July 31, 2023

seniors who are still strong and skiing

Skiing has SOOO many benefits

Blizzard or bluebird, skiing makes winter come alive and the thrill of that first snowflake of the season, an anticipated treasure. Dreaming and determined to ski motivates many to stay strong and keep moving. Skiing can be super social and a sport that works well to enjoy as a family. Also it can be a great way to enjoy some solitude and soak in the nature in between chairlift laps. Time sliding around on slippery sticks is one of the best ways to enjoy the amazing environment of the winter. The pursuit of that perfect turn can offer an intellectual puzzle to keep learning. For retirees it can be disorientating living in a world without work. Skiing provides a sense of purpose and structure to the days.  That being said, skiing has endless benefits for all 7 dimensions of health including social, spiritual, emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational and of course physical. Especially for those who struggle with seasonal depression and really need that outdoor time. Basically skiing is fantastic for health. Everyone, especially those in the category of 65+ certainly have a lot to gain from continuing to clip in. 

ski race for master class or seniors

Cliff Richards, skiing strong at the age of 68, July 2023 at Mt Hood Booster Strap Summer Fun Nationals.  

The Doubts... 

Am I too old to keep skiing?

No, age is likely not the limiting factor. Skiing is such a versatile sport. The decision of whether to continue shredding or not  should be based on what you have done with your years more than simply the total number of them.  Sliding downhill on snow attached to sticks is more natural, efficient and safer for some than walking in the winter. Being Motivated to ski, has inspired lots of seniors to put the effort in to stay active. Meet George Jedenoff at 101 years old. 

Am I too old and out of shape to learn to ski ?

Not necessarily. The ease at which you can spontaneously decide to give it a go comes down to your base of conditioning. Some relevant factors are bone density, current activity level, strength, range of motion and genetics. Balance issues and diseases directly impacting bone density like osteoporosis certainly increase the risk of potential fractures. The healthier the individual the more rapid the recovery. The more consistent activity level you have maintained over the years the easier not just skiing but everyday life in general will be. Having said that where there is a will, there is a way. It will come down to some diligent training with some key exercises in order to build up your body to tolerate sports like skiing. Check out the blog The ABC’s of Proprioception of Skiing Part 1 to learn some smart prep steps for balance..

I can’t ski anymore. Too many injuries...

Most injuries don’t demand a stop to skiing long term unless for some reason you don't want to keep skiing. But, it certainly does take intentional decision and drive to put in the work to recover as best as possible. The efforts will often be rewarded with significant increase in quality of life, overall strength and general mobility.

Cool... But is Skiing bad for my knees?

The reputation skiing has gained is that it is bad for the knees. It all depends on how you look at it. Skiing certainly targets and predominantly loads the legs and core. Since the foot, ankle and lower leg are fairly secure inside the stiff ski boot, the knees do absorb most of the impact from a sudden stop of the legs and continued travel of the rest of the body. This can cause damage to to the knee, especially the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Having said that, this ligament could be injured tripping over a root while out hiking too. Preventing ACL Injuries in Skiing comes down to muscle balance and strength. The best way to protect the knees and increase their longevity is to use them. Now, I'm not suggesting backflips, sketchy snow conditions and trees without proper snow coverage is a good idea. But, hey, backflips are a bad idea for anyone without some proper preparation.

What's the point? I won't be able to ski well...

There are many inspirations to ski. For some skiing is about the challenge to continue improving towards perfecting the turn phases. Perhaps with the goal of carving at high speed is everything to others,  The vessel to propelling air time and landing the next trick. A great way to get out and enjoy nature. Yet for others, it's all about the zen of the turn and getting lost in the moment. Balance is one of the fundamental building blocks. The stronger the balance the lower the risk. Some of the strongest skiers I know are in their late sixties. There is no reason why skill cannot continue to be refined as a senior. 

