Beginner or expert, there are a few things you can do before you go to make your ski holiday a more enjoyable and safer experience. Preparing for your ski holiday by being fit, in balance, flexible and on well-maintained equipment will help you make sure you have a great time.
There are a few things you can do in advance of your winter holiday to make it a more enjoyable and safer experience. Skiing is a wonderful pastime, but if you're badly prepared it can seem like one of the worst.
Two visits to the gym or a single jog around the block in the week before departure isn't enough preparation. To ski well your body demands the use of muscles that are seldom used in everyday life. In addition you'll have to deal with altitude and low temperatures. To prepare properly start your exercise programme at least two months before your holiday to build up your cardio-vascular fitness - this will help you deal with the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. Remember that a sound skiing technique uses a lot less energy than a bad one - once tired a skier with a better technique will find it less difficult to remain in control.
Weak technique + poor fitness = tired muscles = even weaker technique = more fatigue = a Bad Day.
Because most skiing muscles are "internal rotators", or balancing muscles, it takes time and effort to prepare them. Although general fitness helps a lot, specific ski fitness is best developed using things like 'balance boards' and in-line skates, or playing sports such as squash and football (or others that demand quick movements and rapid changes of direction). First-time skiers will find the sensation of standing on a moving object unusual enough and activities like ice skating and roller-blading help you get used to this feeling and make your early ski lessons a little less daunting. For more advanced skiers horse riding, mountain biking, dirt bikes and gymnastics all help to develop co-ordination and balance. You can easily make your own 'balance board', although there are lots of impressive-looking and expensive boards on the market. Learning to balance takes time, but will definitely improve your skiing.
Flexibility in the muscles and tendons is important. Low temperatures can mean muscles are stiff, slow to react and lack range of movement. Developing flexibility through regular stretching before your ski holiday will help your ski performance and can mean that a fall on day one (that might otherwise ruin your holiday) will be nothing more than a forgettable mishap with no ill effects. It's important to warm up when you stretch, and avoid static or bouncing stretches. A gentle moving stretch is better, avoiding pain. Don't forget to warm up and do a simple stretch before you ski, then the preparation you did before the holiday will pay off.
If you have your own skis, make sure they are serviced. This should include, as a minimum, waxing of the bases and sharpening of the edges. It's also a good idea, at the start of the week, to ask a professional technician to do a safety check of the binding and a base grind - this latter process restores structure to the ski base and helps it retain wax. Properly ground, waxed and edged skies make turning easier, and more responsive, which not only flatters your technique but make a significant difference to your enjoyment of the sport.
If you don't already own your own equipment, buy boots first, not skis. Make sure your boot shop knows what they are doing - it can be instructive to "hang about" and watch what happens when boots are fitted. Does the technician take the time and trouble to get things exactly right? Although it may mean spending more money, it really is important to have correctly-fitting boots that are adjusted as necessary to your feet. Boot flex is important as well; too stiff and they will prevent you from applying the correct techniques.
Boots have three main components, all of which can be customised by a good boot fitter: inner boot, outer shell and foot-bed. Although most ski boots include an inner in the price several companies provide custom inners, and a good ski shop will advise if these are, in your case, worthwhile. When hiring, ask for a different boot if the first choice is too stiff or too big: the shell of the boot must suit your level of skiing and, if rental shops run out of stock, they may attempt to compromise by using shells that are too stiff, or too large, padded out with thicker inners and foot-bed. All ski resorts have a number of boot outlets so shop around until you find what you need
A good ski suit can make the difference between skiing the whole day in comfort and giving up before lunch. For the body to perform well it needs to be warm, but not hot. Today clothing technology is very advanced and breathable multi-layering fabric systems, as used in North Face products, work extremely well, keeping you warm when it's cold and allowing perspiration to evaporate when you're hot. Woollen undergarments, especially Merino wool, are better than cotton. With woollen undergarments if you get wet you won't get cold; in cotton you'll freeze. If you lack confidence on skis, a new outfit can make a surprising difference to your mood and the enjoyment of the whole holiday - so you have a good excuse to indulge in one.
Skiing on indoor snow slopes will hone your skills, improve your balance and get back that essential feeling of being at home on skis again. It also gives beginners a head-start before their first few turns on real snow.
Preparing for your ski holiday by being fit, in balance, flexible and on well-maintained equipment will help you make sure you have a great time.
Julian is a BASI trainer and owner of European Snowsport a ski school based in Verbier, Switzerland.