It's important for anyone to be in shape for skiing but it's especially important if you're an expert. The thing about being an expert is that your mind still remembers the marvelous things you were doing by the end of last season, the tricky twists and turns - but your muscles have forgotten. So away you go, full of confidence, and ... Bam! Wipeout!
Leo Cough, a director of the Toronto Ski Club and a ski instructor, says he can't count the number of times he's seen expert skiers clobber themselves at the beginning of each season. "They pull muscles, they break legs - it happens every day, every week, every month."
Peter Elson, a fitness consultant in Toronto (he designs training programs for executives and advises fitness clubs), says your muscles need a yearly refresher course, for safety's sake. "A fit person is aware of what his body is capable of. When a message that he's getting tired goes to his brain, he'll pay attention."
And there's a simple economic reason for getting into shape. "At close to $20 a day for lift tickets," says Elson, "you don't want to spend the first month doing warmups on the slope." If you're fit, you'll enjoy it more, too. "It's easier," says Elson, "so It's more fun. And you'll have energy left over for the apres-ski life."
He says that, ideally, your ski fitness regimen should begin at least two months before the first chair lift is running - so you'd better get started right away.
Three times a week, in the first month, you should, do between 30 and 40 minutes of general exercises such as cycling, swimming and jogging. Cycling is especially good because it exercises the same major muscles that skiing uses. (Put the bike in high gear and make yourself pedal hard.)
In the second month, step up the exercising to five times a week. Do your three general sessions, but add two that pertain particularly to skiing. The closer the exercises are to skiing, the better your performance will be on the slopes. For example, squat down into a schuss position, bounce up, and squat down again. Take your poles outside, snap on your boots, and simulate some jump turns. The weight of the boots alone helps to condition your legs. Use books to build a hurdle about six inches to a foot off the floor, and jump over it, back and forth, keeping your feet together. Do a short but intense workout on these specific exercises, between 15 and 25 minutes.
A lot of pulled muscles are due not to weakness but to lack of flexibility, so stretching exercises are just as important as the action exercises that get you into good muscular and cardiovascular shape. The forward lunge is a good stretching exercise: you extend one leg straight behind you, and the other in front, flexed at the knee. It sounds easy, but hold the position for a minute or two and the pain will tell you how much good it's doing. Then switch legs. Another good stretching exercise is to sit on the floor and place your soles together, then pull your feet in toward you, letting the knees fall, and relax.
For cross-country skiers, the stretching exercises are important, but you can skip the hurdle jumps. General exercises are enough. The cross-country skier's exercise should be continuous, whereas the downhill skier should exercise in shorter bursts.
The guideline for the cross-country skier is simple: if you want to be able to ski for one hour at the start of the season, you should be able to exercise steadily for one hour. Even brisk walking will do the trick; it's especially good if you carry a one-pound weight in each hand and swing your arms as you go. Begin with half an hour of this, and increase it by five or 10 minutes every week.
And when the ski season starts, keep on training, though you may cut your workouts to two a week.