The start of a new season and the promise of freshies and face shots—it’s what winter is all about. Of course, it can also be a recipe for really sore muscles and the chance of injury. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help prevent injuries and to help your muscles recover after a balls-to-the-wall ski day. What you do before you hit the slopes, while you’re skiing, and après ski can make a big difference. I talked to Linda Vernon Scholl PT, DPT, at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center, to get some tips.
1. Warm up
Make sure your muscles are well warmed up before you hit the slopes. While you might be a little out of breath just from walking your skis to the lift, that doesn’t mean you’re warmed up (it more likely means you’re feeling a bit of the altitude). Take a few minutes to warm up right after you get out of the car. First, find a non-slippery place to stand next to your car. Hold on to your car door or tailgate, and swing your legs back and forth to get your hips loosened up. Then do some trunk twists. Then swing your arms forward and backward—think big body motions to warm up and stretch out your muscles.
1.5. Warm up some more
When you get on the slopes, take some easy laps first. This is hard, especially when there’s fresh powder to plunder, but taking some warm-up runs does more than prime your muscles for the day. It gives you a chance to get a feel for the snow and the conditions, it gives you some time to get used to being on skis if it’s been a while, and it gives you a chance to get a feel for any new equipment you might be using. Make sure to pay attention to the snow throughout the day—if the weather is warming up or cooling down, the snow will be as well.
2. Choose your runs wisely
If it’s your first day out, it’s a good idea to take it easy even after a few warm-up runs. Your ego will probably disagree, but if you make wise choices the first day, you’ll be ready to charge hard later. If you know your buddies will be gunning for the steeps, it might help to lay out your plans ahead of time. Let them know you’re going easy the first day. A smart first day means you’ll be ready to join them the rest of the week. If you want to get a head-start on your season, stay in shape throughout the year, and consider taking a class specific to getting in shape for skiing.
3. Have another drink … of water
Staying well hydrated is huge, especially since you’ll be up at altitude when you’re on the slopes and when you’re in the city. Salt Lake City is above 4,000 feet, which might be higher than what you’re used to, and when you’re skiing, you’ll be up at around 11,000 feet. Make sure you’re drinking a ton of water. We know all pit stops are a pain, but your muscles and your head will thank you in the long run. Unfortunately, beer and shotskis aren’t good hydrators. Try to save that for après-ski.
4. Resistance is futile (during a fall)
If you start to fall, just let yourself fall. Ligaments tend to tear when you fight a fall by holding yourself up. Don’t try to get up while you’re still sliding, either. Your instinct might be to try to get up and regain control while you’re moving, but that can also cause tears (especially ACL ones). Keep your arms up and forward, try to keep your legs together and your knees bent, and don’t get up until you’ve stopped moving. If you’re moving toward a tree, dig your poles or boots in to try to stop yourself.
5. Stop while you’re ahead
Know when to call it a day. This means stopping when you feel like you could push yourself to go one more run. Just stop. Your buddies are going for one more run? Fine—use the time to do some gentle leg stretches. Remember: it’s better for your tired muscles to recover over a relaxing dinner than in the physician’s office.
6. Equipment check
If you’re renting gear or breaking in new gear, make sure you give yourself some time to get used to it. If you’re using gear you haven’t had tuned in a while, it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Dirt, salt, and rust can make your binding springs stiff, which can mean they might not release when they should. If you’re borrowing someone else’s skis, make sure the DIN setting is right for you, and make sure your boots fit well in the bindings. If you’re borrowing boots, make sure those fit as well. You want your skis to react quickly, and that won’t happen if your boots are too big.
7. Put your brain in a bucket
A helmet, to be exact. If you’re heading for the terrain park, consider wrist guards and elbow and knee pads, and body armor if you’re going all out. And remember—none of that protection is a trade for your common sense.
8. Hot tub or cool shower?
After a hard day on the slopes, and especially after your first one or two ski days, a cool shower or bath will decrease the inflammation in your muscles. You certainly don’t need to sit in a vat of ice for hours—just a quick, cool bath or a 45-second cool shower will work.
If a dip on the hot tub sounds much more inviting, just make sure you’re using it to your advantage. Stretch out your hamstrings, your quads, and your back while you’re in there. And make sure to keep hydrating. Bring a bottle of water or two and keep drinking.
9. Roll and stretch, roll and stretch
Some hotel gyms might have foam rollers, and many places now sell stick rollers/massagers (sometimes called a travel stick or stick self-roller) that can be easy to pack in your luggage. If you’re into DIY, you can also quite easily make one using PVC and handle bars. Using a roller for a few minutes before and after your ski session will help both wake up your muscles and stretch them out. Roll out your quads, hamstrings, calves, IT band, glutes, and those muscles on either side of your shin bone that have been doing double-duty in your boots all day.
If you don’t have a roller, just make sure to take some time to really get into some good stretches. Put on some quiet music and spend some time stretching out in your hotel room.
10. Keep on moving
After your ski day, the most important thing to do if you feel impending soreness (or you’re really sore from the previous day) is to keep blood flowing. Go for a walk, find a very gradual hill and slowly walk up and down it a few times, or go to your hotel gym and ride the exercise bike with no resistance. If your hotel has a pool, doing a few slow laps can help get your muscles moving and stretch them out. You’ll feel sore at first, but it will really help in the long run. Fifteen minutes on the bike, or a slow 20-minute walk will do wonders.