Ian Anderson, DPT, SCS, CSCS
Board-Certified Sports Physical Therapist, Splitboarder
Pro Tips for backcountry skiers and splitboarders on how to best prepare and stay safe in the backcountry
Winter season has arrived and backcountry enthusiasts look forward to skiing and snowboarding at the resorts and in the backcountry. As a Sports Physical Therapist and performance coach in a mountain town with some of the world's best and most accessible backcountry skiing, I have seen countless backcountry athletes in the clinic.
I want to share a few pro tips from my experience working with backcountry skiers and snowboarders so you can have more fun in the mountains this winter.
We often classify the types of injuries we see in backcountry skiers into a few different categories. Read more below to learn what they are and how to prevent them!
Overuse on the Uphill
Here is where we see most of your low back and/or hip injuries. The hours often spent hiking uphill with poor technique are where these little nagging injuries turn into bigger issues.
1. Increase Mobility + Flexibility
Good mobility and flexibility in the hip flexor muscles will improve efficiency and allow you to generate more power through the glute muscles, making for better kick turns uphill.
2. Increase Strength + Endurance
A strong posterior chain (your backside) will improve your mechanics and efficiency by better recruiting powerful muscles to glide uphill and land and absorb force when coming downhill.
3. Increase Stability
Stability through your trunk/core and into lower legs is essential for proper force absorption and stability through the trunk, hips, knees and ankles.
"My hip flexors are wrecked" – Almost every backcountry skier after a long day
1. Glide your leg forward. AVOID lifting & stepping which pulls heavily on the hip flexors.
2. Keep your chest and gaze up. Staying tall will reduce strain on your lower back.
3. Plant your pole close to your foot. Planting your pole further away will cause excessive lean which reduces efficiency.
4. Set a skin track that minimizes time on your risers. Use risers when necessary, but optimize efficiency with gradual inclines over steep terrain.
"Low = Long strides ; Steep = Short strides." – Advice from my first backcountry guide
Three stretches to do before heading out, from a PT:
1:00 per side - Couch Stretch
2:00 - Foam Roll Mid-back
Single-leg Bridge x 15 per side
Follow us on Instagram for more tips this winter!
Trauma on the Downhill
Most of the injuries we see on the downhill skiing/ride are traumatic injuries to the knee, ankle and wrist/hand. The conditions and snowpack also play a big role in this.
1. Improve Strength + Endurance
Make sure you are strong in your quads, hamstrings, glutes and core... How??? Ski Conditioning at PT Revolution! duh...
2. Reduce Fatigue
Build the stamina to ski/ride downhill after hiking all the way up. If you're out of gas by the time you get to the top, riding down isn't going to be fun! How??? Ski Conditioning at PT Revolution! duh...
3. Eccentric Strength & Landing Mechanics
Develop the ability to land safely and properly absorb the ground reaction forces... the bigger you go the stronger you better be!
The environment plays a big role in injury as well. Here we see injuries such as frostbite, sunburn, hypothermia, and avalanche trauma. Many of these can be avoided with a little thought and preparation.
Read avalanche forecast
Have route options
Beacon, shovel, probe
Gloves, spare gloves, puffy
Snacks & water
3. Be Aware & Communicate!
Communicate with your group
Nutrition and Hydration
Being under-fueled can lead to a bad day in the mountains. Hitting the basic nutritional components are some of the low-hanging fruit everyone should be able to do!
Pre-tour meal: Before you go out make sure you eat. Complex carbs are a great option before a long day. Foods such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, bagels, and brown rice are a good choices. Pair them with some protein and fats to keep you going all morning long.
Monitor your hydration: Your urine should look more like lemonade, not beer! Your body requires even more water when you are at altitude. General recommendation is 8-16 oz of water per hour.
Pack Snacks: Snacks such as PB&J, bars, and energy balls or waffles are good options. Your body also burns more energy at altitude. General recommendation is 30-60 grams of carbs per hour.
Refuel: Once you're back at the hut or car be sure to refuel with protein AND carbs. Something like chocolate milk waiting for me back at the car in the snow is one of my favorites!... Then beer if you want.
A lot of preparation goes into being safe in the backcountry, from proper pre-season training and nutrition to learning efficient technique and taking an avalanche education course. Be safe out there and have fun in the mountains!
Be sure to follow us on Instagram @ptrevolution_tahoe for more videos, tips and other advice!