Skiing for Fitness and Pure Fun
Tips for Enjoying Alpine and Nordic Styles
by Randy Kambic
Whether it’s the thrill of alpine skiing down the side of a high mountain with breathtaking views or the serene pleasure of Nordic cross-country skiing in a nearby park, strapping on skis and swooping off burns lots of calories, makes winter more enjoyable in diverse settings and accommodates all ages and skill levels.
According to the National Ski Areas Association, there were 61 million ski resort visits during the 2021-2022 season, a 3.5 percent increase over the previous season. A survey by Snowsports Industries America found that 4.8 million people cross-country skied on backcountry, public and private trails, and in other areas in the 2019-2020 season. To encourage neophytes to try either style or for skiers wishing to do more, here are some technique, conditioning, fitness and safety tips.
Skis have parabolic characteristics: they are made to turn. When the knees are slightly bent forward, the upper legs serve as shock absorbers. “When skiers don’t sufficiently flex their knees and ankles, they can’t adequately pressure the fronts of their skis, which is where the control is,” says Mike Cyr, a ski instructor at Lost Valley, Maine, in SKI magazine’s July edition.
“Tip your skis into their uphill edges to turn up the hill until you stop,” advises Deer Valley, Utah, ski instructor Rusty Carr in SKI. The more experienced skiers get, the more they understand how long this will take, based on terrain, speed and snow conditions.
“In addition to keeping strong the more obvious muscles like quads and hamstrings, being sure your glutes are strong and not inhibited by tight hip flexors is key,” says Leigh Damkohler, a certified chiropractic sports physician and a licensed massage therapist, in Yonkers, New York. “Maintaining a strong core and a combination of high-intensity, short-burst training, as well as sustained cardio, will keep your body prepared for skiing.” She recommends cycling, swimming, walking, running, yoga, Barre and Pilates, plus doing “wall sits, lunges or squats that are ideal to work your muscles in a parallel way to when you’re on the slopes.”
Conditions are key. A “fast track”—hard-packed snow—demands sharp, forceful turns to maintain control. Spots on the slope that are shaded may be icy, especially early in the day. Skiing in powder or slushy snow will slow skis down, allowing for subtler turns and carving a path down the slope. Tight-fitting, stiff ski boots are necessary to provide the most direct intention of energy to either ski. Always be alert. To avoid collisions, look before turning and listen for skiers or snowboarders that might be speeding down the slope from behind.
All that’s needed is a few inches of snow for a recreational playground. Along with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing is a serene and quiet connection with nature. Some hardcore aficionados take multi-day backcountry or mountainous treks along marked trails with overnight stays in lodges, huts and cabins that may provide ski equipment.
Cross-country skiers glide on thinner skis over relatively flat terrain with their weight slightly forward and evenly distributed over both skis, moving in a scissors-like motion akin to an elliptical workout machine or power walking with a long gait. Only the toe in a sneaker-like boot is attached to the ski’s binding, so skiers lift up with each arm, planting a pole and pushing on it, and a fuller gliding motion is attained. Overall, it’s a highly aerobic exercise facilitating an extensive workout for arms and legs.
Many park and recreation departments and sporting goods retailers put on winter festivals that feature the activity. Next year’s Slumberland American Birkebeiner, North America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, covering 50 kilometers from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin, is expected to attract 13,000 participants from throughout the U.S. and overseas, plus 40,000 spectators, on February 25.
“It’s physically gratifying to self-propel yourself on snow,” says Ben Popp, executive director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (Birkie.com), which operates the event. “It’s accessible to every effort level—it’s as easy as walking. It’s not grueling—that’s a misconception.”
With either form of skiing, make sure to respect the sun and consume liquids. Surrounded by snow, both direct rays and the glare of indirect sunlight will hit unexposed parts of the face not covered by goggles or sunglasses, so apply sunscreen to those spots beforehand. “Hydration before and during your day is going to help prevent muscle cramping and fatigue,” adds Damkohler.
Freelance editor, writer and avid skier Randy Kambic lives in Estero, Florida.
The slopes of alpine ski resorts are shared with snowboarders. Here’s some basic advice to give it a try:
⛷ A great way to decide which foot to lead with is to go with the foot used to kick a soccer ball.
⛷ To attain and maintain proper balance, keep most of the weight over the board.
⛷ Learn to strap into the board while standing, as this saves considerable energy, instead of repeatedly pushing up from sitting in the snow.
⛷ Traverse evenly across the slope to learn how to ride and gain edge control. With improvement, use this skill to explore new terrain, find stashes of powder and deal with any slopes encountered.
⛷ To execute turns in one smooth movement, start in a heel side slide slip (body facing down the hill). Press down on the front foot. As the board starts to point down the hill, rotate the head, shoulders and hips until the front hand is pointing to the other side of the slope and the body is facing up the mountain.