It’s been snowing on the Front Range and we’re very excited. And very cold. But mostly excited.

With resorts starting to open for the season, we’re tuning up our edges, getting new boots fitted, and winterizing our cars for the trek up to our favorite mountains.

While we prepare for ski and snowboard season in all these ways, we also need to take some time to do a physical tune up as well. One of the best ways to prevent injury, build endurance, and strengthen muscles is through a yoga practice. Here’s why:

  • Yoga makes you warm. We’ve established that it’s cold outside. Many styles of yoga are in heated studios, and most styles of active yoga generate internal heat as well, allowing a safe way to stretch and strengthen muscles. Bonus: Ujjayi breath (breath of victory) is also a great way to warm up on the lifts.
  • Yoga can help you prevent injuries. Any athlete can benefit from an understanding of muscular imbalances, as well as a practice to help recognize and correct those imbalances. Skiers and snowboarders especially tend to have strong quads, gluteus, and hip flexors and are prone to weaker low backs, outer thighs, hamstrings, and upper bodies. By stretching the areas that get worked the most (legs, hips, gluteus), skiers can begin to lengthen muscles that have become shortened and prevent further pull on typically weaker areas like the back and hamstrings.
  • Increase your lower body strength. While your quads, gluteus, and hip flexors are probably already pretty strong from skiing, chances are your outer hips, hamstrings, and core could all use some extra attention. These areas won’t strengthen much on their own just from skiing, but strengthening the outer hips and hamstrings can help prevent injury in the much-abused knees. Strengthening your core can help protect your low back and keep you strong on tight turns.
  • Yoga can build your upper body strength (without making you top-heavy). With the exception of that little cross country trek to get to your favorite spot, skiing is primarily a lower-body activity. Poses like high plank, chattarunga, down dog, and dolphin can keep your arms, shoulders, and chest strong and toned off the slopes while your legs take over on the slopes. Since yoga strengthens your muscles while stretching them, the resulting muscle tone is long and lean versus the shorter, bulkier muscle you might build from just lifting weights.
  • Yoga can build your endurance so you can take full advantage of this season. A vinyasa, hatha, or ashtanga practice can give you the tools to control your breath, even when your heart is beating quickly in anticipation of that double black. You might even learn to deepen your breath to allow for more lung capacity, which can make a difference at high altitude.

New to yoga? Find a studio near home or work that offers something like “beginning yoga” or “level one vinyasa.”

1557336_10202513606618866_1764769246_o–Katrina Kopeck is a yoga instructor, writer, food enthusiast and dog hugger in Boulder, CO. She loves all puppies, most books and a great deal of music. You can catch her classes at CorePower Yoga, Yoga Loft Boulder, Ruya Crossfit and the Boulder VA Center. Find her full schedule at katrinakopeckyoga.com.