Preparations for a winter trip should never be left to the last minute.

The ski season is right around the corner. To make sure that the planned trip to one’s dream resort goes smoothly, it is best prepared well in advance. This will give skiers enough time to properly take care of the required equipment and... themselves.

Luxurious residence conditions, beautiful slopes and great weather – this is the shortest recipe for a successful skiing getaway. But only seemingly, as there are in fact many more conditions that need to be met. One of them is the proper physical preparation. As emphasized by experienced instructors, adequate training is best started two months prior to the scheduled departure (and in the worst case, a month before – depending on the degree of physical activity throughout the rest of the year). In particular, it is necessary to improve overall body fitness, as well as muscles in the legs, back and stomach, i.e. those which will be the most vulnerable to the physical effort associated with skiing. However, it is not recommendable to fall from one extreme to the other and right away overdo it with the weights. It is best to increase them systematically during regular workout sessions. An effective training plan should include stretching, strengthening and improving the sense of balance. It should also involve running (best on uneven ground), biking and other well-known physical education classes: squats, crunches, swings, lunges, scissors, slopes or the so-called air cycling. It is at the same time important to take into consideration that after a long period of idleness, the first days of training might involve significant muscle ache. Only in the second and third week the body begins to "adapt" to finally fall into the right rhythm during the fourth week.

Factoring out the weather

The aforementioned exercises can be done both in the gym and fitness club (more and more institutions of this type offer seasonal activities for skiers), or simply at home and outdoors. According to the leading ski schools, open-air workout is in fact the most recommended and efficient form of training. As they point out, exercises carried out in the park, in the woods or outdoor gym additionally prepare the body for low temperatures and build its resistance. Not without significance is also the fact that a higher dose of fresh air is directly reflected in the daily functioning of the human organism. Better sleep, healthier complexion and a greater sense of relaxation – these are just some of the advantages of exercises under the open sky.

To buy or to borrow?

It is also important to set aside some time to take care of the skiing gear. If someone is to debut on the slopes, there is no need to immediately spend significant amounts on the purchase of the necessary equipment. Newbies are usually recommended to rent out the entire set – be it in their place of residence, or directly at the ski resort. This will help avoid additional costs in the event that for some reason, the skiing adventure turns out to be a one-off. However, if someone has already swallowed the bug and is determined to ski regularly, they should consider purchasing their own gear. In the long run it is sure to prove cheaper and result in a greater skiing comfort – after all, it is no secret that it is best to ride in one’s own gear.

Destination – stores

When choosing the optimal ski set, prior to hitting the stores it is worth honestly evaluating one’s technique, specifying one’s favorite type of slopes (some people feel better on perfectly prepared pistes, while others prefer “wilder”, off-trail areas) and combining this information with the skier’s height and weight. The general rule of thumb is that lighter and less advanced users should opt for shorter skis – while those with greater skills and weight should stick to longer skis which might require more effort when turning, but prove more stable in difficult conditions. Another old ski rule says that beginners should have skis reach up to their chin, intermediate skiers – up to their nose, and veterans – up to their forehead.

There’s something for everyone

Importantly, skis should also be selected according to the preferred way of skiing. The most popular (and most often purchased) models are known as allround – they are ideal for users looking for the universal "decks" that will perform well on pistes of varying difficulty and preparation. With each season, an increasing number of skiers also opt for all-mountain skis – which are suited for skiing on and off-piste and which due to their increased width offer increased stability, while at the same time greatly facilitate carving into a turn. Enthusiasts of fast and aggressive riding on steep and well-prepared pistes should enjoy race skis. Despite requiring excellent technique and a major energy input, they provide excellent edge grip even on the hardest terrain. Freeride skis are, in turn, a dream choice for off-trail skiing, in powder and deep snow. They are lightweight and relatively wide, which helps them glide over snow and allows for smooth riding. Importantly, they also perform well on prepared trails. Freestyle skis are fairly lightweight and relatively short and have an upward bend on the tip and tail, enabling skiers to perform spectacular stunts on the slopes or in so-called snowparks. Those who dislike lifts should opt for ski-touring skis. Thanks to climbing skins, i.e. special synthetic tapes sticking to the bottoms (slides), they greatly facilitate ascending uphill and prevent sliding back down. Another convenience are clips attached to the movable tails and extremely low weight. Cross-country skis ensure smooth skiing and edge grip even on icy terrain. Thanks to their fairly large surface they excel also off-piste. They are very maneuverable and stable, and at the same time have a structure similar to race decks. Shorty skis are very short and have integrated bindings. They prove extremely useful in improving carving technique. They are sometimes referred to as a combination of skis and snowboard. A good choice for less advanced users would be easy-carve models. This is because they promptly "forgive" any technical errors on the trail, facilitate turns and are usually quite lightweight. They are also very soft, which makes them unsuitable for skiing on ice and steeper terrain.

