Navigating Ski Trip Recovery with Science-Backed Tactics

Navigating Ski Trip Recovery with Science-Backed Tactics

Abby Stanislaw

By Abby Stanislaw \ March 11 2024

Imagine this: You've just landed in Salt Lake City, Utah buzzing with excitement for your week-long ski trip. With no time to waste, you and your friends drive up to Snowbird (did I mention it’s only 45 minutes from the airport), committing straight into eagerly awaited Tram laps. It's an all-out, high-speed first day – no warm-up, just pure top-to-bottom powder skiing. By 4:30 p.m., you're back at the The Cliff Lodge, muscles burning with lactic acid you sink into the hot tub and toast to an epic first day with après-ski drinks. At this moment, you're already planning your lines for tomorrow and recounting the feats you accomplished today.

But here's where reality hits: despite feeling invincible today, your body might not share the same enthusiasm rolling out of bed tomorrow morning. Science has its own agenda when it comes to recovery, and it doesn't always align with ours. You wake up to legs that feel more like lead balloons than limbs, finding yourself unable to muster the strength for brunch, let alone another day slashing powder turns.

This blog is your guide through the maze of recovery techniques – both well-known and under-the-radar. We'll dissect what truly works and what doesn't in optimizing recovery, ensuring you're ready to tackle your goals, whether they're on the ski slopes, in the gym, or anywhere in between.

Warm-Up

What Works: 

A proper warm-up increases blood flow and can improve muscle recruitment and timing. Dynamic stretching and light cardio increase blood flow and prepare the muscles and joints, which can reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) up to 48 hours after exercise. 

What Doesn’t Work: 

Going straight from the car or hotel room into skiing back-to-back tram laps. 


Cool Down 

What Works: 

Moderate-intensity exercise. Whether this looks like walking your dog, hopping on a spin bike, or doing pilates or yoga after skiing anything that you can do that gets your heart beating and muscles pumping at a moderate intensity helps flush lactic acid and excess fluid from your muscles, in turn helping you feel better the next day. Cycling at intensities up to 50% of your VO2 Max has been shown to help increase muscular power output in the days immediately following heavy eccentric loading making it the ideal choice for recovery cool-down. There is also evidence that suggests that a cool down can help promote sleep and strengthen your immune system, both very important in the longevity and satisfaction of your ski trip.

What Doesn’t Work: 

Static stretching, foam rolling, hot tubbing, and unfortunately après-ing. 


To optimize recovery: 
1) Fuel up smartly with caffeine and healthy foods
2) Active Recovery Post-Ski
3) Cold Plunge
4) Pre-Trip Conditioning


Myofascial release: foam rolling, sports massage, static stretching

What Works: 

Sports massage even for as short a duration as five minutes has been shown to reduce DOMS symptoms for up to 72 hours post-exercise bout. 

What Doesn’t Work: 

Static stretching after exercise, and foam rolling. Contrary to popular belief, foam rolling has very little effect, if any, on muscle performance, DOMS, or lactic acid clearing after exercise. There is a small amount of evidence to suggest that foam rolling can enhance muscle performance before exercise but this is also controversial in the literature. Similarly, there is little evidence to support the concept of static stretching for improved performance or reduced soreness after exercise. Unlike foam rolling, static stretching if performed properly can exhibit some muscle-lengthening effects which can be beneficial for some individuals. My advice: you can leave your foam roller and stretching band at home and focus on some more validated ways to recover. 


Water immersion

What Works: 

Cold plunging. Cold water immersion works to reduce muscle soreness and improve performance the next day by two main mechanisms: 1) hydrostatic pressure acts as compression on your muscles which can help clear uncomfortable fluid and lactic acid from the muscle tissue, and 2) the analgesic effects of cold. Most recommendations suggest finding water that is roughly 10-15 degrees Celsius and staying in for 5-10 minutes. 

What Doesn’t Work: 

Hot tubs. Unfortunately, hot tubs should be reserved for the last day of your ski trip. There is little research in the area of hot water immersion for recovery, and the evidence that does exist is conflicting. 


Supplements

What Works: 

Caffeine, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), branched-chain amino acids (BCAA), pomegranate, and curcumin. Coffee lovers rejoice! Caffeine ingestion immediately before exercise may help reduce soreness and improve muscle performance in the first 24 hours after exercise. NSAIDs, BCAA’s, pomegranate, and curcumin also appear to have an effect in preventing and treating DOMS. An important side note here, there is evidence suggesting that the use of NSAIDs or anti-oxidant-rich supplements may hinder muscular development post-exercise, so if your goal is to get stronger from this skiing day rather than to recover from it, maybe stay away from the NSAIDs and pomegranate juice. Whenever taking any supplement or drug, make sure you have talked to your doctor and determined what is safe for you to consume. Also, take a look at the bottle of supplements and aim for things that are third-party verified - this makes sure that what you are being told you are consuming, is what is actually in the bottle. 

What Doesn’t Work: 

Anatabine and ginseng do not appear to decrease markers of muscle damage, inflammation, or DOMS.


Compression

What Works: 

Compression pants, kinesio-tape, and hydrostatic pressure. Moderately tight compression garments that span from your ankle up above your hips have been shown to increase performance and reduce soreness 24 hours after exercise bouts. Kinesio-tape has some evidence to support its use to reduce soreness, but it takes about two days to feel the effects as compared to not wearing it at all. As noted before, hydrostatic pressure (pressure from being in water) can also positively impact soreness and performance. Pair the hydrostatic pressure with a little bit of kicking for some moderate-intensity exercise and you might be onto something great. 

What Doesn’t Work: 

Fancy intermittent pneumatic compression devices. Though frequently used in the Physical Therapy clinic for muscular recovery. There is very little, if any, evidence supporting the use of those expensive leg compression devices that some ad might be trying to sell you. You can save your money here and might be better off buying some coffee prior to your next ski day instead. 


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To ensure that your ski vacation in Utah's breathtaking slopes remains an enjoyable adventure rather than muscle-aching agony, here's a tailored recovery strategy. 

1) Fuel Up Smartly: Begin each day with a caffeine boost and end each day with a meal that helps you refuel for the days to come including protein, carbs, and healthy fats. For resources on healthy eating at Utah's ski resorts, check out this blog.

2) Active Recovery Post-Ski: Engage in a 20-30 minute moderate-intensity activity -  take your pick of cycling on a spin bike, taking a walk, or any movement that gets your blood flowing. To enhance this even more, do it wearing compression garments!

3) Embrace the Cold: If you have access, immerse yourself in a cold plunge of 10-15 degrees celsius for 5-10 minutes.

4) Pre-Trip Conditioning: Remember, your ski trip doesn't start on the day you arrive in Utah. It begins weeks before, at home, with adequate training and conditioning. This preparation ensures your body isn't shocked by the sudden change in activity.


While there's an array of gadgets, supplements, and tools marketed for recovery, sometimes simplicity and science are the best tools for success. Keep your focus on these practical, proven strategies for effective recovery. Prioritize your sleep, and perhaps save the indulgent après-ski festivities for your final evening. This disciplined yet enjoyable approach will ensure you make the most of every moment, carving through the greatest snow on earth day after day with renewed energy and minimal soreness. So, gear up, ski hard, recover smart!

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Note: The blog post is designed to provide general information and should not be taken as professional medical or health advice. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.



References: 

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