It's not easy and not always convenient, but there are benefits to taking a little walk or climbing a few stairs, among them a better ski or snowboard season.

Being better fit is one of the things a skier or snowboarder can do away from the slopes that can help improve turns on the slopes.

And, consensus is, even a little exercise before the season is better than none.

Simple exercises like walking or biking or stepping up a few stairs involve ski- and snowboard-specific movements that can improve endurance, strength and balance, key elements in the sport.

And, the stronger and more fit an individual is, the longer and less tired he or she will be and less likely to suffer an on-hill injury.

"A lot of injuries happen when a person is fatigued and the muscles are not working right. By being stronger and more fit an individual won't get as fatigued as quickly and will be able to ski longer and harder without risk of injury," said Alex Moore, head strength and conditioning coordinator for the U.S. Ski Team.

Skiing is, indeed, a very specific sport and a very unpredictable sport. Injuries do occur, often later in the day when the skier or boarder is tired and the are muscles less likely to respond. That's why conditioning is so important.

It is suggested, of course, that before beginning any fitness program that an individual first get advice from his or her doctor.

As for what exercises to do, it has been shown that the simplest of exercises can do wonders for the body. These would include walking, biking, climbing stair or even stepping up and down a single step. Sit-ups or pushups or pull-ups also help, as will core conditioning.

Strengthening the core or center of the body is something new to many. Heretofore, ski and snowboard conditioning focused on strength and endurance, like running, and weight training.

The core, defined as those muscles between the hips and shoulders, is responsible for balance and stability, both important requirements for skiing and snowboarding.

Core strength involves the deep and superficial muscles that stabilize, align and move the trunk of the body, which is where much of the movement in skiing and snowboarding originates.

Many of the core exercises, noted Jaron Krause, fitness manager for Gold's Gym, "Are things people can do most anywhere with their own body weight, things like lunges, planks and body-weight squats, things that you don't need a lot of fancy equipment to do.

"Why is it important? The core is basic to all human movements, whether it's reaching forward and taking the TV remote off the coffee table or rolling over in bed or performing a turn while skiing."

Which is why there is more and more emphasis on building the core muscles.

What happens, said Moore, is if skiers or snowboarders are weak through the core, "they can get themselves in a bad position or they won't be able to hold a position, say in a turn, which puts them at greater risk of injury or not being able to execute the turn as cleanly as they should."

Strengthening the core involves more than doing a few sit-ups, as some may believe. The core consists of many muscles that run the entire length of the torso and make it possible to stand and shift weight for skiing and snowboarding.

A core workout doesn't need to take much time or equipment, but can work all the basic core muscles. Here again, working with a trainer or taking a pilates class is a good introduction to the best core strengthening routine.

There are, of course, those who chose to do their conditioning when the season begins — on the slopes — which is an approach Krause advised against.

"Skiing (and snowboarding) are jarring to joints, which are supported largely by the involuntary stabilizing muscles. Many people these days have sedentary jobs, largely sitting behind desks so these muscles become entirely de-conditioned. To take them from this state and put them through a gauntlet of new snow, for example, could result in some real damage," he said.

There are, of course, some benefits in working with a personal trainer in order to get the best conditioning options.

"With a trainer, you have someone who can see if there are any imbalances in the muscles or body. A trainer can then work with you on mobility, flexibility, core, legs and hopefully develop a balanced program to optimize performance," added Moore.

Moreover, said Krause, "A trainer can plan a program to meet the specific goals of an individual. Say, for example, an individual has a goal of skiing 100 days this ski season. We make sure we put down a program that will make that possible … a program that will reduce injuries, increase endurance, both muscular and cardiovascular, to a point where it's possible for that individual to get in 100 days."

Some fitness clubs do offer first-time visitors a onetime free session with a personal trainer. It is then up to the individual whether to continue with the trainer or work individually.

As noted, common everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs help, as do biking and hiking. If possible, jogging is a good at-home exercise. Hiking downhill and walking on uneven ground is a good exercise for balance and strength.

The muscle group often neglected is the hamstring, according to Moore.

"Working the hamstring helps reduce the incidence of ACL injuries, which is the most common ski injury," he said. "It's important an individual have a well rounded program, not just working on quad strength. Make sure there's also core and hamstring strength exercises."

The mistake many make is they overload their bodies and try to get in shape in a few days rather than a few weeks. They train at a high intensity when it would be more beneficial to begin slowly, like simply taking a walk or climbing a few stairs, and then build up to a more intense program.

"For those who haven't had much exercise, I would suggest they start slowly and then begin to build up the fitness base and build strong muscles, ligaments and tendons over time and not try go do it in a day or two. They shouldn't try to do everything all at once," said Moore.

It is, of course, never too late to begin a conditioning program. Krause suggested spending 20 minutes a day, three days a week as a good start, based, of course, on age and prior conditioning, and on the advice of a doctor.

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It is important not only to make sure there are strong muscles behind every turn, but it's also important that endurance play a part and the skier or snowboarder be able to repeat good, clean turns time after time after time.

In order to do that an individual must be willing to, say, take a walk or climb a few stairs or do a few lunges before visiting the slopes.

It will help in avoiding some of the more common injuries, such as anterior and posterior cruciate ligament (ACL/PCL) injuries, concussions, shoulder separations and dislocations, wrist fracture and sprains, and lower back pain.

Ray Grass is a freelancer, and former Deseret News outdoor editor and ski writer. Email:

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