Healthy Tahoe: Train for knee injury prevention

Barton Performance Coach
A skier shredding the slopes on a sunny day.
Getty Images

Ski season is almost here in Lake Tahoe, and as exhilarating and refreshing it is to hit the slopes, injury is a common reality. For two-plankers, controlling ski equipment separately with each leg puts knees at higher risk. With some basic understanding of body mechanics and target exercises, skiing-related knee injuries can be prevented so you can enjoy a long season of shredding.

MCL (medial collateral ligament) and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) sprains/tears are the most common knee injuries in skiing. Understanding body mechanics and positions that may put you at risk are the first defense in preventing these injuries. 

The MCL is most often injured when a skier is in the snow plow position (pizza) and the skier falls down the hill. To avoid an MCL tear/sprain, it’s crucial that your weight is balanced when you are in the snow plow position. In addition, stick to terrain that is a comfortable challenge for you but not overwhelming.

The ACL is most commonly injured when a skier lands a jump in poor form or what is called a “phantom foot” phenomenon, which happens when a skier is falling and they attempt to stand up to stop the fall. To avoid an ACL injury, learn to land correctly (good form) with your weight forward, start with simple jumps, and advance slowly as your skill, confidence, and movement patterns improve. To decrease “phantom foot,” it’s best to accept an unavoidable fall rather than trying to stop the momentum of a fall.

Effective skiing technique should be practiced with hands and weight forward, legs parallel (french fry position), and hips/knees/ankles flexing equally, which will help prevent injury. A ski or snowboard lesson can help build these foundational skills. Stay on groomed and marked trails until ready to progress to off-piste terrain. 

Ensure you have the proper equipment — ski boots and bindings should be an appropriate fit for your height and skill level (consult a ski professional). Consider other protective equipment such as a helmet and wrist guards, especially for snowboarding. Lastly, make sure you get enough rest between runs. Skiing is fatiguing and injuries occur most often when your body is tired.

Preparing your body for the ski season should start well before you ever hit the slopes. By incorporating a few simple, but deliberate, exercises, you can prepare your core and legs appropriately. Three to four weeks of aerobic training (walking, treadmill, elliptical, or biking) builds endurance. Working on posterior chain muscles (muscle groups on the backside of the body including glutes and hamstrings), along with lateral plyometrics (side to side power movements to build strength and balance), can aid in preventing these kinds of injuries. 

Speak with a performance coach to get started on a personalized training routine that can get you in the best skiing shape, keep you injury-free and help you perform at your best, all season long.

This article was written by a PSIA Level II Ski Instructor and Performance Coach with the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness. Barton Performance Coaches specialize in strength training and offer individualized training and group fitness programs, including Winter Performance Preparation, to the Lake Tahoe community. For more information, call 530-600-1976 or visit

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