Boots are the priority

Even more vital than the selection of skis is the choice of good footwear. In the unanimous opinion of experienced skiers it is worth investing more in good quality ski boots, which will incomparably increase the comfort and performance on the slopes. A good boot must not only keep the foot immobile, but also push it slightly forward when in a standing position. It must also be ensured that the height of the boot is at least equal to its length, and preferably even slightly higher. Ski boots should be about half a number bigger than regular daily footwear, as skiing always requires wearing thicker socks. However, it is also important not to overdo it by buying even bigger boots with an intention to put on "yet another pair of socks" or "stronger bindings." Such thinking may lead to unnecessary blisters, pain and freezing of the feet due to improper blood circulation. If someone has feet of different lengths, boot size should be fitted to the bigger foot. It is also important to keep in mind that ski boots purchase should never be rushed. It is in fact advisable to spend at least half an hour walking in them all around the store, or even better – take them home for the rest of the day and keep them on for a few hours. Only then it is impossible to make sure that the foot is neither too compressed nor too loose, which can spoil all the pleasure from skiing, as well as lead to nasty falls and injury. A well-trained salesman should also help selecting the appropriate stiffness of the boot (flex index). Interestingly, even the best of the best, i.e. participants of the World Cup in alpine skiing, start equipment selection from buying the ski boots first. Not by chance one of the industry proverbs says that despite riding on “skis”, one actually rides in “ski boots”.

Bindings and poles matter too

The ski “set-up” should also include good quality bindings which guarantee the proper connection between a ski and a boot while skiing and its instant release in the event of a fall. For this to happen, however, the bindings must be properly set – the scale should be adjusted to the weight of the skier, their skills, height and skiing style. Choosing poles, it is crucial to remember that the hand holding the pole stuck in the snow should be bent at the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Except that standing on skis, everyone is slightly higher than they are in reality due to the thickness of the skis and the soles of the ski boots, which in practice means that poles should be slightly longer in comparison to what would be indicated by the angle of the bent elbow.

Practical AND stylish

Another important element of the ski gear is the skiing outfit itself. There is no need, of course, to immediately go for professional suits created for high performance alpine skiers, but it is certainly worth tracking sales in sports shops, as for a reasonable price one can become a happy owner of trousers and jackets made of breathable fabrics, which are at the same time wind- and waterproof too. It is also a good idea to look for thermal underwear, designed to wick moisture away from the body to the outside. And, unfortunately, many people forget that while out in the mountains, cotton underwear is not the best solution, because instead of drawing it away from the skin, it absorbs sweat and after soaking it begins to cool down the body temperature.

To see clearly…

It is also crucial not to disregard the importance of selecting good goggles which will help protect the eyes from wind, frost, ultraviolet radiation (UV) or mechanical damage. Those who ski on artificially lit slopes and during heavy cloud cover should opt for goggles with clear lenses to brighten up the field of view. If someone is set to ski in daylight, it will be more practical to buy darker lenses that improve contrast vision. Less picky users can decide on universal lens, designed to perform well in all weather and lighting conditions. Pretty good quality goggles should still have a good ventilation system, which will prevent fogging while out skiing. There is also an option for skiers with visual impairments – goggles that allow insertion of prescription glasses under the panes. To top it off, some models even have inserts for optical lenses. It is also important to keep in mind that goggles should fit well to the shape of the skier’s face or helmet.

Forewarned is forearmed

The faster one decides to complete their ski set-up, the greater choice and better prices they can count on. If someone leaves the tour of ski stores to the very last minute, they must reckon with the fact that in the throes of trying on the successive accessories they might overlook i.a. the issue of insurance. The standard package should contain such clauses as liability for damages caused to third parties, accident insurance - consequences of accidents, KL - medical expenses, gear insurance, services such as "assistance", as well cover transport costs and the costs of search and rescue in the mountains. When traveling abroad, it also wouldn’t hurt to apply for the European Health Insurance Card. And then the only thing left to do is fully enjoy the winter aura and jump into action on the slopes – all within reason, of course...

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