How to Maintain a Healthy Body During Ski Season as a Ski Bum
With some simple practices and techniques, you can sustain your health and reduce potential for injury so that you can shred all winter long.
Ski season takes a toll on the body, especially if you ski every day. While ski bums don’t plan for much, we need to be prepared for the next big storm cycle. Living in ski boots, lots of exposure to cold weather, slamming joints and muscles, and exerting yourself day after day requires intentional maintenance of your body. Most of us are not Tom Brady and don’t have private vegan chefs, world-class gym facilities, and access to world-class famous doctors every day. Ski bums usually have tight budgets, less than ideal living situations, and limited time that is not used skiing. This type of lifestyle is not ideal for maintaining a healthy body, but with some simple practices and techniques, you can sustain your health and reduce potential for injury so you can shred all winter long.
Food is fuel. As an athlete, what you put in your body directly impacts your performance the next day. Because ski bums have limited resources for food, I’m not here to convince you to eat fully vegan sugar free or commit to a fad diet. I am not a nutritionist, but I am resourceful, and I know what works for my body and what doesn’t. We have to work with what we have and by slightly altering your diet your performance can be significantly improved.
Cut out the fast food. Or at least as much as possible. We all know that fast food is not healthy, but it is cheap and easy, which appeals to many ski bums. And it tastes damn good on the way down from the mountain. But skip it as much as you can, especially before skiing. What you eat before going out is your fuel for the day, and a greasy burger is not the octane that will give you peak performance. After working out or skiing, your body just needs calories so you can get away with less than ideal foods, so go ahead and indulge then, if you need to.
Avoid sugar as much as possible. During the day while skiing I’m constantly eating bars and snacks, many of which have sugar. It is hard to avoid. Try to avoid sugar for breakfast, dinner, and late night munchies. Sugar makes your body work harder than it needs to and increases inflammation. Even though weight gain is usually not a main concern for skiers, we need to watch out for the other negative health effects of sugar. See this Harvard article about the impact of sugar on the body. It is so incredibly hard to avoid sugar, especially in ski snacks, but just avoid it as much as possible. Trust me, you’ll feel better.
Eat vegetables. We have talked about cutting out the bad stuff. While we do that, we need to make sure we get enough of the good stuff. Vegetables contain the vitamins and nutrition of the real food we should be eating. Roasted vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, yams, and brussels sprouts are super easy to cook, taste great, and are cheap. You can steam vegetables and add to quinoa with a little chicken for a healthy, protein-rich meal. Pro tip: garlic makes everything taste better.
This type of nutrition is not found in frozen and processed food. We need to eat real vegetables in a wide variety, frequently.
If food is the fuel for our bodies, water is the oil that keeps the motor running smoothly. Unlike having a perfect diet, which is challenging and takes years to achieve, being properly hydrated is incredibly easy. Start by drinking water first thing in the morning, before your coffee and breakfast. Studies show that drinking water in the morning increases circulation and lubricates joints.
Second, have access to water on the ski hill. This one is easy to forget and I sometimes find myself not drinking anything between 10 am and 3 pm. Stash a backpack in the lodge with a water bottle, carry a platypus in your jacket – there are lots of ways to stay hydrated.
Third, drink water all evening. Bring a water bottle wherever you go. Have a water bottle you like and something that is easy to drink out of. This will encourage you to stay hydrated.
Lastly, Coors Light is not a hydrating liquid, as much as we wish it were. Drink water while drinking beer. It will also improve your mood the next morning.
Skiing everyday takes a beating on the body, especially if you like to ski fast and jump off everything in sight. After skiing hard for several days in a row my back, joints, and muscles hurt. Take a day off. I don’t know anyone who can go 100 percent, full throttle, every day. There’s no need to push it to 4:00 every day. Take a half day here and there. Maybe don’t hit that air if the landing sucks today. Don’t exhaust yourself on the mediocre days so you have enough strength when the powder days come around. Take a walk, go for an easy run, and let your body recover.
Varying your activities is very helpful. Instead of skiing the resort every day, all day, change it up. Backcountry skiing uses an entirely different set of muscles than resort skiing. Most people aren’t going to like this suggestion but Nordic skiing is a great ‘rest day’ activity and can usually be done close to home. I like to ice climb once a week or so just to change up the activity and muscle groups. There are a lot of articles about the importance of exercise variation and the benefits to the body. Changing up your routine and activities will allow you to get stronger and perform at your highest ability.
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of well-timed rest days. All athletes need rest days. They build muscle and allow your body to recover. If your life is focused on skiing, it may seem counterproductive to rest for a full day. Believe me, I have trouble sticking to this concept myself. The trick is well-timed rest days. Rest during that high-pressure cycle, or when there’s no one in town to ski with, or when that left knee is bugging you again. Well-timed rest days keep the body in tune and ready for that next low-pressure cycle. I try to rest at least once a week. As I am writing this, it is -15 degrees outside, which makes for a convenient rest day.
Rest days also help the mental game. I’ve known a lot of skiers who burn out because they skied too much. Often ex-ski racers or professional skiers burn out just from skiing every day, all day, all year long. Remember, skiing is supposed to be fun. We all choose to be skiers, no one makes us do it. Don’t force yourself to head up to the hill if you aren’t feeling it in the morning. Take the day off, play with your cat, call your grandma, binge a TV show. Keep your mind as fresh as your body.
This is not a how-to guide on sculpting the perfect body, obtaining elite physical performance, winning seven Super Bowls, or living forever. This is my experience on how to maintain your body on a budget and with limited resources, in order to ski all season long. If you are a professional athlete or striving to be, it might be a good idea to get advice elsewhere. I don’t need to spend time in a weight room to achieve my goals, which are skiing powder safely with my friends. Afterall, skiing is about fun and I want to be available every day, all season long, injury-free.