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This month I will be traveling to Sunday River, one of Maine’s largest and most visited ski resorts. It has 132 trails across eight interconnected mountain peaks and 16 lifts. Its highest vertical drop is 2,340 feet; peanuts when compare to the drops out West, but here in the East, it’s pretty decent.

I’ve been skiing since the fifth grade. I got into the sport by chance. My then best friend at the time, Beth Johnson, was just learning to ski. For months during the winter, her dad took us to a nearby ski area. I fell in love with it immediately and have been downhill skiing ever since.

Some might be surprised to think of skiing as a great sport that benefits your body. One could think of it as dangerous, hard on the knees or too exposed to frostbite. While skiing is a strenuous form of exercise, the healthy advantages to downhill skiing are numerous.

One of the biggest benefits of skiing for fitness is that it is great, complete body workout, exerting every major muscle group from your head to your toes and toning your entire torso. This terrific aerobic activity improves balance and coordination and is an excellent way to stretch and strengthen leg muscles, particularly in the thighs and around the knees, as well as help with joint mobility. Your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and gluteal muscles will all be worked, due to the semi-squat position skiers take, as well as your abductor and adductor muscles from all of the lateral motions.

Downhill skiing is also an excellent cardio workout, strengthening your heart, improving your circulatory system and releasing oxygen to your muscles. It is an excellent fat burning activity, burning 450 to 600 calories for an average 165-pound person while mogul skiing can burn almost 900 calories an hour. Skiing also boosts your metabolism and helps to regulate good cholesterol levels in your body.

Skiing requires a certain level of balance, strength and endurance so pre-conditioning in the weeks and months leading up to the slopes to increase your endurance and lessen a chance of a possible injury is a must. Pilates will work your core before taking on the mountains while yoga is a good discipline to improve your strength, balance and concentration. The Awkward Pose is one of the better positions, which when done correctly, increases your overall strength, tones the muscles of your legs and aligns your skeletal system.

Ski injuries that due occur seem to either happen early in the day when muscles aren’t loose yet or late in the afternoon when the muscles are fatigue. So just like you stretch before a long run, stretch your muscles before heading out to the lift lines. This includes your shoulders and back, but most particularly your legs which will receive the brunt of your workout. To help prevent altitude sickness, stay well hydrated continually and avoid caffeine and alcohol. And always remember to wear your helmet!

What is the best benefit of skiing? That it does not seem like you are working out for six or more straight hours. Instead, you feel like you are eighteen again as you fly down the snowy slopes set against magnificent scenic surroundings. You are able to experience the great outdoors in the cold crisp air, explore endless miles of trails and enjoy the endorphins that kick in right before you hit the hot tub!

Be Fit. Be Strong. Be Well.