As a local Yoga Teacher and athlete here in Vail, Colorado since 2002; every year I see the excitement build for the opening of what is always touted as yet another “epic” ski season. With the influx of seasonal employees, residents, and tourists; our little ski town blows up each winter as if it were a college campus and suddenly, mountain bikes are put away and my yoga classes are chock-full of eager skiers and snowboarders. When I ask if there are “any requests” the same answer echoes time and again for the need to stretch from all of the Winter Conditioning fitness classes that pop up throughout the valley.
Even the Yoga industry is taking note and now offering classes with catchy titles such as “Yoga for Winter Sports” and “Snowga”. However, after a recent conversation with a phenomenal female athlete and local rock climbing guide; she privately confessed that “I’ve been going to the Yoga for Winter Sports but other than holding chair pose longer; I don’t really see how yoga is helping me prepare for the ski season?” After earning my 500 RYT degree with an emphasis on Yoga for Athletes I immediately could empathize with her inquiry.
Whether you are a yogi or not; “Motion is Lotion” and any movement is always a good way to start prepping for the ski season. Below are five tips and steps that any athlete or yoga teacher can follow to help get ready for that first lift ride.
1. Get your Ski Legs on!
The majority of your power as a skier and a snowboarder comes down to your legs and core. Winter Conditioning classes are great for strength building, balance, and explosive movements. However, yoga can be a great addendum and can bring an eccentric contractional approach to these muscle groups integrating strength and length at the same time which are vital for skiers and snowboarders so as to avoid sports injuries. Even the most explosive and strong skier will cross their tips while bouncing through a Double Diamond mogul field and the best snowboarder will accidentally run over a death cookie kicked up from the snowcat and catch an edge.
When moments like these happen on the ski hill that’s when your Yoga training comes into play. Your muscles’ ability to lengthen while being in a contracted state can help avoid painful muscle pulls, thus enhancing your muscles, tendons, and ligaments ability to provide stability for your joints. As a yogi, you can bring more awareness and focus on smoothing out the transitions between poses which will work your balance and strengthen and lengthen your muscles at the same time.
2. Learn to squeeze your lower glutes – not your upper glutes!
When looking at the Glute Maximus you need to imagine it as if it were two muscles; even though in reality it’s one. The lower half of your glutes are your biggest supporter of your knees and can be a tremendous asset in avoiding knee pain. Why? Because the more aggressively you fly down the hill the more your skis and snowboard pick up “chatter”. A term used to describe the amount of vibration your body absorbs from bumpy snow and thus translates most often into your knee and hip joints.
If you learn to squeeze the lower half of your glutes these big muscles step in to absorb the chatter and can help salvage your knees, hips and spine from pain later on. Conversely, if you tuck your tush too much though, and squeeze the upper half, you’ll only be clenching around your sacrum and this can increase low back pain; which you want to avoid.
3. Warm-Up dynamically.
Although stretching is good when you get on the ski hill until you warm up and get your body temperature accustomed to being outside all day in 30-degree temps; it’s hard to get your muscles to lengthen. Dynamic warm-up movements like Skaters back and forth or lunges with a jump in between can warm up your muscles quickly and increase your range of motion. Then take a warm-up run or two and afterwards add in some of your favourite yoga stretches for 5 or 10 minutes.
4. Don’t underestimate the role of your upper body.
Although it’s true that your legs and core are your biggest assets when it comes to longevity on the hill; I’m astonished each year after the first week or two of ski season how many students request heart openers. It’s easy to forget how incredibly strong you need to be to push your entire body weight up off of the ground if you’re a snowboarder and how hard it is to pull your entire body weight forward with a pair of ski poles planted into the snow.
Pectorals and rhomboids regardless of whether you’re a “two-planker” or not; always get worked. Add in some extra arm balances or an extra push-up from chaturanga into your practice to build strength. If you’re sore; I’m a firm believer in Restorative poses where you allow these muscles to return to a lengthened and passive state such as lying supported on your back with your arms stretched open in Goddess pose with a bolster or a large pillow at the end of your day to let your muscles recover.
