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Keep'er Fit

Gary Wallace

Getting healthy on the slopes

I recently took my son Josh on his very first ski trip. We had the pleasure of being invited to join five schools; St Joseph’s, Enniskillen, St Mary’s Brollagh, Breifne College, Cavan, St Patrick’s, Dungiven and my old secondary school Sacred Heart College.

We were based in Folgaria in North Italy, a very quiet but beautiful ski resort. Thankfully Josh loved every minute of it. Exhausting but brilliant, and he is looking to go back next year.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff and pupils from each school, especially Sacred Heart who accepted Josh straight away into the group. Also to our amazing doctor Christian who doubled up as our ski coach, while our rep Carol went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure everyone had an enjoyable experience.

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A special thanks to my old school teacher Martin Turbitt (who organised my first ever ski trip with the school 20 years ago) for making this happen through the brilliant company Topflight, whom he now works for.

The great thing about a ski holiday is you are active and outside at the same time. It can be expensive but you are skiing so much during the day and are physically too exhausted to spend much money in the evening, (well for some people that is), so it works out a similar price if you had to entertain yourself on a sun holiday.

As well as being outside and moving let’s have a look to see what other health and wellbeing benefits there are from skiing.

Any age or ability can ski
The great thing about skiing is that it can be adapted to suit everyone’s needs. It’s amazing to see the amount of young children from the age of three who are on the slopes. You will also notice people who are wheel chair bound skiing with instructors using specialist skies and I have saw a few amputees gliding down the slopes with a lot more grace and control than me.

Motor skill development
Our CORE Kids programs focus a lot on perceptual motor skills such as proprioception, vestibular awareness, visual awareness, spatial awareness, directional awareness, and temporal awareness. Skiing can help develop all of these.

Proprioception is the ability to internally feel the position of different body parts and control their movement, like shifting the weight in your body as you turn.
Vestibular awareness is your internal balance, spinning, turning, and gliding, which you do a lot of when skiing.

Visual awareness and focusing at speed is needed to ski better and faster. Keeping within the markings of the slopes and manoeuvring between people as well as understanding how big your skis and poles are helps improve spatial awareness. Understanding where you are on the mountain and knowing the correct way to get down is all about directional awareness.

Even for younger kids knowing left, right and pointing your skies up and down the mountain can help improve this system.
The rhythm in which you ski and the tempo in which you stand tall and lower the body into a turn all helps temporal awareness, some people even sing a song to keep their turns smooth.

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Strengthens lower body
Squatting and isometric holds are a big part of skiing. Sometimes you don’t even realise you are working them at all because you are so busying enjoying yourself and taking in the surrounding beauty.

Bones and joints
Your knees must endure the tension and weight from your body as you turn and move quickly downhill. In addition to strengthening your knees, your bones become stronger due to the weight-bearing impact on your legs.

So not only are you having a fantastic time gliding down the slopes, but you are preventing knee damage, osteoporosis and increasing your proprioceptive strength.

Increases cardiovascular endurance (mainly beginners)
There are times when you have to work hard, especially when you are beginning.
From putting your ski boots on and walking towards the slopes with your skis in hand can be a workout in itself.

Add to that the additional work of having to walk up a slope sideways on skis or picking yourself up when you fall can definitely raise the heart rate for most beginners.

But think about all those extra calories burnt and how much you can enjoy the après ski.

Increases your Vitamin D intake
During the winter months getting away from the dark mornings and early evening darkness to head up a mountain with nothing but blue skies will increase your vitamin D intake as well as your overall well-being.

You can enjoy your treats
Burning all these calories and needing fuel to help recover gives you the chance to enjoy your slice of cake and mug of hot chocolate without feeling guilty, not that you should anyway.

Different cultures
This trip I was introduced to a strudel, which is a type of layered pastry with a filling that is usually sweet. When travelling, the people you meet, traditions and architecture is always a pleasure to experience.

You make new friends
I have met some wonderful people throughout my years of skiing and this trip was no different. I joined 15 brilliant adults from different schools and they were all a pleasure to spend a week with.
There have been many laughs and too many bad jokes, mainly by me. Skiing in the sun, drinking all sorts of drinks and enjoying good food can only help develop any friendship.

Boosts your mood
Skiing down a mountain, stopping for a drink and enjoying good company can only make you happy. Skiing not only boosts overall happiness and well-being, but it is beneficial to an individual’s physical and mental health, despite the frequency or duration of the activity you got to love it.

It’s a memory and skill you’ll never forget.

I’m all about making memories, especially with my son and this one is right up there. He and I both now have a skill for life that we can go off again and make even more memories year after year.

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