Friday, November 23, 2007

Tune up for ski season

Preparation now will pay off later

Express Staff Writer

Kyl Samway, front, is a fitness instructor at Zenergy at Thunder Spring in Ketchum. Samway recently finished teaching an eight-week ski conditioning class to gear his students up for the rigors of winter play. Photo by Greg Stahl

It's a common early-ski-season ailment, but the catch is that it's almost entirely preventable.

The sickness is soreness (or, worse, injury), and the vaccine is as simple as planning for the physical rigors of snowboarding and alpine and Nordic skiing months before it's time to strap anything to your feet.

"My friends who prepare themselves and do a little more work in the early part of the season usually end up more injury-free and usually are able to ski longer days," said Kyl Samway, a health and fitness instructor at Zenergy, an athletic club at Thunder Spring in Ketchum.

Formal ski conditioning classes have for the most part wrapped up in the Wood River Valley, but that doesn't mean the methods employed in the classes should be tossed aside. Thunder Spring General Manager Derek Agnew was one of the students in Samway's eight-week autumn class this year, and he said he feels like he's paid the price to get some good turns.

"The reality is that my body's a lot different than when I was 20," Agnew said of his first ever ski conditioning class. "Now at 36 I have no choice but to take a class and push myself to get in shape. When I was young I didn't even think about it."

On Thursday, Nov. 15, the date of the final class, Agnew joined his roughly dozen classmates for a rigorous workout. Samway employed plyometrics, cardiovascular exercises, strength training and plenty of core work. Mid-way through the class his students were huffing and puffing, but they were clearly enjoying the experience.

"I don't feel so bad pushing them a bit," Samway said. "I do like to push these guys because they've been pushing themselves for eight weeks now. There are days when I walk out from teaching and I'm tired and sore, and I didn't even do the whole class like the group did."

Samway, 27, said preparing for ski season by getting in shape enables skiers and snowboarders to enjoy themselves more—and to do it more safely. And it doesn't take a class to get in shape.

"My focus is always on using the body as a whole, not just individual limbs," he said. "It's about core strength and stability, having your center of power be your center of gravity—and balanced. What this class did this fall was follow a progressive format where we started outside, running up hills and doing a lot of body weight exercises. And then we moved indoors and started doing more strength exercises like squats."

Samway said his students were excited about the levels of fitness they achieved, and he stressed that any exercise at all is better than nothing, but consistency pays in spades.

"I encourage people to use the outdoors around here, hiking and mountain biking," he said. "Really, anything outdoors that gets your heart pounding, and your blood pumping is a good thing."

But Agnew wouldn't let the Zenergy fitness instructor get off quite that easily.

"Kyl has gone so far above and beyond anything I might have imagined to get me in shape for a ski season, and I say that in a positive way," he said. "Everyone in that class has gone to Kyl to beg him to continue the class for the next couple of weeks."

And the group dynamic was one of the most appealing aspects of the class, Agnew said.

"Everyone's about the same age. You develop a camaraderie in there. You're all sweating and paying the price, but you can laugh and joke. There's a lot to be said for the group mentality of exercise. So often when we get older getting in shape is an individual thing, but it's really fun to be part of a group and do it together, laugh through the sweat and pain."

A healthy portion of Samway's workouts focused on core stability work. Agnew called them "exercises I've never thought of in my life," but many focused on core stability.

"When you're skiing down the mountain and your lower back is screaming at you, and your feet are hurting—all those funky little areas that are hurting—when I go skiing it's not my quads that are hurting so much," Agnew said. "It's all those little areas, and it's those areas that Kyl's really got us conditioned on."

While it is difficult to reproduce the discipline and unique workouts provided in a format like Samway's, there are things everyone can do to get in shape. According to, an online library of workouts for outdoor sports, the first fitness component to focus on is general cardiovascular conditioning, followed by basic strength training.

Plyometrics (like jumping onto or over boxes or benches) will go a long way to improving a body's resiliency and rebound. Simple lateral jumps and hops can help in this regard as well.

Also, recommends, start the ski season slowly and gradually work up to longer ski days or more physically demanding runs. Finally, don't overlook nutrition, both during pre-season training and during ski days.

The simple fact is that, as in everyday life, a little bit of work can go a long way.

"I think I'm in as good of shape as I've been in going into a ski season," Agnew said. "I know that skiing's going to be a huge part of my winter, and I'm preparing to be able to ski at a high level. It's really not an issue of technique anymore. It's really about getting conditions.

"What I'm really training for is to be able to do Warm Springs top to bottom, get on the chair and be able to do it again."

And for that task, should Mother Nature cooperate, he said he thinks he's up to the challenge.

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