Shaping up for the slopes

Mary Gannon, PT, M.P.A.

February is prime skiing and snowboarding season. The holidays are behind us and, according to Punxsutawney Phil, we have six more weeks of winter and snow. But before you head to the mountains, you might want to do some conditioning to prepare those muscles for the work ahead.

Man skiing down a steep slope in fresh powder, close to several trees.

Mary Gannon, PT, M.P.A., the executive director of PTPN‘s New York region, says there are 4 areas to focus on before hitting the powder:


Strong thighs are essential to controlling your journey down the mountain. There are lots of familiar exercises to strengthen the quads:

  • Transverse lunge. These can either be done in place (stepping forward or back) or traveling, which will also work on your balance. Make sure that your bent or forward knee never goes past your toes.
  • Lateral lunge. While the above lunge works on your forward motion, lateral lunges will help your side-to-side motion. To make these more difficult, you can always hold hand weights.
  • Squats. Squats will work your core as well as your quads, but proper form is key.
  • Clam shells. These simple stretches work your quads, hip flexors and glutes. To make them more challenging, tie a band around your thighs for resistance.


Both skiing and snowboarding require navigating uneven terrain while remaining upright; a strong core and good balance are key to minimizing falls. Exercises like planks, push-ups and crunches will work your core, but consider some balance training to improve your stance on the slopes. The video below features trainer Paul Hiniker using an Indo Board (a Physiquality partner) to train snowboarder Matt Ladley.

Weight shifting

Skiing and snowboarding also require athletes to constantly shift their weight from side to side while navigating steep terrains. Ski coach Warren Smith advises analyzing your ankle flexion with a camera or friend (or both) to check your form:

Illustration of above exercise.
Photographs from Warren Smith.

When looking at your form, he says, “try to reduce the amount of knee flex that typically happens when you land. Instead, feel the hips drive down more over the balls of your feet with your thighs remaining a little more towards vertical than horizontal. Think thigh high! This will also help you avoid overloading the knee joint if you’re often [leaning back].” Warren also advises trying to land your jumps without too much noise, which signifies extra stress on the joint.

Warren suggests the following exercise to improve lateral control, which will help athletes shift their weight on the slopes. It uses a t-shirt or towel on the floor, to allow for controlled sliding across the floor’s surface.

Illustration of exercise below.
Photographs from Warren Smith.

With a foot on either side of the t-shirt, pull your feet towards each other. The goal is to pull your feet together without your knees dropping, at the slowest possible speed.

Illustration of exercise described below.
Photographs from Warren Smith.

Try to pull in about 10 times in a set and repeat that about four times. If you perform this exercise three to four times a week you will switch on lateral control in your skiing stance and help avoid the legs dropping in at the knees or splitting away at the feet.


Spending a day on the mountain requires a great deal of exertion, so it’s a good idea to increase your stamina before buying that lift ticket. There are plenty of ways to do it, but consider working in exercises like jump squats that will work both your quads and your cardio in one take.

Thank you to our contributors:

Mary Gannon, PT, M.P.A. is a physical therapist and the executive director for the New York region of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.

Samenow, Jason. Groundhog Day 2012: Punxsutawney Phil shadow means 6 more weeks of winter. Washington Post, February 2, 2012.

Indo Board with Paul Hiniker and Matt Ladley, Part 1 of 2. Indo Board, November 16, 2010.

Smith, Warren. Get ski fit: Leg exercises. The Guardian, November 4, 2009.

Brooks, Lauren. Snowboarders get ready: Exercises to prepare for the slopes., December 20, 2005.

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