not everyone, of course, has the time or inclination to hit the gym weeks before hitting the slopes.

"The hard-core stuff is good, but a lot of people don’t have that commitment or that time," says Jeannie Thoren, of Duluth, whose Women’s Ski Clinics have won her national recognition.

Women in particular may shoulder more family responsibilities and may not have as much time to exercise or go to a gym.

She points to a number of lifestyle changes that anyone can make to enhance their overall fitness. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from work or the grocery store. Carry your own groceries. Don’t eat past 7 p.m. so you can burn some of the calories off before bed. And most importantly, make your activity fun.

"You have to do something that you like," Thoren says. "Otherwise — even with the best intentions — you won’t keep it up."

Snow at last

You’ve hiked with your poles, bounded up hills, lifted weights, added sprints and long, slow runs to your running. You even went to yoga class. When that first snow comes, you’ll be ready to make your first tracks of the season.

Still, take it easy at first. Your body and your ski technique need to get reacquainted with the snow.

Alpine skiers: Ski a green or blue run (or two or three) before heading to the black diamonds.

Cross-country skiers: Stick to gentle, rolling trails before attempting the steeper, more challenging trails. And if you’re planning a vacation to some serious mountains, get in as much local skiing time as possible here before you go. You don’t want to overdo it your first few times skiing and risk injury. Depending where you live, you may have a long winter ahead of you.

Training programs

Training for the ski season with a group can be a great way to commit to a training program, get expert coaching and meet some new friends. Putting in long hours training by yourself can get pretty dull.

Other online resources
"Fitness" link illustrates and explains the benefits of bounding, yoga, hiking, in-line skating, plyometric exercises, mountain biking, and trail running.
The article "Five Principles of Preseason Ski Training," by Chris Fellows, director of the National Ski Training Center, outlines training tips for flexibility, balance and coordination, strength, speed, and endurance.

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