Remember last year, after your first run of the season? Your legs were twanging like a banjo string and your thighs felt as if they were filled with lumps of charcoal. On the next run, you tried to pull a simple 360° off of a baby jump. With legs burning and lungs pulling in as much thin mountain air as possible, you ate it—total yard sale. Forget trying to impress those hot girls you met on the chairlift; their parting gift was some stifled laughter and a limp wave.
But don’t worry. That’s not going to be the story this year. We asked a couple of the country’s top ski and snowboard pros for their advice on how to get started with building a solid base for all your winter adventures. We also gathered their tips on everything you need to know for your first day back—the stuff that’ll ensure you have a great time...with fewer faceplants.
Building winter strength
First off, forget anybody who swears that squats on a Bosu ball will make you the next Bode Miller: “Most of the research on unstable surface training shows that it doesn’t offer an added benefit over traditional strength training,” says Michael Naperalsky, C.S.C.S., strength and conditioning coach for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Instead, Naperalsky prefers compound movements such as squats, cleans, and deadlifts to strengthen the lower body and core muscles, along with agility drills to develop elasticity, quickness, and power. “The idea is to make you a stronger, fitter, more powerful athlete who can then use his time on the hill to become a better skier or snowboarder,” he says.
Improve your balance with dumbbell rear-foot elevated split squats: Hold dumbbells in each hand. Place your back foot up on a bench or short plyo box. Similar to an in-place lunge, stand tall, then bend your front knee and drop straight down. Keep your front foot flat, and press hard to stand back up. Try three to four sets of five to eight reps for each leg.
Boost your agility with single-leg hops: Standing on one leg, hold an athletic stance and quickly hop back and forth over a line on the floor. Stay on the ball of your foot, be as quick and light as possible, and maintain body control. Try both forward/backward and lateral hops, for three to four sets of 10-15 seconds for each leg, each way.
Maximize your endurance
Your average run down the hill will last about two minutes, and then you’re sitting in a chilly chairlift on your way back up the mountain. So high-intensity intervals are a great way to mimic those efforts, Naperalsky says. Get your burn on with a spinning session, treadmill run, hill run, or any other favorite cardio workout.
Sprint, recover, repeat: Try for four to six reps of 30-second hard efforts with an easy recovery pace between efforts. For example, go 30 seconds hard, plus 30-60 seconds easy. Repeat this for a total of two or three rounds (eight to 18 hard efforts total). To progress the intervals, increase your hard efforts from 30 seconds up to one or even two minutes. Be sure to extend the recovery period as well.
“For the first day back on the slopes, take the time and make the effort to get your skis or snowboard tuned and waxed,” says Bobby Murphy, director of Vail Ski & Snowboard School in Colorado. “Freshly tuned equipment will perform better.” Head to your local shop and have it done (inexpensively) before you leave for the resort.
Stretch... After you hit the mountain, make sure you rehab just as you would after any other workout. One good option is the half-kneeling hip flexor stretch.
How to do it: Kneel with one knee on the ground and the other leg forward (foot flat), pull your chest up tall, and slowly push your hips forward into the stretch. Hold a gentle stretch for one minute on each leg for two rounds.
...And roll “The pressure from a foam roller tells receptors in your muscles and tendons to relax and return to their resting length,” Naperalsky says.
How to do it: Lie facedown and prop yourself up on your hands with a foam roller situated horizontally beneath your quads. Use your hands to help you roll back and forth, pausing occasionally when you feel a knot or adhesion. Lie faceup to roll your hamstrings and calves. Don’t roll over your knees in either position.