In addition to fitness, local ski veterans point to lessons, such as those offered at the Steamboat Ski Area, as important in helping older skiers and riders prevent injury and get the most out of their sport.

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In addition to fitness, local ski veterans point to lessons, such as those offered at the Steamboat Ski Area, as important in helping older skiers and riders prevent injury and get the most out of their sport.

Aging Well: Fitness, lessons help older skiers, riders stay safe

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The Over the Hill Gang is a ski and recreation club for people 50 and older in the Yampa Valley. For information about membership, free guided ski groups and other activities, visit http://yampavalle...>

For more information about Steamboat's adult ski and snowboard lessons, go to www.steamboat.com or call 800-299-5017.

For more information about Aspen's Bumps for Boomers program, go to www.bumpsforboome...>

Editor's note: This article originally was published November 2007.

At their best, alpine skiing, teleing and snowboarding are exhilarating, freeing and fun sports. At their worst, they can be painful.

Particularly for skiers and snowboarders ages 50 or older, a bad injury can be enough to end their season or even cause them to give up their sports for good.

Maintaining good overall fitness, however, as well as brushing up on skills and staying on top of new equipment can help keep the sports fresh and injury-free for these skiers and riders for years to come, local skiing and fitness experts say.

"That's the best - when you see 70- and 80-year-olds out there with their families," said Belinda Brownell, a part-time physical therapist who works with many clients 50 and older at her fitness studio, Forever Fit of Steamboat Springs.

Common injuries among older skiers tend to be bone fractures rather than torn ligaments, because bone mass decreases as we age. Falls commonly occur when fatigue sets in, slowing skiers' coordination, agility and balance, said Brownell, who also is a part-time ski coach.

It also doesn't help that retirees, in particular, tend to experience a lull in fitness prior to ski season as they head to relaxing locales. They come back thinking they are fit from summer activities, but the high-altitude and short bursts of energy involved in skiing prove differently.

In addition to strength training, which increases lean muscle mass to support bones, Brownell suggested skiers challenge themselves during aerobic activities by working on balance-, quickness- and agility-related moves when they become tired.

On a typical day, middle-aged skiers and snowboarders make up roughly 70 percent of students at Steamboat's adult ski and snowboard school, and a little more than half of participants typically are new to the sports, said Bill McCawley, adult ski school supervisor.

Perhaps accustomed to mellower vacations, these first-timers usually are shocked by the physical demands of skiing and snowboarding. Although they may be in good aerobic shape, they often lack muscle strength, he said.

The physical aspects of the sports usually aren't "deal breakers" for novice skiers, but establishing good overall strength provides them a good basis for learning skiing and snowboarding skills.

McCawley recommended Pilates as the best overall strength training, because it lengthens muscles that tend to get short and tight with age, while strengthening the core, which helps control and align the body while skiing.

David Moulton, a 40-year ski veteran and former instructor, agreed that a strong core is often neglected.

"If you don't have a strong core, you just get bounced all over the place : other [body parts] pick up the slack, and that's when you get hurt," said Moulton, who also is a member of the Over the Hill Gang, a local ski club for skiers 50 and older.

Skiers also tend to overlook the importance of lessons. Newer skiers often quit lessons when they get to a low-intermediate level, then they fail to improve and sometimes even backslide into beginner mistakes, he said.

Although recreational skiing lacks the direct competition that sometimes can motivate people to take lessons in sports such as tennis or golf, lessons are just as important in snow sports. Even advanced skiers can hone their skills, learn about new equipment and identify and correct bad habits.

"Someone always has a new trick to teach about how to get down the mountain more efficiently," said Moulton, who plans to take a few lessons himself this winter.

Steamboat's ski and snowboard school offers group, semi-private and one-on-one lessons for all levels of skiers and riders, as well as a variety of multi-day clinics and seminars, including gender-specific and telemark workshops.

Some ski schools also offer clinics or lessons specifically for those older than 50. The Bumps for Boomers program at Aspen, for example, aims to help skiers get off groomed runs by learning to ski powder and black-diamond moguls.

Various resources help skiers and snowboarders get fit, including snow sports publications, which often have regular fitness sections. Local gyms and fitness studios also offer ski conditioning classes, as well as fitness trainers who can get participants started in the right direction.

Tamera Manzanares can be reached at tammarie74@yahoo.com.

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