Peak Recovery: How to Feel Great After a Day on the Slopes

No matter the weather — or whether alone or with friends — it’s hard not to feel fulfilled and the best type of tired after hours playing in the snow in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. 

But long days on the slopes also bring about other less pleasant feelings. Gliding through powder and carving up groomers typically results in burning thighs and aching knees. Maybe too much stoke and not enough water brings about a slight headache. And stomachs tend to rumble as soon as the lifts close.

Uh-oh. 

It’s time to initiate recovery mode so tomorrow can be just as awesome as today. 

As soon as possible

Drink water

Before downing a beer or cocktail at happy hour, make sure to drink plenty of water. 

“After a particularly strenuous day, the first thing I do is drink a lot of water or drinks with electrolytes,” said St. Anthony’s Summit Hospital registered nurse and trauma program specialist Lizzy de Guia. “I think that’s where a lot of people get tripped up — is just drinking water.”

While drinking water is beneficial, drinking too much can be harmful. More than a handful of people come to the emergency department due to a salt imbalance, de Guia said. 

Replenishing other nutrients through electrolyte drinks can prevent this. 

When seeking out electrolytes, try not to get something too sugary. Perhaps try a half water, half electrolyte drink combination. Go for Gatorade (try Gatorade Fit for less sugar), Liquid IV, Tailwind or similar options.

A burger, fries and beer sit on a table as skiers and snowboarders make their way around the slopes of Peak 8 at Breckenridge Ski Resort on Thursday, March 16, 2023. Registered nurse Lizzy de Guia says while a burger can be tempting, prioritizing healthy proteins, greens and carbs can help boost muscle recovery.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Eat well 

A greasy burger and fries are tempting, but it’s not exactly providing all the nutrients necessary to help the recovery process. Proteins, greens and even some carbs are all great options to boost recovery, de Guia said. 

Eating as soon as possible is ideal, especially if snacks weren’t on the schedule during such a busy day. 

Get moving

Turning into a potato under a pile of blankets sounds enticing, but immediately getting in a car and driving hours back home or lounging on the couch isn’t the best thing for a beat-up body. 

The best thing to do when all you want to do is lay down is actually to keep moving. It sounds awful, but it’s easy. 

Just the walk back to the condo counts, as does a simple stretch or an apres-ski yoga session.

Things to do before and while you hit the slopes

Acclimate: Stay a night or two in Denver if coming from sea level. Or have a slow first day in Summit County 

Train: Get your body ready for activity if you haven’t done it in a while

Hydrate: Then hydrate some more

Snack: Keep your body well-fueled throughout the day and you won’t have to play catchup later

“After a hard training day outside, we usually come back, do a little spin bike to warm up the muscles, get ’em loose and more of a yoga flow, taking muscles through a full range of motion,” said Jack Farrell, the human performance director and an Alpine coach for Team Summit.

A gentle stretch is plenty, though. Farrell said any stretching should be slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. Twenty to 30 minutes is the perfect window, but even five minutes is better than nothing. 

That evening

Drink water

It’s clear where this is going. Hydration is probably the most important part of recovery after working hard for any period of time, especially at elevation.

“I think hydration, if you’re up in Summit County and you’re visiting from out of town, is one of the most important aspects,” de Guia said. “I think a lot of the things people complain about post-strenuous activity — headaches, lightheadedness, and fatigue — can be attributed to dehydration.”

Dandi Hussey, center, sips her beer as Devon Rosson, left, and Chad Hussey, right, watch skiers and snowboarders make their way down the slopes at Copper Mountain Resort on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. While registered nurse Lizzy de Guia isn’t one to advocate for drinking alcohol, she says moderation is key.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Avoid alcohol 

This is a hard one. So much of ski town culture is ingrained in the apres-ski lifestyle. Work hard then play hard with a craft IPA or a cozy cocktail. 

“I’m never going to advocate for anyone having a couple drinks, but I’m assuming most people are going to,” de Guia said. “I would just make sure you aren’t drinking more than you usually drink just because you’re on vacation. I would also argue you need to consume less alcohol due to being at altitude.”

Hit the hot tub

Warm muscles are happier muscles. Applying heat such as with a heat pack or in a hot tub can be beneficial to some. Ice is not a good idea unless applied to an injury, according to de Guia.

Take pain medication

Popping some ibuprofen or another antiinflammatory before bed can help ease soreness in the middle of the night, or the next morning. 

Sleep well 

Sleep is the human equivalent of restarting a computer when something isn’t right. 

Everything up until your head hits the pillow is just preparation. Sleep is when the actual recovery happens.

While sleeping, the body conducts tissue repair, allowing healing and recovery, according to the American Heart Association.

The next morning

Drink water

Seriously, keep drinking water. At elevation your body works harder to take in oxygen. Each breath brings in 30-50% less oxygen than a breath at sea level. That means you will take in more breaths, which will start to dry out the lungs. As they dry, the lungs will compensate by producing more moisture, going through that valuable water supply much faster. 

Through the same physiological response, people lose moisture through their skin faster at elevation, too. 

Rachel Burana holds her 4-year-old daughter, Evangeline, on her lap as they smile and make their way down a mountain coaster at Copper Mountain Resort on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. Registered nurse Lizzy de Guia recommends taking a break from hitting the slopes if you’re feeling achy after a long day of skiing or snowboarding, like finding other fun activities on the mountains or in town.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Take it easy

Everyone functions and recovers differently, but ultimately having a more relaxed day after an active day is the right call. 

“I think you should take it easy,” de Guia said. 

Both deGuia and Farrell advocate for a slow morning. 

“Go for a little spin bike, go for a jog, a stretch,” Farrell said. “If (someone) feels good enough to ski, they can get back at it. If they feel like skiing is the worst thing for them, it probably is. But, we’re not the best judges of ourselves.”

Skiing or riding while tired can lead to injury, as form deteriorates and decision-making might not be as sharp as it could be. 

If “erring on the side of safety” doesn’t sit well with you, consider it as erring on the side of enjoyment. 

Powering through a day on the mountain is never fun. Find something chill to do — then get back out there again the next day.

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