In shape for the slopes |

In shape for the slopes

Local athletes start to prepare their bodies for ski season

Connor Bernard, 15, left, and Sam Glaisher, 16, work in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's weight room at Howelsen Hill on Thursday afternoon. The club's alpine director, Deb Armstrong, said her athletes are preparing for the coming ski season with a combination of strength and short-burst agility drills. Those exercises are more fine-tuned than the general fitness routines the group followed through the spring and summer.
Joel Reichenberger

— The evening was cool and the morning cold, but winter still seemed a million miles away Thursday afternoon at the base of Howelsen Hill. Mountain bikers struggled up the trails, just like they had all summer, and shorts and T-shirts were the clothes of choice. Nearby, a sand volleyball game raged on.

Between the last gasps of summer mayhem, however, a group of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes had their eyes focused firmly on the snow. One after another, girls from the SSWSC’s alpine program leapt over a series of hurdles. They jumped them forward, then jumped them facing to the side and turned around and jumped them back facing the other direction. And they did it all without pulling out of their tuck, hopping hunched over like frogs on the shore.

It’s all a part of the club’s efforts to prepare for the coming season. The Steamboat Ski Area is set to open Nov. 26, which means that although there’s still time to get in shape for the season, aspiring skiers better get cracking.

All-around athletes

The alpine club skiers weren’t trying to imitate frogs. Rather, they were focusing on explosive exercises. Alpine coach Deb Armstong said such activities are a part of a summer-long plan to get and keep the racers in shape.

First, she said the goal was to build a base level of fitness with jogging and biking. It’s important simply to be athletic.

Armstrong, an Olympic gold medalist in 1984 and an Olympian again in 1988, said she did whatever possible to stay active when she was growing up in the sport, and even later when she was a part of the U.S. Ski Team.

“I played soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis and ran track,” she said. “When I got older and was on the U.S. Ski Team, working out became my job, but I defined working out very broadly. I’d maybe play three sets of tennis and go for a jog, then the weight room. Or, the next day I might go windsurfing half the day then worked on agility drills.

“I appreciated sports. I made it a long way in my ski racing career, as far as you can go. In my case, my athleticism – general, all-around athleticism – paid off.”

As the season grows closer, though, she said the focus turns to more race-specific exercises for today’s Olympic dreamers.

“We want more explosive and anaerobic activities – jumping, bounding, plyometrics,” she said. “Skiing is a very explosive sport, and it takes tremendous strength to ski at a high level, so the weight room comes into play, as well.”

The exercises are tailored to improve an athlete’s balance, core and power.

“When you’re skiing downhill, that’s an uneven surface, and a lot of things can happen,” she said. “Maybe you go off a bump and land. That’s a lot of force on your body. You want to have good balance and be strong to help absorb that force.”

Preventing the pain

Melissa Baumgartner, a physical therapist and the owner of The Center for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, agreed that all-around fitness is key to a healthy ski season.

She doesn’t spend her days working with teenagers high on Olympic hopes, however. She spends them rehabbing local warriors who hope past injuries don’t wipe out a chance of skiing this winter.

Baumgartner said many people prepare for the slopes by working their legs, but that working on the body’s core also is essential.

“They forget that working the core is almost as important,” she said. “You need to work on the abdominal muscles, the quads and the glutes. Good core strength will help with balance, and that’s obviously important in preventing falls and injuries.”

She specifically suggested lunges to help strengthen the core body muscles.

Baumgartner said the most common ski injuries she sees center on the knee and the ACL. Often, skiers will blow a knee out while trying to prevent a fall.

Shoulder injuries also are common, she said. They occur either from falling on a shoulder or injuring it while trying to cushion a fall. Such upper extremity injuries are more common to snowboarders, while knee injuries are more common with skiers.

“Plyometrics are great for both things,” Baumgartner said. “Exercises where you have to make quick reactions help, things like jumping from side to side, running or cutting.”

She said something as simple as hiking or trail running can help both to build general fitness and simulate the uneven nature of the slopes.

With nine weeks remaining until the mountain opens, it’s not too late to get started.

“It takes six to eight weeks to really make a difference, so now is the time to start,” she said.

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