Getting ready for the season when your home mountain is not near home

I was lucky enough to spend a winter living in Denver before moving back to the East Coast a few years ago. While my heart is in the mountains, the rest of me (and my family) isn't quite there yet; while my mailing address is in PA, my home mountain is in CO -- Breckenridge, to be exact. I build into my schedule one full week of skiing plus as many mini-trips as I can. Some are just afternoon trips shoved around work travel, and others are long three-day weekends. So how does one get ready for a season 1,700 miles away?

1. Be fit

It's true, skiing is hard work. Add travel and elevation, and that hard work gets extra hard. Staying fit helps a ton! I have found the best off-season work to be general cardio (bikes! or running, or walking), and as the season approaches, I work skiing-specific muscles into my normal routine. You don't need a gym! Here's a quick rundown:
  • Ankle flexion, in order to maintain good ankle articulation, is one area that doesn't get touched at all in my summer activities. Try this: sitting at your desk, raise your foot while leaving your heel on the floor. You can do this on the chairlift, too.
  • Body-weight squats are great for overall lower-body work. Slowly lower to a good squat position -- check your back and knees -- and raise back up. You weigh enough to make this highly useful without weights. Concentrate on engaging all your muscles, and don't rush.
  • If you are prone to calf cramps, add some static calf raises. Simply lift up to your tippy toes.
  • Don't neglect your core: it's the source of all power!
2. Be organized

I work really hard to be ready to ski the minute wheels hit the ground. When I can squeeze in a trip to the mountains, I don't have time to look for my stuff or stop to replace missing items. I keep my gear in a grab-and-go state at all times: my boot bag is packed with everything I need, so it's all I have to take with me on the first day; if I can, I carry it on the plane. I fly early to get a "free" adder to a long trip or a quick jaunt to the hill if possible. I have a large (verging on huge) breakfast and drink tons of water on the flight, which tides me over until I land and grab my rental car. On the way up to the slopes, I drink more water and eat a light pre-packed lunch, just enough to keep me going, so I can expend my effort sliding on the snow rather than digesting heavy food.

3. Be flexible

Every day is not going to be your best day, even if you've traveled all day to ski. It's sad, but true. Roll with the punches and be ready to adapt. For my mini-trips, I bring only my boots and clothes, and I rent skis. What's available might not be as great as your own gear, but you'll greatly reduce travel stress. Have a backup plan in case the weather prevents travel to the mountains. Once you hit the slopes, remember, This is supposed to be fun! Don't expect to ski your very best turns on Day 1. Call it quits early if you aren't feeling the groove. Don't feel bad; you aren't wasting money by not skiing that last 2 hours. Head into the restaurant and hang out there!

4. Be local

Even if it's tiny, your local bump is a good place to work on the basics. I've been spending time with a lovely pair of slalom skis, cleaning up my technique so that the big terrain will be that much more fun. Even if you don't call it home, the local area is most likely a small business that appreciates as much time as you can spend there. After all, if the little places go away, how else are the East Coast kiddos going to turn into World Cup rippers?