The Upside of Downhill Skiing

Make the Most of Peak Experiences



Snow brings fresh fun with winter sports and recreation. Cross-country skiing and snowboarding are healthy options, but neither offers the scope and variety in terrain, movement and exercise afforded by the perennial favorite of alpine downhill skiing.

Jen Butson, public affairs director of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, representing 48 facilities, believes that downhill particularly appeals to women, due to its, “ …accessibility to all ages, abilities and body types, its gracefulness, and being a way for a family to experience nature together.”

Yet, some skiers may experience diminished interest due to memories of cold limbs, residual aches and pains or crowded slopes. Or, they might be concerned about resorts’ perceived high energy usage. Cost is another factor. Here are some tips to get folks back on the slopes and max out mountain moments.

Warm-up exercises. Skiing demands slightly bent knees and a firm back to absorb bumps, so do some deep squats and short hops from that position beforehand, advises Dr. Joe Ethen, owner of Lakefront Chiropractic Center, in Glencoe, Illinois. “This exercise targets the upper quadriceps and provides full-range motion of joints.” Using ski poles to initiate turns and propel through chairlift lines works the arms and shoulders, so he also recommends upper body stretching.

Foot care. Boots need to be tight fitting in order to transmit the pressure to make turns from the foot through the boot and binding to the ski itself. The necessary snugness can hinder circulation and chill toes. A solution: Loosen boot buckles while waiting for and taking the chairlift, and wear thin, synthetic-blend socks that wick away moisture and accelerate evaporation.

Avoid the crowds. When skiing on a weekend, locate one or two trails serviced by a mid-mountain chairlift, which is usually far less crowded than the main lift closest to the lodge. “Many resorts have high-speed, four-seat chairlifts, which reduce wait time,” says Karl Winter, vice president of Ski the Rockies, which represents 30-plus resorts in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Canada. Eat early or late to get in more skiing while others lunch in the lodge. Take a workweek vacation day or two to totally beat weekend crowds.

Safety. Call out, “On your right,” for example, if you pass a skier that’s to your left, to make sure he or she doesn’t ski into your path. Stay aware of faster moving skiers and boarders. “Don’t stop for too long in the middle of a steep trail to rest or take in the splendid views,” counsels Butson. “A speedy skier might not see you there beneath a mogul.”

Late-season benefits. More natural and manmade snow on the slopes is the norm as the season progresses. Warmer temperatures later in the season also tend to make conditions more comfortable and soften ice and hard-packed snow, slowing speeds a bit and making turns easier.

“More snow makes skis easier to control,” explains Winter. “It allows you to glide and carve your turns and maintain a turning rhythm. So, you don’t have to work as hard, which also saves energy.” Many resorts offer special late-season discounts.

The United States counted 11.5 million downhill skiers, 8.2 million snowboarders and 4.5 million cross-country skiers in 2011.
Source: SnowSports Industries Association


Ski green. Joining a ski club can deliver savings on lift tickets, as well as lodging booked by the group. Plus, traveling by bus or carpooling saves gas. Remember to properly recycle or dispose of refuse and pick up any trash you spot in the snow.

When choosing a destination, check to see if the resort goes for electric vehicles, composting, local purchasing programs, efforts to reduce carbon footprints, water conservation and employee and guest sustainability education. All are elements of the National Ski Areas Association’s Environmental Charter, endorsed by 190 resorts that together, host about 75 percent of all U.S. skier and snowboarder visits. Many resorts are adopting the association’s new sustainable slopes and climate challenge programs.

If you need skis, but are on a tight budget, consider renting or checking out early season ski swaps, which also can offer more traditional eco-friendly, gently worn clothing. If you feel you must wax ski bases, select a product that is free of PFCs and other petrochemicals, which can rub off into snow and eventually find their way into waterways. With the ultra-smooth, resilient bases of modern skis, waxing has become unnecessary for most recreational skiers.

Enjoy winter’s wonderland.


For consumer tips and destination directories, visit nsaa.org, SkiTheRockies.com, SnowSports.org and SkiVermont.com.

Avid skier Randy Kambic is a freelance editor and writer in Estero, FL, and a copyeditor for Natural Awakenings.

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