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Is powder/backcountry skiing hard on the knees?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
So, I've had 6 knee surgeries starting at 16 from being a FIS SL racer. Now I'm 22 and would like to ski again this winter.

I've been invited to Switzerland for a ski holiday this winter. Coming from the northeast, I've never really had the ability to go backcountry before. Is backcountry/powder skiing difficult on the knees? Would you advise it to someone with 3 ACL, MCL, LCL surgeries, plus other various knee surgeries? Obviously I'd be wearing my knee brace.

I tried SL for the first time in a few years last November at St Moritz, and didn't do so well. Only skied twice that winter.

I'd like to shoot for 15-20 days on snow this year. One week at St Moritz, maybe another week doing NASTAR at Lake Placid.

Would you advise this? Or do you think it's a bad move?

Thanks! 
post #2 of 19
Deep snow can obviously put stress on your knees if you are fighting against it, and with backcountry skiing you can expect to encounter every conditon from the sublime to the ridiculous, particularly in Europe where the large vertical runs generate huge snow condition changes from top to bottom.  Backcountry powder skiing is not "difficult on the knees" if you ski correctly, so the answer to your question really lies with you and your abilities.  If your racing background has kept you on piste all the time then you may have some problems, but if you can ski the deep heavy snow comfortably then you should be alright.  If you want to minimize the potential for knee strain in deep snow I would suggest looking at shorter rockered skis, which will be less likely to cause twisting torque on your knees. 

Edited by mudfoot - 7/31/2009 at 02:52 pm GMT
post #3 of 19
My experience: 51 y.o., 2 ACL reconstructions, numerous arthroscopies for 'cleaning', 2 compressed vertebrae. Ski the back country, piste and everything in between. Raced as a kid, race now as a master, all events.

As with all skiing, technique will either hinder or help you. The BC has hidden 'features' that could cause you more trouble than skiing a groomed piste, so beware. Things like rocks just below the surface, logs, holes, etc. are there to spice up your off piste travels.

Are you experiencing pain or discomfort skiing on the piste? Are you generally strong? Are you flexible? If you feel strong on the piste, I'd say venture off piste.

In Europe it is easy to ski off piste, immediately next to the piste. Try that out and see how it feels. You can always return to piste quickly. I would not suggest any long tours (randonee/AT)right away. Start with simple tours where you can get to a road or piste easily. Go for 30 minutes, then 60 and increase your exposure gradually so you can determine your limits.

Lots of people are using chondroitin/glucosamine/MSM for joint issues. Many swear by it, some don't notice an improvement.

MR
post #4 of 19
Thread Starter 
 Thank you!

How long of BC skis would you recommend? Any suggestions?

I didn't really have pain after skiing the two times I did ski last year, but I wasn't having fun as I couldn't turn like I once do (I washed out when carving to the left and couldn't hold an edge well) so I thought about trying backcountry.

Thanks again! 
post #5 of 19
If you have no off piste experience, get on some rockered powder skis or all mt (personal call) put some turns on them on groomers and take a lesson.  If you were WC level you had to ski the loose stuff.  We all want to know what is behind the other door.

On skis it is a very strange world out there.  Like you lots of background then a break, how the world did change.  Like race skis, DEMO.
post #6 of 19
I haven't been to St. Moritz, so don't know what their BC is like, but their off piste, next to the piste, skiing will probably be pretty sweet and easy. Up-state NY on the other hand is going to be some gnarly BC based on my experience in NH in the White Mountains.

I personally like a short fat ski. I use Atomic Powder Plus 165cm, 130/110/120. These aren't available anymore; I was turned on to them by chance at an auction. Now I have two pair like this and one pair of 180s. What makes them nice is that they are easy to turn on edge, easy to jump and float on most anything. A ski 100mm at the waist with a 15 - 20 m radius would get you a long way both on and off piste. BTW, are you considering touring up to ski down, or lift accessed BC. AT bindings are a particulary important piece of the puzzle if it is the former.

I don't particularly agree with stranger about rockered skis, I think they are too limited; just good for soft snow. Not what you'll have if you are skiing off piste or near piste. I prefer more traditional cut and camber. Just my opinion though. Stranger is a good source of info.

What you really need, if you are having problems making carved turns, is likely to be more strength. Physical strength can make up for a lot of laxity in your knees. More details of your capabilities and experience could help us with advice. Were you a 100 pts racer? 50 pts? 25 pts? What do you envision BC to be like? What do you want to do there?

Without hesitation I'd suggest getting more comfortable with your ability to make the turns you want to make on piste before wandering off piste. If you have troubles on piste, off piste is not going to be any easier.

To your original specific question, which I sidestepped first time around, off piste isn't by definition harder on your knees than on piste, but it does offer more unpredictability in terrain and conditions, so be at top form before going BC.