5. Do not ignore your extremities.
Every year over the course of the ski season the most overlooked part of the body that my students request are calves, forearms, and their neck. We often forget the big requests that we make as athletes on these smaller muscles of the body but that provide so much important functionality in skiing and snowboarding. As we progress on the ski hill boots become much tighter, pole plants become more strategic, and our ability to see the skier traffic around us becomes more important as we gain speed.
Ski and snowboard boots both serve a similar purpose; they securely anchor your foot. Which in turn, limits our metatarsal muscles from functioning at their full capacity and then puts the brunt of strength onto the calves. Your calves eventually become overworked, and should you be “ejected” from your bindings, often times your calf muscle is the first muscle to pull. Placing a tennis ball beneath each calf while sitting on the floor for a couple minutes each evening post skiing/snowboarding is a great way to deal with tight calves or and a safe stretch for a pulled calf muscle.
Secondly, forearms are always ignored by Telemarkers and Skiers. Especially with Telemarkers, who are lunging into their ski turn with a flexible boot, planting their ski pole from a lower level than that of a regular skier, and then suddenly rising up with a combination of their bodyweight on their legs and their ski pole; they switch their lead leg. Time, and time again, going all the way down the ski hill for miles this starts to lead to a lot of tight forearm muscles. Starting on all fours, or in Table Top as it’s called in yoga, place the back of one of your arms on the floor while balancing yourself with your other arm, you can take your knee to your forearm on the floor and start to “knead” it with small circles. Be sure to avoid your entire wrist area, however, as these muscles are quite delicate.
Lastly, neck issues arrive more often in Snowboarders, because their head is turned to the side for hours on end since they move down the hill with an open hip stance versus a closed hip stance like that of skiers where their hips are square to the mountain. Placing two tennis balls behind your trapezoids at the outer base of your neck and relaxing your jaw for a few minutes can be immensely relaxing to these tight muscles after a day of riding with your head turned in one direction and a helmet on.
All in all, we love to be on the mountain! The most important thing is to have fun and to remember that your yoga practice should be Your Practice; not the person’s next to you. If you need to linger a little longer on one side than the other; than do so. If you need to modify and make it easier because you skied 30,000 vertical feet the day before; than relax or take an extra Child’s Pose. Yoga is meant to be therapeutic and beneficial; not a game of “Simon Says”. Hopefully, the 5 Tips above can lead you in the right direction of making your yoga practice work for you; so that when you’re out on the white stuff, you’re functioning at your full athletic potential.
by Shannon Patterson, RYT-500.
In 1999 Shannon took a class named “Equilibrium”; not knowing it was basically a yoga class but at the time the Gym Directors felt the term “yoga” wasn’t fashionable in the fitness industry. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2001 and moving to Chicago it was there that the practice of Yoga really became part of her life. Having been an avid yogi in Vail, Colorado since 2002, in 2010 Shannon finally decided to take her practice to another level and pursued her teaching certification with Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Institute. In October 2010 she completed Level 1 and in May 2011 she completed her Level 2 training thus completing her 200 Hr RYT with Baron Baptiste.
In addition, Shannon also attended the Baptiste “Art of Assisting” 40 Hr training in April 2011 and received her Level 1 Anjali 25 Hr Teacher Training with Julia Clarke in 2012. After receiving her 200 RYT Training she then moved on and earned her 500 Hr RYT with Yoga Medicine.
Shannon’s specialty is Yoga for Athletes and she has several hours of Anatomy training on: Hips, Shoulders, Spine, Myofascial Release & Chinese Medicine. She is continually looking for new inspirations in her free time and has attended classes with Kathryn Budig, Duncan Peak, Janet Stone, Desiree Rumbaugh, Shannon Paige, Cameron Shayne, Gina Caputo, and Rolf Gates. In her classes, Shannon invites you to explore the full potential and freedom with each pose in a way that breaks down the complexity and brings the pose from the ground up. She feels passionate about bringing yogic philosophy and daily inspiration to her class so that students may cultivate their own confidence, spirituality, strength and grace on and off the yoga mat.