How to stay safe, have fun, and minimizing injury risk on the ski hill Partnering with Steven’s Pass Ski Patrol

By Kristen Vaughan, DPT

After an early season teaser that got all of the powder hounds drooling, we now all wait in anticipation for the heart of the season to commence and take what days we can get in the meantime.

This is a great time to work on any problem-areas in your body that you may still be working through from the off-season or that popped up in the early season. If you need to catch-up on some pre/early-season training: check out our self-assessment and exercise progressions to see what areas might need some attention:

As the season is underway, caring for your body can not only make for a more enjoyable experience on the hill, it can speed your natural recovery and may help prevent injuries from occurring. Recently, Union PT’s Mitch Owens and Kristen Vaughan, along with US Ski Team provider Mandie Majerus of Lake Washington PT, visited with Ski Patrollers from Steven’s Pass to discuss ways to accomplish these goals throughout the winter:

  1. Gear Check:
    • Skiers, have you had your bindings inspected this year to make sure that your DIN settings release appropriately? This is especially important if you have new gear. Not all bindings and boots interact equally.
    • Protect your head! We advocate for the use of helmets at all times, but in the early season there can be even more rocks and trees exposed increasing the risk of hitting your head on something hard. There can also be more skiers of varying abilities in concentrated areas when terrain is limited.
    • If you are headed into the back-county, be sure that you are equipped with functional rescue devices and proper knowledge.
  2. Warm-ups
    • Before making the first turns of the day, prime your joints and muscles, particularly in vulnerable areas if you’ve had previous injuries or know of “problem areas”.
    • Get your blood flowing by doing some metabolic activity after that car ride. This could be as simple as walking or jogging around the parking lot, doing some jumping jack, mountain-climbers, etc.
    • Think about the muscles and joints that you will be using throughout the way and try to move them through their full ranges gently to lubricate joints and encourage elasticity in the muscles and tendons. (ie. For the hips: move front to back, out and in laterally, and rotate your leg in and out)
  3. Hydrate and Re-fuel
    • During your ski-day: Eat snacks and drink water.. Your muscles need fuel to function their best and respond to changes in weight-shifts and terrain quickly.
    • After your active day: re-hydrate, eat proteins and healthy fats to help build repair muscle fibers, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables to replenish nutrients. Replenishing fluids helps deliver nutrients to the recovering tissues and promotes joint lubrication.

(*Disclaimer: as physical therapists we are not nutritionists, merely promoting healthy habits based on general nutritional principles. Consulting a nutritionist for more specific input on your diet and talk to your doctor if you have any health concerns related to diet)

  1. Watch that “one last run”
    • More injuries tend to occur when muscles are fatigued. They can have lower power generation and slower firing leaving other tissues vulnerable. Know your limits and take breaks accordingly.
  2. Active Recovery
    • As tempting as it can be to collapse on the couch after a long, active day, doing some light activity, such as going for a short walk, can help to flush out lactic acid and deliver good nutrients to your muscles leading to faster recover.
    • Stretching, foam rolling, and working on joint mobility after your activities can leave you feeling better the next day and set’s you up to have more optimal movement ability the next time you go out.
  3. Cross-Training
    • Sports-specific training improves performance, strengthen the muscles used in your activity. For skiing this includes quadriceps and gluteals.
    • Opposing and Stability Muscles: Often neglected, these muscles are important for balancing your power sources and creating a stable foundation for those muscles to operate from. They are also important for maintaining good biomechanics which can help prevent injury. Important groups for skiers and snowboarders include: lateral hip muscles, core, and hamstrings.
    • Use the Ski-Hab Worksheet to test your performance in many of these key muscle groups and performing the associated exercises for any activities where you fall short of the benchmark.