Ski for fun and fitness

Evelyn Stymest is ready for ski season. In many ways, she’s your average downhill aficionado. She’s checks out her gear, and hopes the local club offers a conditioning class.

She’ll go out 30 or 40 times before the snow melts–an average, avid skier. Or so it would seem.

But Evelyn belongs to a class of skiers that doesn’t get a lot of media attention. Nor does she fit the standard image of ski bunnies and buddies. Evelyn is in her seventies. And she took up skiing after her fortieth birthday had come and gone.

Growing numbers
Many over-fifties are skiing, some for the first time. Nearly one in ten downhill skiers is over fifty. And about thirty per cent of cross-country skiers fall into that age group.

Stymest lives in Calgary, where great ski runs are easy to come by. She says skiing is a great way to meet people, and keep active.

“I like the outdoors first of all, and it’s a way of enjoying the outdoors in the winter when you probably wouldn’t go out.”

There are other benefits too. Many people take up skiing when they get the command from their doctors to get in shape.

Alpine or cross-country?&l;/TRONG>
But consider the differences before deciding between alpine or cross-country. Although they share a common root name, they are very different activities.

  • Downhill is a workout for leg and stomach muscles, and not a complete aerobic workout.
  • Cross-country is a workout for your heart and lungs.

Some call cross-country “the world’s best aerobic workout”. It is Canada’s second most popular winter sport (after skating).

You control speed
Joanne Thomson works at Cross Country Canada, the national sport organization for cross-country.

She calls cross-country “an overall body workout for cardiovascular and muscular. It is basically using all your body parts, because you use arms, legs and torso all the time. It’s also great for balance, and your body orientation and coordination.”

And the beauty of it is, you can do it all at your own pace.

“You can just go as slowly as you want, or hard when you want. You control what you’re doing. The different techniques allow you to go slower or go faster. So newcomers don’t have to push themselves beyond their limits,” says Thomson.

Next page: Advice for newcomers

Advice for newcomers
In her clinic in Vancouver, physiotherapist Trish Hopkins sees many patients who have pushed themselves too hard. She says newcomers should take it slow. Even if you used to ski, don’t go straight to the advanced hills, or off-trail cross-country.

“You need to get into it at a level that is appropriate to your fitness level,” she says, “not remembering how you used to do it.”

If you want to start skiing regularly, take some strengthening classes, and be sure to work on your balance at home.

Hopkins recommends doing squats, and practicing balancing on one foot, and on cushions in your house, and with your eyes closed. Slowly build up your strength, and your balancing abilities. Older bones are often less dense, and more prone to break. Be sure you get proper instruction and equipment that fits, and is appropriate.

Equipment changes
Many people may be scared off by the equipment required, and the possible cost. As with most sports, there is gear that goes along with skiing, but it doesn’t have to be hugely expensive.

A few hundred dollars can get you equipment that will last for years. Any skier needs skis, bindings, poles, and boots specific to the sport.

Hopkins says equipment has changed a lot in the last few years, and it is now even easier to get out on the slopes or the trails. The main thing, she says, is proper fit.

“You have got to make sure the equipment fits you properly. Most importantly, make sure you get properly fitting boots so you don’t have to crank them down too far, because some people have trouble with circulation.

Newer, elliptical (also known as parabolic) skis make turns easier for downhill skiers.

For cross-country, you choose your equipment according to the technique you will use-Classic or Skating.

Classic is probably easier for a newcomer, and the skating style can be developed with some experience.

Don’t forget warm clothes for outdoors. You need clothing that moves with you, while keeping you toasty, just as you would for any outdoor activity.

Next page: Rentals, lessons, useful websites

Rentals, lessons
No matter what style of skiing you choose, most ski hills and many cross-country ski trails rent skis along with day passes. You shouldn’t need to pay more than $20 or $30, depending on where you are or what type of skiing you’re doing.

Try the equipment out, and take a lesson or two before you make any significant investments.

Both Hopkins and Stymest recommend lessons for first time skiers. Although you could pick up cross-country skiing without an instructor, it helps to get your technique right from the start, to avoid having to unlearn bad habits later.

Clubs offer discounts
Try joining a ski club. Skier Stymest highly recommends it as the best way to get the most out of the experience. She says members look forward to getting together once a week to ski as a group. Being a member also means discounts at the local hill, and on trips.

As Stymest says, the joy of skiing is not just in the physical benefits, it can also be found in the challenge.

“It’s exciting when you look at a slope, and you think, ‘that is pretty steep, I don’t know if I can do that,’ You stand at the top-and don’t stand at the top too long, or you’ll chicken out. But then you look and figure out what to do. If you think you can do it, you can.”

Some useful websites: – Helpful site, with information about ski areas, by region. – Cross Country Canada . National Sport Governing body for cross-country skiing. There are also good links to other pages here. is a U.S. site, but with great information about cross-country skiing. Includes a detailed explanation of what type of equipment beginners should look for, and how to get the right fit. – Ski conditions and resort info. Mostly for central Canada, with other regions being added. – International club that provides discounts for older skiers.