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Practice Made Easy Makes Skiers Better : Because snow is not essential, downhill buffs can get in shape without leaving Orange County.


What's the single best way to get ready for downhill skiing?

The best thing to do, say the experts, is . . . ski.

"If you're a skier, you know--the more you ski, the better," said Michael Cicchetti, an instructor at Sports Club/Irvine.

Obvious though it may sound, the sentiment was echoed by Terry Jarmon, manager of California Ski Center in Anaheim: "The best exercise to get ready for snow-skiing, is snow-skiing."

Thanks to machines, snow is no longer an essential ingredient, and ski buffs can work on their technique even in the warm months. California Ski Center in Anaheim, for example, has two indoor slopes, one that revolves like a large treadmill. Smaller versions of that machine can be found at some health clubs, including Sports Club/Irvine.

As a personal trainer, Cicchetti works with several clients one-on-one on the club's "ski simulator." With no lift lines and theoretically endless runs, students can get in a lot of skiing in a little bit of time. Also, on the machine, it's easier to isolate and solve technical problems.

Cicchetti said he's working with one young client who's never actually been on a mountain yet, but has already mastered parallel turns. Once he gets onto real snow, he'll be ready to roar.

"Skiing should be fun," Cicchetti said. "You want to be able to just ski and have a good time when you get to the mountains."

There are ways to get in shape for the season that don't involve skiing the great indoors, however. According to Cicchetti, a conditioning routine undertaken before heading to the slopes can boost endurance and performance, and cut down on the muscle soreness that can follow a ski trip.

Cicchetti will be sharing some of his conditioning tips in a clinic at Sports Club/Irvine on Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. (the clinic is open to the public at a cost of $15). In addition to taking part in Cicchetti's workout, participants will be able to view some of the latest ski equipment and talk to a physical therapist about avoiding injury.

While it's tempting to think that the legs do all the work in skiing, Cicchetti's program focuses on the whole body. "The more conditioned you are overall, the better off you are," he said. "It's not just leg exercises."

What's more, the 10-part circuit he teaches can be done at home with a minimum of equipment.

Several of the exercises, including one he calls the "ski ladder" (a sort of hyper-intense variation of hopscotch) work on tendon strength and "quickness and explosiveness," Cicchetti said, which helps speed reaction time and boosts performance in several aspects of skiing, from turns to negotiating moguls.

A two-person game of tug-of-war, done with a towel, works on balance and coordination. Other exercises, including push-ups, sit-ups and a workout on the slide board help other aspects of overall fitness.

The format of the circuit, meanwhile, helps to develop the short-burst "anaerobic" conditioning that comes into play in skiing, in which brief, intense workouts are interspersed with long periods of rest. Participants do each exercise for 30 seconds, with only 10 seconds to move to the next station.

"Twice through and you're pretty well worn out," Cicchetti said.

The circuit training is preceded by 20 minutes of warm-ups and stretches. The circuit can be modified for home training, or partially moved to weight machines for health club members. The key, as it is with any training regimen, is repetition. And while it's never too late to start, it's ideal to begin before the first snow falls and continue through the off-season.

"You've got to think about it ahead of time," Cicchetti said.

A ski fitness regimen called SkiFit, a program licensed through Proline USA, a sports marketing firm based in Seattle, applies many of the same principles of strength training that Cicchetti uses, while adding more cardiovascular training. The 24-session program starts with the recumbent cycle, moves to the treadmill and graduates finally to the stair-climber.

The program also emphasizes strengthening the muscles and ligaments of the thumb to head off a common complaint called "skier's thumb."

Cicchetti will lead a ski conditioning clinic Sunday, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Sports Club/Irvine, 1980 Main St. Fee for non-members is $15. Call (714) 975-8400, Ext. 6501, for information.


REI, an outdoor equipment store in Santa Ana, will hold a series of free clinics on Thursday nights this month for those who prefer cross-country to downhill skiing. On Thursday, cross-country basics are the topic of a talk by Dave Horine from the Pacific Wilderness Institute, an outdoor sports instructional center based in Orange.

On Jan. 13, Leon Kolankiewicz will give a slide-illustrated talk about his weeklong ski tour of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. "Layering for Comfort," about how to dress for a variety of winter activities, is the subject of the Jan. 20 presentation. And on Jan. 27, Gene Mezereny (author of a guide to local cross-country skiing locations) will share tips on equipment and where to ski.

All talks begin at 7 p.m. The store is at 1411 S. Village Way in Santa Ana. Information: (714) 543-4142.

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