If this is your first winter out on the slopes, or if you are making a change from skiing, then I’m sure you’ll want to make the most of it. A winter sports holiday isn’t exactly the most relaxing time, as you’ll be pushing yourself to learn a new skill in a very testing environment. But it definitely pays off in the end! Having boarded for 20 years myself, I can tell you that nothing beats a nice clear run on a sunny day in the mountains. If you are looking for ways to make your first trip more of a memorable holiday, and maybe the start of a new hobby, you’ll want to ensure you get the most out of an expensive week!
First of all, you need to prepare before you go away. It’s no good getting on the slopes and finding out that you aren’t fit enough or flexible enough to stand up to a day of riding powder! Nothing is as disheartening as having to head indoors just after lunch, when there are still areas of fresh snow just waiting to be ridden! There are 3 areas to look at – flexibility, balance and overall fitness.
We will deal with a general fitness plan here, as without a full consultation we can’t recommend a more focused set of exercises – please call or visit the website to book a free 15 minute consultation to discuss how we can provide a more tailored approach.
Get flexible! 3 simple stretches
We will start off with one of the most important aspects of fitness, but one that is readily ignored – flexibility! Most people will think about strength or aerobic capacity first for sports, but these aspects can be hampered by a lack of mobility. During exercise, minor tears are made in your muscles – this stimulates muscle growth, and builds extra strength and size. However, it also causes the muscles to shorten slightly. Over time, this can lead to tightness and reduced mobility. One of the keys to a successful boarding trip is mobility through the lower back, hips and legs – tight muscles can cause imbalances through these areas, leading to aching, pain or discomfort at the end of the day, or possibly even a more serious injury!
While we don’t have space for a full stretching regime here, there are 3 key stretches we can look at: hamstrings, quads and hips. These muscle groups are the main ones that will be used while snowboarding.
- We’ll start with the hamstring muscles. To begin, find a chair that you can place your foot on comfortably. Stand facing it, with your heel on the chair, & toes facing straight up. Bend your knee slightly – no more than a slight kink, so your leg is almost straight. Keeping your back and stomach tight, bend forwards from your hips – try and get as much movement in the hips as you can, and keep your back straight. You should feel a stretch into the back of your thigh. Hold it for 30 seconds, and repeat three times on each leg.
- Next, to target the quads on the front of your leg, we will still need the chair. Stand upright, and hold onto the chair with one hand. With the other hand pull your foot up behind you, aiming to touch your buttocks with your foot. Don’t worry if you can’t get it that far, just work with what is comfortable. Keep your knees as close together as you can, and try not to bend forward too much. This can be a fairly strong stretch, so don’t push too much – any pain means you are at risk of damaging the muscle, so stop if it hurts. If you can’t quite get your foot up high enough, you can wrap a towel around your ankle and use that to lift your foot. Again, hold it for 30 seconds, three times each leg.
- Lastly, to target the hips, you get to rest and lay down! Lying on your back, pull one leg up to your chest. Hold on to your knee, and pull it across your chest towards the opposite shoulder – right knee to left shoulder, and vice versa. You’ll get a stretch into your hip/buttock area. Again, like the other stretches, hold it for 30 seconds, three times each side. You might recognise a pattern with these…
All the stretches should be done in a comfortable range. It isn’t a competition, and you run the risk of injury if it hurts while you are doing it. A feeling of tightness or an intense stretch is as far as you need to go, but feel free to build the stretches over time – start gently. There is no benefit in pain – you won’t speed up the process by hurting yourself!
Work on balance
Next, we come on to balance. You can imagine that snow and ice can be slippery, especially when strapped to a waxed board. On a slope!
We start with a pillow. Place it on the floor, and stand on it with feet around shoulder-width apart. Keep your eyes on a fixed place on the wall, or choose something outside to look at. The pillow will make your stance slightly off-balance, so you may feel wobbly. Try to stand without moving your feet for a minute. If this is easy, then we have further steps to try! Next, move your feet together, so you have your ankles touching, and toes pointing forward. Keep your eyes on the same spot, and again aim for a minute.
If you get to a minute with this exercise, then you can repeat the steps – but with your eyes closed. Feet apart, then feet together.
Once you master standing with your eyes closed, we can add some extra difficulty! Start with feet apart and eyes open. Try and lift one foot in front of you, and reach the opposite hand out to touch your foot, so if you lift the left foot, you’d reach with the right hand, you can bend your leg slightly if you aren’t flexible enough to touch your toes (see the stretches above, if that is the case!) if you are really adventurous, you can try this with your eyes closed, but please make sure you have someone nearby to stop you falling, and you clear any sharp objects out of the way first!
Don’t forget fitness
The last step we will look at is overall cardio fitness. While you might think sliding down a hill doesn’t take much effort, you’d be surprised how much energy you’ll use for each run! And without a good fitness base, you may find you’ll have to head in early to recover.
We can look at two ways of improving cardio capacity – slower exercise over a longer period, and short, intense sessions. Doing a mixture of both would provide the most benefit, but some people prefer one to the other.
I would suggest aiming to be able to complete a comfortable 5k run before you go away. This would be around 30 minutes of running at a reasonable pace, leaving you slightly breathless but able to talk. This should allow enough aerobic capacity to complete most routes on the mountain, which won’t be longer than around 10-15 minutes of riding at a time. To reach this level, we should start with an achievable goal – don’t expect to run for 30 minutes straight away! Start with 1 minute running, 2 minutes walking for 12 minutes. This should give you a good idea of how good your base level of fitness is. Try and run 2 or 3 times a week.
Over a period of around 4 weeks, you should be able to build this to 5 minutes running, 1 walking repeated over the half hour. Take it in easy steps – add 30 seconds running each time, and reduce the walking as you start to see improvement. Never push too hard, and stop adding extra running time if you can’t complete it easily.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can add some sprint training as well. This tends to be more intense, but adds some explosive power to your muscles – important if you are after hard, carving turns in icy conditions, or fancy a trip to the snow park (maybe not, on your first trip out…). Try sprinting over 50 metres as hard as you can, and repeating 3 to 8 times. First time out, you’ll be doing well to complete 3 sprints, so don’t aim too high with this one!! Try do do this once or twice a week. You can add it to your running schedule, or replace one longer run with a sprint session.
Don’t ignore any aches or pains before you go
One final point – look out for any problems that might pop up during your preparations. These may be signs that there are underlying issues that need to be addressed. Instead of letting them build into a problem, why not make an appointment at MSO and let us build a set of exercises and a treatment plan aimed specifically at letting you make the most of your trip? And once you come home from your holiday, I’m sure you will be hooked for life! That means, come next winter, you’ll want to improve, so let us start early and get you in top shape for next year!