Get Ready, Get Set, Ski

Body and Gear Can Use a Little Help Before Hitting the Slopes

Ryan Rosenthal of Kennewick jumps his snowboard while carving down the mountain at White Pass this past March. With the snowboarding and skiing seasons about to begin, now is the time to get the body into shape for the rigors of the downhill sport. (Brandon Swanson / bswanson@chronline.com)

By Carrina Stanton / For The Chronicle
On a recent Monday morning, White Pass area back country skier Troy Good admitted he’d been spending a lot more time lately looking toward the sky and watching for the first signs of snowfall.

Though he can ski well into June and July in some of the more extreme terrain he traverses in Washington, nothing quite beats the beginning of the true ski season in his own back yard.

“It’s supposed to be extreme,” Good said of predictions for this year’s ski season. “It’s supposed to be really deep. I just can’t wait for it to come.”

“Everybody keeps saying we’re going to get hammered this year,” added Mark Hoffmann, owner of White Pass Sports Hut in Packwood.

With ski and snowboarding season rapidly approaching, now is the time to start thinking about preparations, both for your gear and for your body. Hoffmann, who purchased the White Pass Sports Hut last season, said he already has had some customers come in to have their gear tuned up. Unfortunately, he said he doesn’t suspect he will see enough of them this season.

“Skis are like cars,” Hoffmann said. “You need to keep them tuned up and oiled. Maintenance is really important. But a lot of people don’t think about that.”

A complete ski tune-up, which includes smoothing of the undersides, waxing and checking of bindings, costs about $25 at the Sports Hut. It is especially important to have your bindings checked, Hoffmann said, because factors including your height, weight and even your age can affect how they should be set. Another important part of checking your gear is to survey the undersides of your boots. Boots tend to wear out at the toes and heels, which are both essential pieces in the proper hold and release for bindings.

If you don’t own your own ski gear, locations such as the Sports Hut and ski resorts can rent you everything from bibs and jackets to skis and snowboards. Hoffmann said he is required by law to check and recheck all of the bindings for his rental skis, which means skiers do not have to worry about whether their gear is in good working order or not. Hoffmann also stocks a variety of “demo” skis and snowboards that he also rents. These are specialty, cutting-edge models that would usually cost a skier a great deal of money to purchase.

“Instead of paying $1,000 or $1,200 for a pair of skis for $28 you can ski with $1,000 skis for a day and if you only ski about 10 times a year, that’s a pretty good deal,” Hoffmann said.

Improperly working gear can not only slow you down, cautioned Dr. Scott Slattery of Washington Orthopaedic Center in Centralia, it could also put you out for the season. Slattery, who is not only an avid skier but also does medical work with the U.S. Ski Team, said many injuries on the slopes can be avoided simply by checking your gear before heading out.

“Make sure your equipment is in shape every year and the most important thing is the bindings because they are designed to release during a fall,” Slattery said. “It’s important at the beginning of every ski season to get your bindings checked. They need to be appropriate for weight, height and skier ability.”

Knee injuries, especially tears to the anterior crucial ligament (or ACL), are some of the most common injuries Slattery said he sees with local skiers. After equipment, another major factor in preventing season-ending injuries has to do with preparing your body for the rigors of skiing before hitting the slopes. Slattery said he runs into one of two mentalities with patients: people who simply did no training to prepare for skiing; and those who trained but chose the wrong activities.

“A lot of people feel like ‘I’ve been running or biking I should be ready to go’ and while that’s helpful, just basic typical aerobic exercises are not going to be enough,” Slattery said.

Hoffmann said skiers in Washington have to contend not only with the bone and joint jarring terrain of skiing, but do so on what he calls “Cascade Concrete” — the special type of snow typical to Washington slopes that is hard packed and rarely powdery. Slattery said activities that can simulate this type of activity include trail running, mountain biking and roller blading, which all involve balance, stamina and avoiding obstacles. “Dry land training” for skiers should also include elements of weight training including lunges and squats that also simulates the weight bearing activities of skiing. Plyometrics, which includes jumping activities, is the last component Slattery recommends for pre-season preparations.

Spending time simulating proper technique can also give skiers a larger awareness of when they are more likely to fall, Slattery added. He also recommends listening to your body, especially the first few runs of the season.

“The majority of injuries I see it’s the classic end of the day, I’m going to make one more run scenario so the fatigue factor is key,” Slattery said.

Through gear and body preparations, Slattery said he’d estimate at least 50 percent of the skiing injuries he sees each season could be avoided. And that’s good for the skier since injuries are not only painful but an ACL injury would have you off skis for at least six months following reconstructive surgery, which means an end to further skiing at least this year.

Carrina Stanton is a freelance writer who lives in Centralia. She can be reached at carrinastanton@yahoo.com.