Since I just took an extended holiday weekend and went skiing, I for some reason couldn’t turn off my PT brain and I found myself analyzing what I was doing (other than falling) as I made my way down the slopes.
I can tell you right off the bat that your quads get an amazing work out. Not only were they burning as I was going down the slopes but they are still sore and I can feel them every time I stand up or go up and down the stairs.
My other sore muscles are my calves and that’s because being on skis encourages you to shift your weight forward so your calves are working to keep you from falling flat on your face. This is the same way your calves (and quads) are used when you go down the stairs, they slowly elongate to keep you from falling.
When you are shifted forward on your skis going down hill you could stay in that one position but I can pretty much guarantee you will go speeding straight down the mountain. In order to control your speed you need to weight shift from side to side as well as turn your skis slightly (or drastically) back and forth. This is great practice for weight shifting which is important for walking.
When you are shifting forward and side to side, you need to keep your head and trunk upright and looking down the hill which helps to develop righting reactions as well as trunk rotation (for when you turn your skis side to side).
By looking down the hill or to your next target (especially if you are doing moguls) you get to work on maintaining visual focus despite other things going on around you. You also get to anticipate what you are going to do next and work on your anticipatory balance reactions.
And believe me, skiing will work on your balance all around!
There are plenty of other things that go into skiing but that is the basic breakdown.
Now, when kids (or adults) first start out they learn how to maneuver with skis on their feet. I remember practicing with a kiddo who was going to go skiing for the first time. We were practicing on dry land so that she would have some idea of what to expect and thereby feel more comfortable with this new activity. We practiced moving our feet from ‘pizza’ (pointing inwards) to ‘french fries’ pointing straight ahead. I would give the command and she would react. This gave her the opportunity to work on reaction time, motor planning and coordination. Lastly we practiced falling. The main purpose for that was so that when she fell she wouldn’t get discouraged and would stand up and ‘brush it off’ or ‘shake it off’. I was so excited to hear that her first skiing opportunity was not only a success but she wanted to do it again! Ski school is a great chance for your kids to learn with their peers and work on social skills while they all learn a new activity.
For kids that have more involved needs there are some amazing adaptive skiing programs out there. This family talks about their discovery of skiing and the upside of going downhill! I also work with a kiddo who participates in adaptive skiing and he loves it. The smile he gets on his face when you ask him about it says all you need to know about the benefits of this activity that is ‘typical’ among his peers. Here are some of the adaptive ski programs I know about but please feel free to add to the list.