Unless you are lucky to live within an hour of the slopes (or get a lot of time off in the winter season), skiing and snowboarding can be tough on the body — not because they are inherently dangerous (unless you take a spill, of course), but because most of us don't do them often enough to build up the specific strength and flexibility we need for a day out on the snow. It's tough to build up those muscles when you only go out five or six days each season; ideally we could start the winter riding or skiing a couple hours a few times a week, building up to a full day on the slopes. But most of the time, we get our time at the ski resort in small chunks.
Not only do I not want to hurt myself when I go riding, there are few things as frustrating as your thigh and calf muscles giving up after a few hours when you have the rest of the day to use your lift ticket — and your heart and mind want to keep going. When you push yourself once your legs start shaking, that's when accidents and injuries occur, so being in decent shape will help avoid some of that (I like to vary leg-centric exercises like spinning, running and using the elliptical with lunges and jump-roping to build strong legs and core). But yoga strengthening exercises that target specific areas can really target those muscles you use the most while riding and skiing.
While overall and flexibility will always benefit a rider or skiier, I'm always sure to focus on legs, spine and core muscles so I can go all day long. Indeed, in this excellent piece on Yoga Journal for skiers, writer and yogi Baron Baptiste likens the proper skiing position to yoga poses.
Feet should be shoulder-width apart, as if in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), to create a stable base for the body.
Knees should be in line with the toes, as in Utkatasana (Chair Pose).
Hips should be tipped slightly forward. This is a somewhat unnatural position for most people; however, ski boots help encourage this shape in the lower body.
This posture helps you gain control. Boris likens it to walking down a roof: "If your hips are back, then your feet will come out from under you," she says.
Shoulders should be dropped, or relaxed, as in Tadasana.
Torso should be still. Referred to as a "quiet upper body" in skiing, having a "still" torso is akin to riding a bicycle with the lower body doing most of the work while the upper body provides stability.
Burton Girls has a great yoga routine specifically for snowboarders, which incorporates two of my favorite yoga moves for legs: Downward Dog and Chair Pose, both of which stretch and strengthen thighs and calves.
Here's an example of how simple these moves can be, even if you've never done yoga before:
Start: In Mountain Pose
• Take a deep breath through the nose and exhale as you sit back, bend your knees and drop the tailbone back. Lift your chest and reach your arms forward and up alongside ears.
• Press into the feet, extend through the hips and knees, then rise back up to Mountain Pose.
• Repeat 10–15 times. On the last chair, remain “seated” for at least six deep breaths.
Benefits: Keeps the ankles, hips and shoulders in alignment with the knees over the toes, which, when snowboarding, is the correct centered and balanced position. Engages core muscles in your abdomen and spine.
If you have a tough time motivating yourself to do a routine on your own, taking a yoga class at a ski mountain (I recently enjoyed one at the West Branch Yoga Center in Stowe, Vt.) and asking the teacher there about specific yoga moves for your style of riding (backcountry, jumps, woods) can be beneficial as well. You can try asking around at your local yoga center too; there's likely at least one teacher who also likes to hit the slopes and can give you extra tips. Or check out some of the online videos that target poses for snow-junkies.
This 20-minute yoga practice will build stregth and flexibility specifically for snowboarders and skiers.