MR
post #7 of 19
Wow with all the knee operations maybe you should take up the BC as your primary skiing and scrub the racing.  If you balk at this suggestion then my 2nd recommendatio  is  you should have switched several operations ago.  51 years is young but hey man you have very old knees.
post #8 of 19
Many of the surgeries and injuries were due to recreational skiing and mt. biking. I've only had two major ski racing related injuries. I have gone from racing the entire 24 race, 4 discipline masters series to just one masters DH at Ski Cooper. It has low objective hazards and plays to my strengths, especially gliding. I am also doing some fore-running as the course conditions are better by far than when I would normall run and I don't have to be the fastest. I can easily make the descision to hold back, rather than go for it as my time isn't going to be published or matter.

Fore-running at the 2009 Masters Aspen SG (red and blue gates) and DH (red panels only)


My idea of back country is not just powder in snow fields. Two weeks ago I skied a run in CO that had a mandatory 70 degree entrance for about 10 feet before 'leveling out' to 50 degrees or so. It was solid, frozen snow which was very challenging. There was a tarn (high alpine lake) at the bottom so if you didn't stop before the bottom you'd swim. It had as much adrenaline pumping as racing at 65 - 75 mph.

Ski racing, recreational skiing and BC require attention to detail, consideration of fall zones and how to deal with escape routes in the case of trouble. High level skiing is just what I do. Skiing is one of the things I excel at and I am regularly evaluating my condition to insure that I can continue at the highest level without undue risk. I wouldn't be racing, fore-running or in the BC if I wasn't in excellent condition and knew what I was capable of.

Thus my advice to mpb67: make sure you are strong on the piste before going off piste where there was not easy return to the piste. Easy access piste would be great, so long as it didn't require a committment to complete a run that might prove injurous. Testing oneself is a good thing. Testing without any reasonable options for dealing with a failed test is not good.

Additionally good skiing is not hard on the knees, bad skiing exposes the knees to injury.

MR
Edited by MastersRacer - 8/1/2009 at 03:27 pm GMT
Edited by MastersRacer - 8/1/2009 at 03:29 pm GMT
post #9 of 19
I feel I ought to point out here that "backcountry" skiing covers a spectrum that's incredibly wide and varied.  It can range from a few minutes of hiking or skinning to reach the top of a run with thousands of vertical feet of PERFECT powder skiing all the way to hours of hiking/scrambling/climbing/crawling to get to a few hundred feet of something that resembles skiing on horrible sun cups, runnels, or ice-embedded rocks.

A lot of the time, "real" backcountry skiing is more about the journey UP than the skiing back down. 

So, backcountry skiing can mean pretty difficult and variable conditions, but it CAN mean absolutely perfect skiing.  My business partner raced on the World Cup and has literally had tens of knee operations.  He does a lot of backcountry skiing and picks the days based on the conditions he expects to encounter. 

If you're raced FIS at a relatively high level, you undoubtedly have the skills to ski most anything you would run into on a backcountry excursion.  Whether those conditions would be good for your knee(s) in the long run will be up to you.  Experience will tell you.

Good luck in learning what works and what doesn't.
post #10 of 19
Thread Starter 
 Thanks all.

What I think I'm going to do is enjoy 1-2 ski holidays each season in Suisse or France and scrap trying to ski in the northeast.

Maybe after this year I can reevaluate, but entering a FIS SL race seems unlikely. 
post #11 of 19
Stop me if this is obvious.  With your racing background and injuries, you must know a ton of dry-land and rehabbing exercises, no?  If you are shooting for 15-20 days, do a ton of rehab and stregnth building this summer/fall.  A couple of warmup days locally can't hurt.  This is recreational vacation skiing, not racing.  You should be fine if you put in the work.

Personally, I (29) have to work out for 4 months solid just to do a backcountry trip out west.  Even then I still get my ass kicked but I manage to push through.  Then I'm left to wonder about all the hard work I did for one week of skiing, but it's always been worth it!



    
post #12 of 19
 For me, nothing aggravates my bad knee more than ice.

ymmv, but soft snow is all good!!
post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tommyb View Post

Stop me if this is obvious.  With your racing background and injuries, you must know a ton of dry-land and rehabbing exercises, no?  If you are shooting for 15-20 days, do a ton of rehab and stregnth building this summer/fall.  A couple of warmup days locally can't hurt.  This is recreational vacation skiing, not racing.  You should be fine if you put in the work.

Personally, I (29) have to work out for 4 months solid just to do a backcountry trip out west.  Even then I still get my ass kicked but I manage to push through.  Then I'm left to wonder about all the hard work I did for one week of skiing, but it's always been worth it!



    Indeed. I'm now big into tennis, and I play 2-3h a day. I'll be training with my club team at school, but I can ask the ski coach if he'd let me do dryland with them.
post #14 of 19
Thread Starter 
 This may be too late to ask, but what's everyone's opinion on me trying racing again? 

I skied at St Moritz without a knee brace and couldn't hold an edge when turning right. With the knee brace in Vermont, I did OK but my technique was horrible from years out of racing.

Do you think it's worth getting back into a club team at my college for ski racing, or should I consider myself past my prime and move on?

Honestly. Considering the 6 knee surgeries.
post #15 of 19
You can race again.

You need to develop the strength to overcome any laxity and reduce the likelihood of reinjury. If your doctor isn't sports specific, consult one who is. There may be reasons that you shouldn't race again, but that is unlikely.

