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  • Writer's pictureJohn Seivert

Skiing and Snowboarding Injury Prevention

With the recent winter storms to blanket the Sierra Nevada Mountains with plenty of snow over the Thanksgiving weekend and last week, all the ski resorts have opened. Do you know what that means? Yes, thousands of skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts will be hitting the slopes for some great times in the mountains. Each year I scan the literature in the prevention of skiing related injuries to see if any new ideas have validity to them. Here is an update on the latest research around the prevention of skiing and snowboarding injuries. First, I must give you some bad news. If you have been waiting for the snow to fall to start getting into shape for the ski season, you're too late, and I warrant extreme caution if you are heading up to the slopes in the next week or less. Now, if you have been training all Summer and Fall, you are going to be okay. Let's have a look at where you should be. Make sure you are in good enough shape to enjoy a full day or two on the slopes and not get injured.

Aerobic fitness

Aerobic conditioning in the form of riding a bike (outdoors or indoor trainer) or any other indoor aerobic exercise machine is the first step to staying injury-free. Other significant types of aerobic exercises that will get you in shape to ski are running, especially up and down hills, hiking, or power walking with ski poles or trekking poles. These exercises should occur daily and for 30-60 minutes. Sports medicine studies have shown that most injuries occur when the athlete is tired or fatigued. In skiing, this usually occurs at the end of the day.

Dynamic stretches (flexibility)

These flexibility exercises need to focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, and hip flexor muscles. To make it active, you can perform the stretches in a flowing motion from one stretch to the next. Kicking the leg back and forth or going into a series of lunges moving from one foot forward to the next in a fast-paced manner is one example. The side lunges to the right and the left in quick succession will stretch the adductors dynamically, and all of these will stretch the calf muscles.

Running drills

Forwards and backward running, zig-zag running, and bounding are recommended. The zig-zag running drills prepare you for skiing. Bounding is a precursor to plyometric training exercises. It specifically related to the progression of running drills. Bounding can be like skipping, alternating high knee running, single leg hopping/bounding, and reciprocal hoping like a triple jumper in track.

These dynamic stretching drills have shown to be better than static stretching in preventing injuries in young female athletes as well as male and female collegiate athletes.

Post-workout or end of day skiing static stretching is an excellent way to assess your muscles. Are they tight, sore, or even painful? If so, you can do something about it. You can stretch the tight muscle group more, cut back on the activity that is causing the discomfort/pain or rest.

Strength training

Strengthening exercises for skiing come in all kinds of forms. The internet is filled with a lot of high-end elite level exercises. Stay safe and avoid the temptation to try these routines. Instead, performing a few of the following basic strength exercises, you can get stronger and allow you to make it to the ski resorts without getting injured while trying to do Lindsey Vonn’s squat routine. I've seen it a dozen times.

The basics of a good strength training program must entail several exercises for the lower extremities, trunk muscles, and upper extremities. You can do all the activities without the use of the equipment and get great results. Some of these exercises include full squats (i.e., thighs parallel to the floor), lunges with or without weights, balancing on an unstable surface (a couch pillow) for the lower extremities and performing forward / side planks, power cord arm pulls and spinal twists on the floor. Strength training exercises should be performed every other day (about 3-4 times a week). This allows a day of rest between these vigorous exercises to allow for proper muscle recovery. During this muscle recovery time, stretching, and aerobic exercises can keep you moving in the right direction of improving overall body fitness. To have a look at a series of safe and effective pre-skiing exercises that cover flexibility, balance, and strength, have a look at a few videos we have created to guide you in exercising safely.

Backcountry skiing

The equipment in backcountry skiing is improving by leaps and bounds, allowing more people to access areas of a mountain only experts could do years earlier. Also, you can spend the entire day backcountry skiing without purchasing a lift ticket, and you can ski up and down a mountain face once or many times, depending on your fitness level. The skills needed for backcountry skiing are the same for alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowboarding but require more overall fitness. It takes this extreme fitness level to be on the mountain for hours on end, pushing, pulling, descending, or traversing at a continuous pace. Therefore, there are a few more exercises we recommend backcountry skiers to do before skiing.

Enjoy yourself, play hard, and play safe.

Jack Emery, PT at Body Logic Physical Therapy, performing the lunge exercise. This sport-specific strengthening exercise improves quadriceps strength for Backcountry skiing.

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