Fitness

Ready, Set ... Ski!

Get off the couch and onto the slopes in a few easy steps.

Skiing is a classic winter workout, and we've assembled a group of ski experts to help you get off your couch and on to the slopes in a few easy steps.

Step One: Get medical clearance.
Before taking on any new sport, you'll want to get the green light from your doctor. Keep in mind that your doctor's blessing is generally just clearance that you're healthy enough to try skiing—and not encouragement to race down the nearest black diamond trail. You'll want to start an exercise program to train your body (most importantly your lower body) to have the stamina needed for downhill skiing.

Step Two: Shape up for skiing.
Don't think for a minute that you can just pop off the couch and conquer the closest mountain without doing some kind of exercise in advance. Hitting the slopes without any kind of preparation is just asking for an injury, dehydration or an uncomfortably sore body.

"Outdoor workouts in the middle of winter can provide similar exhilaration to skiing," says Cat Smiley, three-time Canadian trainer of the year. "Dress warmly and combine your cardio training with quickness, agility and explosive power." Smiley says you'll want to do exercises that will enhance your ability to accelerate, stop and turn—and that means using the same muscles you'll use when skiing. Hiring a trainer is not only worth the money, says Smiley, but will also help you do exercises properly and avoid injury.

FACT:
The average 150-pound woman can burn about 400 calories per hour of skiing—but that's if you're actually skiing for an entire hour. Don't forget, waiting in line for the lift or standing around sipping hot chocolate does not count as skiing time. As a result, when you're calculating your calorie burn, think realistically about how much exercise you really did.

Get set for the slopes.

Adam Shafran, DC, a chiropractor and co-host of the Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy radio show in Atlanta, suggests these exercises that you can easily do at home to help prepare you for your next ski trip. Even if it's your first.

Balance on Uneven Surfaces: You can use a wobble board, agility disc or any uneven surface that creates instability. Try holding your position for up to 30 seconds. If you can only do a few seconds, work your way up to 30 seconds. If you can balance for 30 seconds easily, work your way up to 60 seconds. To make it harder, add more time, close your eyes or add dynamic motion by raising your leg and extending your foot while doing the exercise.

Core Training: Work on strengthening your hip flexors and abdominal muscles in isometric phases. An example of this for your abs would be doing a straight leg raise: Lie on your back and raise your legs 6 inches off the ground while keeping your knees straight; hold for up to 30 seconds.

Strength Training for the Legs: Isometric exercises are good for the legs too, especially the quadriceps and hamstrings. Try the wall sit: Start with your back against a wall and walk your feet out about a foot or two (depending on your size) in front of you, lowering your body as if you're sitting in a chair until your knees are at a 90-degree angle; hold for up to 30 seconds.

Step Three: Get in gear.

There's no doubt that skiing can be an expensive sport to get into, and even more pricey to stay on top of the latest gear and fashion trends. Luckily, the vast majority of ski resorts offer gear rentals so you can try out the latest equipment. Even if you plan on investing in your own gear, renting is the best way to figure out what kind of equipment you're going to want to buy.

"If you are new to the sport or only ski a few days a year, I suggest purchasing your own ski boots (rentals get stinky!) and renting your skis," says Smiley. "Ski shops at resorts are very likely to stock the latest in equipment, in addition to the technician giving your bindings a daily safety check before you head out."

Shafran agrees that you should make friends with the folks at your local ski shop for advice on equipment and insider info. "It's a great place to find information about conditions, unique challenges of the area, as well as great deals," he says.

Smiley's Gear Tips

Be wary of used gear; there are plenty of tricks to patch up damaged and/or dangerous skis.

Many people mistakenly think that equipment in ski towns is more expensive than gear in their hometown or online, however, with all the competition, there are some amazing deals to be found.

Step Four: Have a lesson.
It never hurts to get professional help, and skiing is no exception. Sure, you can chance jumping on a lift, pointing your skis downhill and hoping for the best, but having some know-how before you get to the resort is the better option. You'll have more fun, and you'll have a better chance of avoiding injury.

"When you're a beginner, everything takes effort—pushing yourself off the snow when you fall (with two long planks stuck on your feet) to overusing your quads by inefficient stance and balance," Smiley says. "An instructor is simply the best investment you can make—whether it is to learn the basics, or to break your old habits."

Smiley says if you take a group lesson, go in the afternoon. It's a less popular time, so you might wind up getting a private lesson for the price of a group lesson. And if you're skiing in spring, go early in the morning when there are less crowds to navigate around and the snow is less bumpy.

Step Five: Be prepared.
Okay, so you've taken all the right advice from your doctors and instructors. You've even trained in advance of your ski trip. You've got good, safe gear that fits properly and you've even taken a lesson and learned the inside scoop on the mountain from the local ski shop. Nothing can go wrong now, can it? Wrong.

The last thing you want after going through all this effort is to get dehydrated, cramp up or get frostbite. You need to take care of yourself on the mountain, starting first with getting enough food and water in your body's gas tank. "We only have enough fuel (glycogen) stored in our muscles to ride for a couple of hours, so stock up on complex carbohydrates throughout your day," Smiley says. "Drink plenty of water. When you go into the lodge to warm up, drink water, not hot chocolate or soup."

Slope-Side Warm-Up

Even though it's cold outside, skiing will definitely make you sweat and give you a good workout. Like any exercise, you should warm up and cool down properly. Shafran recommends these exercises that can easily be done in the lodge or your chalet to get you ready for a day on the slopes.

Increase your body temperature by doing squat thrusts and jumping jacks. Do these before putting your skis on to prevent injury and embarrassment.

Stretch your quadriceps and abductor and adductor muscles in your legs. Try the sumo stretch: Bend down as if you are a sumo wrestler then get back up. Do 10 of these.

Ski Pole Stretch (for your upper body): Hold the handle of a ski pole with one hand then place it behind your back as if it's a backscratcher. Grab the bottom of the pole with your other hand and stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds then switch hands to stretch the other shoulder.

Step Six: Love it!
With a little bit of preparation and a lot of common sense, you'll have a fun and safe experience on the slopes. And who knows, you might find that you've got a real talent for barreling down a snowy mountain on two long boards. If that's the case, you can develop your skills with more lessons and more technical gear. But mostly, just enjoy yourself.

"It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people find things to complain about on the slopes," Smiley says. "Who cares if you're not as good as you thought you would be! Love the descents you do take—if it is one run or 15 runs; it's all skiing."