Join a race program and relearn what you have lost. Masters racing is extremely competitive. Speaking for Rocky Mountain Masters, www.rmmskiracing.org, there are all abilities on the course. Everything from never evers to former World Cup racers.

So you know where I'm coming from:

I started racing at 13 and I broke my back in 1977 (I was 19) and quit racing. 25 years later (2002), 1 year after my first ACL reconstruction for an injury 10 years earlier), I joined a race team in CO, wore a knee brace and won 8 of 9 races in my class. After the 9th race, I tore my other ACL while training. This was due to a lack of understanding of how to control the (new to me) shaped ski technology. I didn't get hurt crashing, I was hurt exiting the course in what I 'thought' was a controlled manner. I had my second reconstruction, got my physical strength back and trained. The following season I continued racing (all four events) and did well. I continued to do well with a knee tweak here and there. Only one required surgery. Because my doc understood my intentions and abilities (he is a traveling doc with the US Team) he OKed me to race in a DH 3 weeks after arthroscopic surgery. I had to pass certain strength tests, which I did, and I raced. Mostly now, I coach speed events, competing just a little. Almost all of my racers have been injured at one time or another. I advise my racers to know their limits and when to push and when to pull back. They give it their best and generally enjoy the days they are racing. They get hurt sometimes. Each time they have to evaluate where they are, what they want to do and how to proceed.

Assemble your support team: doctor, therapist (physical; mental is optional ) and coaches. Have them evaluate your condition and advise you how to go forward.

You can race again. Take baby steps, in the right order and you'll be competitive again.

MR
post #16 of 19
Personally, with that kind of history,  I would check with a PT or rehab specialist and determine my general strentgh and flexibility well before the season starts.  Once that is dialed in you can then start a gym fitness program to maximize your ability when you actually get on the snow. 


Just my two cents.
post #17 of 19
Thread Starter 
 Thanks!

My doc is sports specific, tells me I can race if I want to, just be sure to bring the Dilaudid along with me. PT says I can and/or consult with doc depending on his mood.

I had a lot of fun last time i did it, but I was HURTING. My strength is near old levels, if not stronger in my legs, though I'm still pretty fat from all the surgeries and inactivity. I'm working on that, though. 

Do you do SL? Would you recommend I get WC race stock SL skis for the first year, or get an AM 165 ski? 
post #18 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MastersRacer View Post

You can race again.

You need to develop the strength to overcome any laxity and reduce the likelihood of reinjury. If your doctor isn't sports specific, consult one who is. There may be reasons that you shouldn't race again, but that is unlikely.

Join a race program and relearn what you have lost. Masters racing is extremely competitive. Speaking for Rocky Mountain Masters, www.rmmskiracing.org, there are all abilities on the course. Everything from never evers to former World Cup racers.

So you know where I'm coming from:

I started racing at 13 and I broke my back in 1977 (I was 19) and quit racing. 25 years later (2002), 1 year after my first ACL reconstruction for an injury 10 years earlier), I joined a race team in CO, wore a knee brace and won 8 of 9 races in my class. After the 9th race, I tore my other ACL while training. This was due to a lack of understanding of how to control the (new to me) shaped ski technology. I didn't get hurt crashing, I was hurt exiting the course in what I 'thought' was a controlled manner. I had my second reconstruction, got my physical strength back and trained. The following season I continued racing (all four events) and did well. I continued to do well with a knee tweak here and there. Only one required surgery. Because my doc understood my intentions and abilities (he is a traveling doc with the US Team) he OKed me to race in a DH 3 weeks after arthroscopic surgery. I had to pass certain strength tests, which I did, and I raced. Mostly now, I coach speed events, competing just a little. Almost all of my racers have been injured at one time or another. I advise my racers to know their limits and when to push and when to pull back. They give it their best and generally enjoy the days they are racing. They get hurt sometimes. Each time they have to evaluate where they are, what they want to do and how to proceed.

Assemble your support team: doctor, therapist (physical; mental is optional ) and coaches. Have them evaluate your condition and advise you how to go forward.

You can race again. Take baby steps, in the right order and you'll be competitive again.

MR[/quote]

Also, I'm not sure what your training background is, but could you help me set up an exercise regiment?

Do you know of any Master's teams in the northeast, viz. NH or around Boston, Mass?
post #19 of 19
mbp67,

I can not provide you with a dryland training regimen; I'm not qualified in that area. What I do know is that you are on the right track looking for a program to enhance your physical strength and flexibility.

I am currently working with some execs at NE Masters on some potential web site work. I can ask them for recommendations on a program in your area. I will also ask my brother and some friends that work in the ski biz in NH. Any area in particular that you are interested in?

In reviewing our discussion, I overlooked a specific question. Get SL skis if you want to race SL. It is the only way to get the performance you will desire. Of course SL is probably the most stressful on your knees. Remarkably, speed events are less stressful, at least so long as you are on your feet , as the range of motion is distributed over a longer interval and rapid motions are not de riguer.

Feel free to PM me if you would like to discuss your situation in detail. My coaching is mostly on snow, but I also try to help my racers understand their limits, what is important and what their long term goals are and how they will be affected by their short term ones.

MR
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