Column 20 - Downhill Skiing

Original publication date: January 18, 1984

Downhill skiing. I've never tried it but I've gone down steep hills on cross-country skis and find that few things can be more enjoyable than a fast run down a slope in freshly fallen snow. As well, few things can be more devastating than an awkward fall when your. body fails to respond to the need for precise turns and stops. I fell two out of three times going down what must seem like a baby hill to downhill skiers at Schneider's farm cross-country ski trails just outside of St. Agatha. It was enough to make me realize that there's more to downhill skiing than taking a lift to the top and whizzing down.

Downhill skiing is a combination sport as it requires high levels of both aerobic and anaerobic fitness to get you through a day of skiing safely without incredible stiffness afterward. Aerobic means with oxygen. Activities that are of medium to high intensity like jogging, biking, and swimming that last longer than two minutes use oxygen as a form of energy. Anaerobic means without oxygen. Weightlifting and sprinting do not involve endurance, but short bursts of energy, therefore they do not need to produce oxygen. They are anaerobic activities.

The downhill skier must be both a distance runner and a sprinter. The endurance is needed along with the thigh, calf, buttock, and back muscles to maintain body position and control on the way down the slope. The short bursts of power are needed to turn at the precise moment and to control the down-up-down rhythm over moguls. (Moguls are piles of snow that result from the caroing action of & skis on the hills.)

Before I would want to attempt a whole day of falling down, I would make sure my legs and lungs could withstand the abuse. I keep saying that I will attempt downhill skiing one of these winters. Maybe I should start training now for that week-end when I have nerves of steel.

If you plan on skiing for just one day out of your entire life you may feel the conditioning to be a waste of time. If you fall you'll just get up laughing, more embarrassed than hurt. Maybe not. You may be one of the 40 to 50 per cent of first time skiers who injure themselves each season. Injuries to the shoulders, elbows, thumbs and to knees are commonplace to inexperienced skiiers who are not prepared for the speed and bouncing on the slopes. The choice is yours. I prefer to not risk my body, especially my knees.

A combination jogging running, called fartlek training in Scandinavia, is used extensively to train for such sports as skiing. Jog for a few minutes then sprint to an object up ahead, whether it be a telephone pole or a parked car, then resume a relaxed jogging pace to catch your breath, then sprint again. Repeat this process over and over and you will get both aerobic and anaerobic training.

A time-honored technique for strengthening and developing the thigh, the quadricep being the most important muscle put to use in downhill skiing, is the wall-sitting exercise. It is an isometric exercise which works guickly. Balance yourself against a wall with the small of your back flush against the wall. With feet slightly apart and out about six inches from the wall, lower your hips to a near-sitting position. Maintain this hold for the count of six. Vary the position of the legs and try to extend one leg out in front while maimtaining the holds.

Soon enough that two out of three falls will be two out of three successful runs.

Copyright 2021 K.L. McCluskey, all rights reserved.