Downhill skiing is one of those seductive thrill sports that appeals to every age and shape. Last week, I skied with a petite 74-year-old grandmother of six. She took her first parallel turn when she was 20, and more than 50 years later, she is still skiing. The lines in her face are every bit as deep as her blissful enthusiasm for this high-risk, high-reward sport.
“You’ve gotta keep going and do the things you love to do,” Elizabeth told me, riding the chairlift that took us to the top of an Aspen mountain run called Dipsy Doodle. “If I ever stop skiing, you’ll know I’m dead.”
Being pretty new to falling down a mountain on parabolic-shaped slats, I prefer not to think about Death while the glistening white pines fly by. I’d rather focus on standing taller, relaxing my shoulders, leaning my hips forward and feeling the soles of my feet as they roll over the snow, shifting the weight to my downhill ski.
Yes, I take lessons. And so should everyone, at least the first day or two you’re on the slopes. The average recreational skier in this country skis only five to seven days a year, so don’t expect to start where you left off last year.
Instead, as you’re allowing your body to acclimate to the altitude - drink lots of water, don’t push too hard - buy some class time with a worthy ski teacher who can remind you how to turn, how to ride the bumps without ruining your knees, and most important for your safety, how to control your speed and direction.
Here are a few more suggestions for those of you who ski already and others who are just thinking about taking the plunge:
NOT A FITNESS SPORTDownhill skiing is fun, popular, many people’s idea of a dream vacation, but it is not a fitness sport. It will not get you into shape the way running, walking, cycling or even cross-country skiing will. Those are traditional aerobic sports that rhythmically work your body and challenge your cardiovascular system, and if you train in those sports three to six times a week, for 30-60 minutes a session, you will boost your endurance, strengthen your muscles, and improve your overall health and happiness. Downhill skiing, on the other hand, can harm your health and make you very unhappy if you come to it unfit, unskilled and fearful.
TRAIN NOT TO COMPLAIN
Skiing is a mindbody sport of the highest caliber, and before you hit the slopes, you should train for it physically and mentally. Do quad strengtheners, side-to-side jumps, visualizations, breathing exercises, and of course yoga. Why? Because if you arrive at the mountain with strong legs, a toned and flexible core, and a relaxed, focused mind, you will ski better, enjoy it more and significantly lower your risk of injury. Can you get by without sport-specific training, by just showing up and hoping for the best? Sure. Soft, wide parabolic skis have made turning - and even stopping! - so much easier. But don’t be surprised if your back hurts, your knees ache and you have to quit after an hour or two. I am opposed to the politics of fear, but when it comes to downhill skiing, the more time you spend preparing, the less time you’ll need repairing.
BEWARE THE “BOOT-TOO-LOOSIES”Most skiers know the danger of skiing out-of-bounds, skiing when you’re tired, as well as skiing without a helmet (wear one!). But the danger of wearing loose boots? “Yes!” says Jack Rafferty, the boot guru of Snowmass Village, who is waging an uphill campaign to alert skiers to one of the most serious, yet least recognized problems in the ski industry today: loose boots.
“Most people ski in boots that are one, two, even three sizes too big for them,” says Jack. That’s because they buy or rent boots that are comfortable from the get-go, instead of starting with a snug boot that must be tweaked by a boot fitting expert like Jack.
If your boots are too loose, you can’t control your skis, your feet get cold and tired, and it’s all downhill from there. Jack wants all the skiers in the world to make sure they are not the victim of “boottooloosies.” I promised him I would help.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! RESPECT LIMITS“Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.” - Author unknown
Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com..