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The Healthy Traveler

It's Downhill From Here

November 12, 1995|KATHLEEN DOHENY

At bedtime, guests at the Ritz-Carlton in Aspen, Colo., find a surprise on their pillows: printed tips on how to ski better, with suggestions on how to protect eyes and skin from sun and a reminder to dress in layers.

That advice can come in handy, of course, but the hard-core preparation for downhill skiing should begin much earlier, according to Kiki Cutter, an award-winning skier and Aspen ski instructor.

Getting in shape for skiing should ideally start now--about two months before the first outing, Cutter and other experts said.

Exercise dropouts should try to resume cardiovascular exercise, with their physician's approval, about eight weeks before skiing. Cycling or riding a stationary bike three days a week is a good start, said Denise Austin, a fitness expert based in Alexandria, Va., who has created numerous exercise videos. So is walking hills.

Once a good cardiovascular fitness base is built, both regular and returning exercisers should add other exercises designed to improve ski performance. Among those most often suggested by the experts: weight training twice a week, 45 minutes a session.

Perform exercises that target all the major muscles, such as quadriceps (front of the thighs) and hamstrings (back of the thighs), Cutter said. She found that the exercise improved her overall strength.

Another suggested exercise: the phone book jump, is designed to improve agility as it strengthens the quadriceps. To do it, place a thick telephone directory on the floor, said Kim Mayhew, a certified personal trainer at Deer Valley Resort, Park City, Utah. Jump back and forth, side to side, over the phone book. "Push off with the outside leg," Mayhew said. Keep hands in front as you would were you holding ski poles. The exercise will eventually improve turning ability, Mayhew said. Do three sets of 10, three days a week.

Partial lunges can help strengthen the quadriceps and hamstrings, Austin said. Stand with your legs together, take a giant step forward, dip down, bend the knees. Be careful to keep the front knee in back of the toes; if it's in front, there will be too much pressure on the knees. Bring the back foot forward next to the foot that was extended. Then move back to the original position. Repeat the exercise 10 times. Switch legs and begin again. People with knee problems should consult their physician or a trainer about modifications to the lunge, Mayhew said.

Abdominal exercises can improve overall performance, since movements needed for skiing, such as pulling, pushing and bending, originate from the center of the body. Abdominal crunches are one good way to increase strength. First, lie on the floor with legs drawn up next to buttocks, feet flat on the floor. To do the crunch, round the spine, rather than doing a full sit-up. The movement should be just enough to activate the muscles of the stomach and waist. Start with 10 and increase the sets as strength increases.

The more conditioned a skier, the lower the risk of injury. Strong hamstrings and quadriceps provide a built-in brace for the knee, which is a common injury spot among skiers. Before the first run, warm up by taking a light jog or engaging in other light exercise. Then stretch. "People who haven't exercised regularly throughout the year should take it easy the first couple of days" on the slopes, Cutter said.

Whatever a skier's fitness level, it's a good idea to get accustomed to altitude by taking it slow and easy the first few runs and drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Altitude sickness can strike at elevations of 5,000 feet and above, but is most common at about 8,000 feet. Symptoms can include dizziness, headaches and nausea. If descent doesn't relieve symptoms, seek medical help.

After skiing, take time to stretch--especially quadriceps and hamstrings--to minimize soreness. If muscles ache, hot tubs and massage therapy can help, as can a day of rest.


The Healthy Traveler appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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