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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill Jennings: Stretch your mind, body when it comes to staying in skiing shape

Bill Jennings is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (SR)

I try to stay sharp for skiing. A regular tune is all it takes for skis. But the body takes more work. I’ve tried several ways to maintain an edge.

I’ve bit on the marketing campaigns for a couple of machines designed specifically for ski conditioning. I’ve attended classes branded as ski-specific that could apply to any number of sports. But I stumbled on what may be the best way to maintain myself for skiing. My body is the only equipment I need.

My first ski machine, appropriately, was called the Skier’s Edge. It caught my attention several years ago when it was promoted as the official dryland training machine for the U.S. Ski Team.

This is a contraption designed to mimic the dynamics of skiing. It has swinging footpads that tilt to simulate tipping skis on edge. The footpads ride on a carriage that slides laterally along a pair of arced rails. A heavy rubber belt threaded through pulleys like a serpentine provides adjustable resistance.

My Skier’s Edge was great for a while. It’s an intense workout and a lot of fun to show off to your friends. But friction from the rubber belt running through the pulleys left black residue on the carpet that wouldn’t come out. One day the belt broke, sending me on a tumble that ended with multiple scrapes, bruises and a lump on the head.

It could have been worse, but it didn’t take long to unload the Skier’s Edge on Craigslist. Next I tried a gizmo called the Pro Fitter. It was similar, but simpler, with fewer things that could go wrong. Unfortunately, it was so boring I hardly used it.

Fortunately, there’s a robust market online for a barely broken-in Pro Fitter at a bargain price

The next machine I tried didn’t require a capital investment. The local gym had a Quad Mill, another machine used by the U.S. Ski Team.

To use the Quad Mill, you step onto a platform and get into a tuck. Your objective is to keep your upper body still and maintain your tuck as the platform moves in backward circles. After trying it a few times, I decided there’s no substitute for a good old-fashioned squat.

It’s unlikely I’ll continue to use any kind of exercise machine. Especially after starting to practice yoga last fall.

I don’t know what took me so long. As activities, skiing and yoga seem to travel in opposite directions. Skiing is fast, adrenaline-charged and reactive. Yoga is slow, thoughtful and deliberate. But they converge when it comes to focus, strength and discipline.

From my first lesson, I’ve learned that skiing starts with the feet. In a yoga session, your instructor’s first order is to activate your feet. The power you feel from nearly every pose, as well as the energy you feel coursing through your body, comes from the ground up.

To balance well on skis requires keeping your feet underneath your center of gravity. Your center of gravity is your core. Yoga has shown me new ways to activate my core that translate directly to skiing. It’s unlikely I’ll do another crunch. I won’t miss them.

Yoga makes you aware of how your core – the lumbar region, glutes, abdominal wall and pelvic floor – transfers energy from the center out. A strong and flexible core helps you disassociate your pelvis from your trunk, the link between your upper and lower body. This rotational range of motion is essential for a proper ski turn. If all those muscles aren’t working in concert, you have a problem, or an injury.

Yoga’s physical benefits of power, flexibility and balance have enhanced my skiing. But the mental aspects of yoga have been just as important. The controlled breathing and passive exertion of yoga puts you in a peaceful, yet hyperaware state of consciousness.

With a little practice, this altered state can be channeled to one’s advantage in the midst of a ski run. Call it Mountain Mindfulness: a patient state of mind, in which you wait for the mountain to come to you. Skiing becomes effortless. Your mind and body merge with all the forces in play, without forcing it.