Recovery Tactics for Ski Vacations
Day three of your ski trip finds you near-crippled with pain and exhaustion, barely able to strap on the boots and clomp up to the lift.
And although your body is screaming for you to stop, you press on—it’s your big ski trip of the year, and you want to make the most of it. Or you’re on vacation with people to whom you have something to prove (still got it!) and don’t want to slow the group down or miss out. But skiing when you’re stiff and sore just isn’t as fun. Worse, it may lead to injury when you can’t react to uneven conditions underfoot or turn quickly enough to avoid that big spruce in a tight tree run, earning you a ride down the mountain on a Ski Patrol sled. Or, feeling beat, you might convince yourself that a day of cross-country skiing or even simply a day off is the best course of action. But you didn’t travel all that way, and spend all that money, to just sit and look at those big runs, did you?
Sound familiar? Aside from hopping in a time-travel machine and heading back in time a few months to really stick with some preparatory strength training, there’s plenty you can do once you leave the slopes after a full day to ensure that you can get up and do it all over again the next day, and the next, until it’s time to pack up and head home. Taylor Eley, general manager at the Athletic Republic performance sports training center in Park City, classifies ski recovery tactics (and no, we’re not referring to recovery from a week of hard drinking) into two categories: passive and active. The former, as the name implies, don’t require a whole lot of effort, (though some might not be particularly pleasant). You’re essentially taking steps to limit the swelling and inflammation in the muscles, which is the enemy, by compression or by cooling.
Pulling on a pair of serious compression tights instead of regular long johns gives you a leg up (so to speak) by offering support for your muscles and, in the case of tights from 2XU and CW-X, for the joints as well (they do a pretty good job of keeping you warm, too). Wear them when you ski, and wear them around for a little while afterward. Or bring along your cycling recovery tights, and pull them on under your jeans before heading out for dinner and drinks. Speaking of drinks, this is a critical time to down a few glasses of water. You’re probably dehydrated after a day on the slopes, and pounding beers to quench your thirst only makes things worse.
This part’s not so easy. Ask anyone what their favorite part of a ski trip is, and next to the skiing, chances are they’ll pick the good ol’ après-ski hot tub as #2. What’s not to like? Warm, soothing water, scantily-clad babes (or bros), and booze? But this is where you hit a crossroads. Scamper down the cold stone path in your bare feet to the tub after your first big day on the slopes, and you’ve immediately diminished your chances of getting through the week pain-free. The hot tub may feel wonderfully relaxing, but that warm water is only exacerbating the inflammatory response in your leg muscles that have just been called upon to work hard all day in an unfamiliar activity. Remember, inflammation is the enemy, because increased swelling will just slow down your muscles’ healing process. But fear not, we’re not banning this classic ski-trip diversion altogether—we’re just suggesting that you hold off until later in the week. More on that soon.
So what’s the better path, at least for the first two nights? Pull on a sweatshirt and head to your bathroom for, you guessed it, an ice bath. (Yes, you heard that right.) It shocks the system and decreases swelling, speeding up the healing from the day’s abuse. But no, we’re not talking about long, excruciating soaks in bathtubs full of ice with just a little bit of water to lubricate things. A tub full of merely chilly water (55 degrees F) will do—simply run cold water in the tub and toss in a little hotel bucket or two of ice, and that should do it. Even better, you don’t have to torture yourself for long—according to Eley, a minute or two will do it. If you’re feeling ambitious, get out, warm up for 5-10 minutes, and then submerge your lower body one more time. Even if you’re not totally sold on the benefits of cold therapy (it’s pretty hotly debated), this mellow version of the “ice bath” isn’t that hard to take, and it very well may help your body limit inflammation, move waste products out of your muscles, and jump-start the recovery process.
Stretching & Massage
But following these simple tips for passive recovery may not be enough. If you really want to be at your best every day, you may want to invest a bit more time, effort, and possibly money in some active recovery tactics to ensure you’re good to go the next morning. Your muscles were called upon to hold the same position and do new work on the hill all day, and now they need a little love. A massage, of course, is always a great thing, but if the budget doesn’t allow, a foam roller is good for your muscles, too. It may be a tad bulky to pack in your ski bag, so a smaller stick roller massager, or even just a sawed-off length of 5-inch PVC pipe (which will take up very little space in your bag) might be the ticket. Even a hard rubber lacrosse ball will work. Roll out the usual suspects: quads, hammies, IT band (ouch), and calves—but don’t forget the anterior tibialis muscles just on either side of your shin bone, which have been contorted into a flex position all day and are not happy about it.
(Counterclockwise from top left) Adam rolls out his anterior tibialis, hamstring, and calf with an easy-to-pack massager stick.
When rolling out a hamstring with a foam roller, cross your other leg over to add a little weight.
Don’t skip the IT band, however much it hurts.
You want to hit the quad slightly off-center, towards the outside.
Stretching out your hip area can also help make every day on the slopes count. Eley suggests a few simple stretches, both designed to open and loosen up the hips, where much of your power, control, and stability originate as you ski.
First, do a forward lunge with your right leg and bring your back knee to the ground—your hip flexor is already feeling that.
Now, to push the stretch a little (gently), drop a little deeper into the lunge. Now bring your right hand (the same one as your forward leg) down towards your heel. Don’t forget to breathe. Repeat on the other leg.
From a lunge, you can also work the hip flexor a little more by grabbing a ski pole at the handle with both hands and pushing down on the pole as you move deeper into your lunge.
Finally … the Hot Tub
So you’ve been ever so good—you took care of your body the first two days, and you were able to take full advantage of the huge storm that came through the third night and dropped two feet on the mountain. You may have been sore, but you weren’t semi-sidelined like your vacation mates. After several full days of skiing, your muscles have begun to adapt to the new load, so you now have permission to indulge in some hot-tub hijinks your last few nights of vacation—it’ll be all the better when you feel like you’ve really earned it. But given what you now know, maybe you just want to incorporate some Scandinavian-style rolls in the snow between dips in the tub. You know your muscles will like it, and it just adds to the fun.