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"Air" Conditioning continued...

"The biggest reason for injury is lack of fitness," says Jonathan Chang, MD, a clinical assistant professor of orthopaedics at the University of Southern California and at Western University, and a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic Sports Medicine Society. "Try to approach this with some preparation. You'll enjoy it more if you don't get hurt." In addition to regular cardiovascular exercise -- walking, running, swimming, biking -- Chang advises would-be skiers and boarders to focus on strengthening their leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps (on the front of the thigh), which will take a big beating on the slopes.

Orthopedic surgeon and avid skier Kyle Palmer, MD, offers a handy guide to strengthening exercises for mountain sports on his ski-health information Web site. "After you're on the mountain all day, riding your brakes down the hill, your knees are going to be screaming. The ones who'll be in real pain are the folks that don't have a lot of quad strength," he says.

Gear Up

Okay, so you've been working out for a few weeks and now you're ready to go, right? Not so fast. Either before you leave home or once you get to the lodge, arm yourself with some protective gear. Most lodges will rent you helmets and wrist guards. You can also ransack your rollerblading gear for those wrist guards, which are similar.

Like many other boarders, Palmer learned the wrist-guard lesson the hard way. After a lifetime of skiing, he took his first snowboard lesson this year. "At first I had on my wrist guards and my helmet, and I was falling all over: It was great. Then I decided, 'This is a pain.' I took my wrist guards off. Within five minutes, I ate it. I didn't break my wrist, but I really sprained it. I like wrist guards."

And helmets? Really? "I've never seen a skier wearing a helmet," you're probably saying. That's true. But Chang cites Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy as just two of the most famous examples of skiers who might be alive today if they had been. "It's not yet a consensus, but it's rapidly going in that direction -- that if skiers and snowboarders would wear helmets, it would eliminate many of the deaths that occur every year," he says. "Most deaths occur from collisions either with other people on the mountain or with trees, and they're often strictly preventable. I've seen helmets split down the middle, brought to me by patients grinning and saying, 'I'm glad I was wearing this.'"

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