I clutched the bark of a small pine tree, my skis wedged desperately into the snow. The nominal trail below me descended sharply into the forest, marked only by a few ski tracks, the most recent left behind by my 15-year-old son, Tommy who stood somewhere I couldn’t see calling up to me as I tried to catch my breath. Tommy had chosen this run, our first after lunch.
“Just give me a minute,” I coughed back at him.
“OK, Mom,” I could hear the impatience in his voice, the eagerness to effortlessly swoosh his way through the trees, a feeling he loved, and which I had thought until that moment I loved too. But love wasn’t what I was feeling.
I felt tired.
I felt old.
I felt scared.
I thought, I can’t do this.
Of course, I could do it, but only very, very slowly, creeping down, one turn at a time, my legs protesting the steepness the entire way, Tommy zipping ahead of me without any trouble.
A ski mom’s reality check
How had it gotten to this point? Just a few years ago I always skied faster and harder than Tommy did. I showed him the way down the black diamond trails; I took him into the woods and coached him when he got stuck.
Of course, that was before he grew to be six feet tall. Before he ran track as a three-season athlete and did workouts every day after school. Before he got skis that were longer than mine.
And perhaps most critically: Before the early stages of pre-menopause hit my body like a truck, leaving me sorer, softer and slower than I had ever been going into a ski season.
A busy autumn meant I hadn’t worked to get myself in shape for the ski season. Then the holidays hit, with party after party and not much more exercise other than racing through the mall or the grocery store.
When our first ski trip came, I told myself that it was too late, I’d just have to ski my way into shape throughout the winter. It wasn’t until Tommy and his 12-year-old brother Teddy took off like rockets when we took our first ski run of the season that I realized I might be in a bit of trouble.
And that trouble persisted. Instead of focusing on what I was doing, I focused on chasing them. Instead of caring about my form, I cared about skiing fast, even if it didn’t feel good. And by the end of each day, I’d be exhausted and a bit weepy, convinced that I wasn’t any good. I certainly wasn’t having much fun. I had lost my skiing mojo.
A plan for getting in shape for ski season
This fall, I vowed to myself that the upcoming season would be different. I was going to reclaim skiing for myself. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Tommy and Teddy, but I could definitely find my way back to feeling fit and having fun while I ski. To do this, I focused on a few different things.
I built up my endurance
One thing that is true of pretty much any kid who skis or boards is that they don’t seem to ever get tired. I know that my teen sons can generally ski top to bottom without stopping. They tell me that the lift is where they get their rest.
I may not ever be able to return to the days when I skied to bottom without a break, but I didn’t want to have to stop after every three or four turns.
I’m someone who likes to exercise outside, so I usually build endurance by running two or three times a week (brisk walking can work too). Of course, you can do this in a gym using a treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bike.
On days that are too unpleasant to head outdoors, I do interval-training using either the Nike Training Club App or the POPSUGAR Active App on my phone. Both are free and offer a range of video workouts from beginner through advanced. Using apps like these gives me the maximum in flexibility, meaning I can fit my workouts into my schedule.
I focused on flexibility
Skiing is a sport that requires the use of the entire body, from shoulders all the way down to the feet. Any place in your body where you have trouble moving is going to mean trouble once you hit the slopes. Being flexible not only means skiing without pain (for me in my hips and shoulders), it means moving easily – including getting up from the ground when you fall down.
There are of course tons of stretches you can do in the comfort of your own home; a simple Google search will reveal this, and both the apps I mentioned earlier offer stretching workouts. But my favorite way to stay flexible while also working my balance and my core is by doing hot yoga. Two or three classes a week generally help keep me feeling like my joints are working as they should.
I thought about my thighs
My upper legs may not be my favorite part of my body to contemplate, especially since I’ve suffered from hip pain ever since my last pregnancy. But having strong quads is an important part of skiing well. One of the best workouts I’ve found for building the strength I need in my thighs and hips come from the Brave Ski Mom website. And don’t think that I don’t love the fact that she calls it “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Getting in Shape for Skiing“.
This workout has many benefits – it is easy, doesn’t take long, and only requires the purchase of a set of exercise bands. It also works. I was surprised the first time I tried it how these small and simple movements make my legs burn. I usually do this workout after I run, but even on days where I don’t have much time and can’t make it out, I find I can fit this in.
I remembered the best exercise for skiing
My first day of the 2018-19 season was earlier than ever (Wahoo! I skied twice over Thanksgiving week!) and while I was standing in a lift line I overheard a (very fit) man saying the following to his companion: “You really can’t ever do enough wall sits to keep your legs from getting tired and sore on the first day. The only way to really get in shape for skiing is to ski.”
This is both the conventional wisdom and the conundrum of downhill skiing – the fact that nothing really prepares you for downhill skiing like getting out on the mountain and taking runs. What that means is that you should not only take the advice I’ve given in this article – you should treat the first day that you hit the mountain like a long warm-up session. Start with runs that are easy for you, preferably some longer groomed trails where you can let your legs adjust. Gradually work your way up to the harder, bumpier trails. Be patient and take breaks.
Take this approach, and I promise that sometime around your fifth or sixth run, your legs will be thanking you and urging you on to greater things.
Taking on a new ski season
My goals for this ski season are simple: I’m going to focus on fitness all season long, with an emphasis on consistency over anything else. Every week that I’m not skiing, I’m going to try to incorporate some kind of endurance-building exercise, some yoga and strength building into my routine. I don’t need to be the most buff or fit mom – just buff and fit enough that I can ski the way I want to.
And when I’m at the mountain, I’m going to make time each morning and evening for stretching and a bit of strength building – those exercise bands will be in my suitcase and I’m going to do my best to put them to use.
Perhaps most importantly: I’m not going to worry about keeping up with two boys whose legs are decades younger than mine. I’ll be grateful for whatever runs they are willing to take with me. Instead of chasing them I’ll simply follow in their tracks. When they are willing to humor me, I’ll ski with them, and when they aren’t, I’ll let those two fine young men take off on their own.
And when I do, I’ll remember just why they are such great skiers – because once upon a time, their mom showed them the way.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.