Set up the season for success

Balance, strength and a solid amount of move time is important for athletes of every age. Actually, scientifically speaking most of us peak in our bone density and muscle mass by about age 25 and are actively fighting to maintain as much overall strength as we can as our bodies lose up to nearly 8 % per decade. That rate increases significantly in the sixties which results in bodies becoming increasing less efficient. Muscles are categorized into two main types of fibres. Type one or slow twitch and type 2, fast twitch. Everyone is born with a slightly different natural amount which is part of what predisposes some people to excellence in a particular sports arena. Slow twitch are considered to be the endurance fibres. These are excellent for posture, long hikes, and high repetitive movements. Fast twitch are reactive and strong. As time goes on most individuals experience a significant atrophy in the fast twitch muscles.  Like driving a 4 cylinder engine or trying to rev a heavy train back up, it's much easier to finesse and maintain some momentum than to have to rebuild it all. For many this is the time of life of retirement which generally means a change in activity level. 

Balance Training

Our ability to balance relies on our eyes, ears and proprioceptors via the oculomotor and vestibular systems. Preparing for ski season for those 65+ should take into account the deterioration of senses from age and injuries both old and new.  In situations like skiing in a whiteout lack of visibility can drastically affect balance. With no visibility all our built in radars for balance rely solely on our ears and proprioceptors. This can be an intimidating. Learn more factors and strategies to optimizing balance for the ski season as a senior in the blog: ABC’s of Proprioception for Skiers Part 1

Strength Training

Joanna Quaas. Oldest active gymnast alive. 86. 97 today.

CLICK THE PHOTO to see a clip of Joana Quaas, from Germany, oldest active gymnast alive. 86 in linked clip, 97 currently and still practicing gymnastics.

Sliding downhill classifies as a weight bearing activity that involves resistance against forces. Therefore technically skiing  itself can be considered a form of resistance training to maintain bone density which is exceptional for everyone, but especially vital for health and longevity for the 65+ crowd. Beware falling is a high risk factor to fractures for some senior struggling with osteoporosis or low bone density. The strength needed to keep skiing safely is also what will help to avoid injury in other activities of daily living and is worth while pursuing. Here's where to start, maximizing the active range of motion and equalizing the strength ratio between muscle groups with solid form . Building from there by adding resistance, intensity, dynamic drills demanding coordination and agility will not only prepare skiers for winter, but will also increase quality of life and movement by leaps and bounds. Dive into this in more detail with us on the blog coming soon Strength for Seniors.  

Emphasis on low intensity building volume prep

Skiing requires a significant amount of postural muscles that are often taken for granted. Even riding the chairlift in a relaxed position and then being able to unload on cue. Type 1, the slow twitch fibres begin to dominate as the type 2 fibres decrease in size with age. The best way to prep for ski season is to embrace and build that low intensity volume up gradually. Lots of move time is SOOO helpful!  You get it. If you don't use it ya lose it. You can get it back... but it makes it harder than it needs to be. It is way better Just to keep moving. More blogs directly about how moving matters to senior skiers coming soon.   

Iron Nun Sister Madonna Buder

CLICK THE PHOTO for a brief inspirational story from Iron Nun Sister Madonna Buder is over 92 now and still competing at Triathlons

Senior STOKE

The biggest key is keeping the STOKE alive. Keep skiing. Keep moving and keep on dancing! Come join in the community in the forums in SkierLab. There are several discussions to help keep you accountable to following through with a routine....

And SOO many more discussions to keep skiing fresh and alive!

Incorporating offseason ski conditioning minimizes the risk of injury. Plus it's an excellent excuse to make play a priority!  Cheers to the ski seasons! May they never end!

seniors who can dance

CLICK THE PHOTO: Put some dance in your day!!

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About the author 

Jessi Morris

Ski bum by day, Athletic Therapist by night, life is better in the mountains, that's why I hardly ever leave. I live full time in Bear Lodge on Mount Washington where I have my own clinic set up for injury prevention, injury management, and skier specific strength. I ski because I love it. Refining technique keeps me on my toes. Plus, it allows me to nerd out on the anatomy, physiology and overall biomechanics of it which is totally my jam! Cheers to new ski buddies and more ski stories! 

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11 months ago

Excellent Article, Jessi.:-)

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