Downhill Fun

There’s lots of family fun and excitement to be had on your local ski slope in the wintertime. Of course, there’s downhill, or alpine, skiing. This form of skiing evolved from cross-country skiing. Not surprisingly, few people wanted to climb back up a mountain after skiing down. But, as technology advanced to make ski lifts possible, downhill skiing became more popular.

Snowboarding is a relatively new sport that has taken the slopes by storm. Although a primitive form of snowboarding can be traced back to 1929, when a man decided to strap a piece of plywood to his feet, the sport as it is known today really began to emerge in the 1970s. Snowboarding quickly picked up steam during the 1980s and in 1994 it was officially declared an Olympic sport.

Family Time
Both skiing and snowboarding are great pastimes for families with older children, especially those with kids entering the "I can’t be seen with my parents" phase. Because ski hills and mountains offer a variety of runs at different skill levels, parents and kids can split up and do their own thing. Set a time to meet up for lunch or dinner at the chalet so there is still some "family-togetherness" during the day.

If you have younger kids, it may be a good idea to stick close by and go down runs that are at their skill level. It might mean a slower day for you, but it will also be a safer day for everyone. If you’re not sure which ski runs are suitable for those who are still a bit wobbly on their skis, then just look at the signs near the run.

An international symbol-system has been devised to make it easy for people to know the skill level required for the run. Those marked with a green circle are easy and best suited to beginners. A blue square run is for skiers with a mid-level of experience, while a black diamond is for advanced skiers. Double black diamond runs are the most advanced and are best left to the experts.

The Necessary Equipment
If you’ve never skied or snowboarded before, it’s probably not the best idea to buy all the gear right away. Skis, snowboards, gloves, boots and bindings are just a few of the many items you will need. So, if you’re not sure how serious you are about the sport, it’s best to rent the equipment at the hill. While there are many sports and outdoor shops that will also rent the equipment, if there are any problems with your equipment, renting at the ski hill has the distinct advantage of being able to deal with the problem right away.

Whether you rent or buy, it is important to make sure that your equipment fits. Using the wrong-sized skis or snowboard can negatively impact your performance on the slopes. For both activities, you will need to have skis or a snowboard that is the correct length and width for your body.

Beginners to either sport should definitely take a class to learn the fundamentals. Having an instructor guide you down the runs will help ensure that you don’t accidentally make your way down an advanced run.

Whichever activity you start to learn, you should still expect to fall a fair amount, especially if you’re trying your hand at snowboarding. But don’t think that just because you’re going to fall, you may as well teach yourself. Bumps and bruises are normal but lessons will help you avoid some broken bones. Most ski hills offer group and individual tutorials.

Healthy Ski Bunnies
Skiing and snowboarding offer a wealth of physical benefits. Both activities are a form of aerobic activity, which means they’ll help your cardiovascular system, increase your endurance plus help out with your balance, coordination and agility. Skiing also builds up many of the muscles in your lower body, including your quadriceps, glutes and hamstring. Your abdominals, calves and triceps will also benefit from downhill skiing.

Because the movements of snowboarding are similar to downhill skiing, many of the muscles you work are the same. The lower body gets a great workout from snowboarding but so do the abs. This may be surprising to many people since it seems like your legs do all the work. But you use your stomach muscles when you get up. If you’re new to the sport, then you’ll be using those muscles a lot.

Stretch First
Before you make your way down the hill, it’s important to properly stretch and warm up first. You may also want to take it easy on your first run so that your heart doesn’t have to work too hard too soon. At the end of the day, make your last one or two runs easy ones so that your body can cool down. Once you get your skis or snowboard off, don’t forget to give your muscles a good stretch so that you won’t be sore the next day. If you can, consider enjoying a Jacuzzi bath or a steam in a sauna to help out your muscles.

Remember that you’ll get the most health benefits from going on the longer runs. Also, don’t forget to drink water before, during and after your runs to keep you from getting dehydrated. And always stop when you start to feel tired. Ninety percent of all accidents happen on the last run of the day because people are tired, their muscles are exhausted and there is less light to help you properly see the run.

Finally, if you or someone in your family has plans to do some snowboarding, call ahead. Not all ski hills allow snowboarding, so it’s best to find this out beforehand. Now go out and have some fun!