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Skiing Advice

"'Tis the season," they say. 'Tis the season ... for snow. For some, snow conjures up the dread of shoveling, slipping, sliding, auto accidents, school closings . . . and for some . . . Joy! , Joy! ... Skiing!!

Last year I had the pleasure of experiencing the great sport of skiing again. My good buddy Glen, a chiropractor in Colorado, and I were talking on the phone. In passing he mentioned that he was going skiing at Snowmass in Aspen in a couple weeks. "Hotel lodging 50 yards from the slope, $60 a night double occupancy including lift tickets. You walk out of the hotel, put on your skis, slide down the hill, and get on the lift." (I can hear some folks mouth watering already.) I didn't know much, but I figured this was a good deal. The last time I went skiing was the winter of 1978 in Vermont, and the lift tickets alone were almost that much. I am by no means a ski fanatic, but I immediately booked airplane tickets.

Burned out in the office, I figured I deserved a break. Oops, perhaps the wrong choice of words. I thought long and hard about that as I prepared and packed. How crazy am I? I haven't skied in over fifteen years, and even then I was no good. I dare not return all dinged-up. How could I see patients on my return? I don't even do regular exercise.  Glen's a pro and a big party animal. There's going to be pressure to keep up. I must be crazy! I got several chiropractic adjustments before departure and tried to get some extra sleep.

Hopefully you the readers will garner some wisdom from my experience. Those of you who are excellent skiers perhaps could give me a call or drop me a note as to other things I should caution my patients on who are about to embark on a grand ski trip. 

"Aw, you don't need a lesson, Bill. Just come out with me early tomorrow morning and I'll give you a few pointers. You'll do fine. No worries," says my friend Glen. Now Glen is a good skier. He just loves those double black diamond runs. (For those who don't know anything about ski trail, like myself, double black diamond trails are the most difficult - almost no trails at all, just dodge the trees. As Glen quipped, "Ski good, or eat wood.") Dutifully, I followed. After all, he was just going to take me down some beginner slopes and retrain me with his fine tuned hubris of advice. I violated my first promise to myself: Get a lesson!

"Keep your weight over your toes," he said. "That's all you have to do." Actually very good advice. However, if you can't yet feel the ground through your skis, you can hardly register what is meant by keeping your weight over your toes. Glen was confident as I clumsily wobbled down the slope to the lift. Negotiating the lift lines is a trick of its own. (Lesson #1: Watch how others go through. Take your time. Observe how others get on the lift. There's nothing more embarrassing than screwing up getting on the lift. Also if there are lots of people, they tend to get a little upset.)

We got off one lift and got on another. I didn't do too bad getting on the second lift. As we worked our way up the mountain, I suddenly got a sinking feeling that we weren't going to be on a beginner's slope. (Lesson #2: No matter how much you trust your friend . . . don't. They'll take you where they want to go, and then you're stuck. The mountains of Colorado make for a long walk down.) The weather started out great. Not too cold and great visibility. We got off the lift and started our descent. "Remember, keep your weight over your toes. That's all you need to know," Glen yells over his shoulder as he takes off down the mountain. (Remember lesson #2.) I wish it were as simple as that.

Going to a new area and altitude, doing unusual things with your body, and the realization that you don't know what you're doing can be very disorienting. There is a lot to integrate when you first learn to ski, or your first ski trip of the year. The strange environment, the lack of oxygen due to the higher altitude, the bright light, the changes in your body temperature (cold on the lift, hot while skiing), the odd contraptions on your feet combined with the new sensations of varying surfaces under your feet and changes in snow texture and how it affects your skis. It is a big challenge to integrate all the new stimuli, especially when learning a new skill.

Fortunately, I made it down the hill relatively uneventfully. I say relatively . . . only six falls including one good wallop on the back of the head. Ah yes, falls. If you fall, first get your bearings. Look around. Have you still got both skis? Are you out of the way of other skiers? If you're shaken up by the fall, make sure you get out of the way of other skiers and you're not in a place where they can't see you due to the terrain. REST. Don't continue down the hill until you get your breath back and are fully oriented. The only thing worse than falling is falling again ... and again. If the first one didn't get you, you can be sure the third or fourth one will.

Ah yes, lesson #4: BREATHE. Ski aerobically. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Many people charge down a hill until they are exhausted, stop and then when they feel just a little bit of their breath back, they charge down some more. Breathe. Ski as slow as is necessary so that you don't get winded. You can learn much faster and orient yourself so much better if you have enough oxygen capacity. Most injuries occur when you have exceeded your oxygen reserve. I quickly recognized a cause of my falls. I could make it down the difficult parts of the slope because I was paying intense attention. However, when I got to the level areas, I relaxed, glided and attempted to catch my breath. As soon as I lost focus, my skis crossed and I was on my derriere. I caught on quickly. I didn't want to, but I committed myself to stopping after a tiring portion of the run, catch my breath and not continue until I was fully winded again. This saved me many probable tumbles. When you have enough oxygen, you can pay intense attention to the slope. You can begin to feel the snow through your skis rather than just sliding over it. Feeling the ground is an accomplishment all its own.

There was a little sign on one slope that said "Don't ski any faster than you can see." I didn't understand this sign at first. As I was racing down the mountain and realized I didn't know where I was going because I was only looking ten feet in front of my skis, it came to me . . . "Don't ski any faster than I can see." I wasn't looking ahead. You need to change your field of vision frequently. Look as far ahead as you can, and if that great distance is coming on you too quick, you better slow down. Remember, ski good or eat wood.

My space is running out, so I'll quickly add a few more things to remember. Sun - the sun is very bright and one can burn easily. Use sunscreen, drink gallons of water and consume 4 to 10 grams of Vitamin C a day to help protect you and your skin from dehydration and burns. This is still no guarantee, but it will help. I also went to a tanning salon for a couple weeks before I went on my trip. Cold - it's easy to get cold. Wear layers of clothing, starting with polypropylene underwear. Polypropylene underwear can take you a long way. (That's all my friend Glen wears under his Anorak and ski pants. That's cause he gets hot when he skis.) Practice, take a lesson, and don't let your friends push you around. I found a slope on the third day that was just right. I went down it a half dozen times. I forced myself to go down it at a speed such that I no longer got winded. I began to feel the ground and could keep my attention the whole way down the slope. Mastering whatever level you are at is great feeling.

All in all, the trip was great. I promised myself I would return. And I went down a black diamond run successfully the last day.