Spine & Sport: Staying safe on the slopes

Physiotherapist Virginie Pichard-Jolicoeur offers five tips for avoiding injury this ski season

The ski season has begun! Despite its mild climate,Vernon is a world-class ski destination with Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre and Silver Star Mountain Resort a short drive from town.

Now is a good time to optimize your preparation for a happy and injury-free season. Here are five tips to a successful start.

1. Build up your cardiovascular capacity.

Walking, running, hiking, biking — outside or in the gym — no matter what activity you enjoy doing, get out there and get your heart pumping as you get a bowl of fresh air! Starting the season with a base level of overall fitness will make the transition easier and more enjoyable!

2. Wake up your stabilizer muscles.

It is obvious that big muscle groups like your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes are key to good form on the slopes and on the trails. However, did you know that smaller muscle groups like your inner and outer thighs, your abdominal and back muscles are essential in preventing injuries? Standing on a balance board or at home trying to balance on one leg on a pillow are simple ways to wake up some of your stabilizer muscles. Too easy? You can try squatting or closing your eyes (and visualize the ski hill/trail). Core-strengthening exercises like planking are also recommended to help protect your spine.

3. Tune up your equipment.

Bring your equipment to your favourite ski shop for a pre-season tune-up. Maintaining your equipment in good working order and tuned-up is an easy way to prevent injuries and optimize your performance. Appropriate pole length is also key in preventing shoulder injuries — especially in cross-country skiing. The pole length varies for skating or classic technique. Make sure you check with your technician that you have the optimal pole length.

Are you still hitting the slopes without a protective helmet? This year is the year to make your wisest investment: get yourself a properly fitting helmet and reduce your risk of head injuries.

4. Take a refresher lesson.

No matter your level of fitness or ability, it is a great idea to take a refresher lesson adapted to your needs at the beginning of the season. It is the best way to catch bad habits. It also gives you points to concentrate on for the season ahead. Using optimal technique not only makes you more efficient but is crucial in preventing injuries.

5. Ease into the new season… start progressively!

Progression has to be one of my favourite words in injury prevention. The human body has an amazing adaptation capacity. However, there is a fine line between doing too much and getting injured and doing just enough for our body to adapt and become stronger. When starting a new season, it is recommended to go more frequently for shorter periods of time. You can then regularly, but progressively, increase the number of runs or kilometres you ski or snowboard.

Finally,you are very likely to be sore after your first few times back skiing, this is normal. Go progressively and your body will adapt and get used to skiing again. Following the above tips will help you reduce the risks of getting injured…and subsequently being out for part of the season!

See you on the trails!

Virginie Pichard-Jolicoeur is an avid cross-country and backcountry skier and a physiotherapist at Spine & Sports North End.