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Back to the Basics

Try Parkour this summer to improve your skiing this winter.

Remember the good old days of swinging on monkey bars and jumping on trampolines when you were a kid? Well, turns out this is a sport, and it’s called Parkour. What’s more, it’s a legit way to train in the off season.

Last time my sister came to visit, we took a trip to a Parkour gym, which was basically a playground with adult-sized equipment: the dream for any kid at heart like me. After spending only an hour there, jubilantly swinging from monkey bars and throwing myself around on the trampoline, I woke up the next morning with an incredible amount of soreness in unexpected places, and a sense of déjà vu. My taut muscles forcibly reminded me of waking up sore after a great day in the mountains, and as a skier, I began to wonder if Parkour could be a legitimate cross-training opportunity for shredders who want to stay slope-fit in the off-season.

To find out if doing Parkour could give skiers an extra edge on the hill, I visited with Parkour instructor Michael Berman, a former ski racer who turned to Parkour after a knee injury kept him off the slopes for a while.

According to Berman, skiing and Parkour are super similar, using the same major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, back, and core), and sharing some of the same key techniques, like plyometrics and absorption. But here’s where Parkour could help improve your skiing, Berman said: it involves bodily awareness and fear mastery way more than skiing does, and improving in these areas will also up your ski game once winter rolls around again.

“What I value most about Parkour is that it’s so naturally motivating,” Berman says. “Plyometric workouts for skiing are so boring, but with Parkour, sometimes I don’t even want to stop, but I’m like, “Boy I’d better quit or I won’t be able to walk tomorrow.”

Thought the gym was the only place to get your workout on? Think again! Parkour can be done anywhere from backyards to playgrounds to college campuses.

The physical benefits go beyond sore muscles, though; Parkour also strengthens your proprioception, which is a really fancy way of saying bodily awareness. Ever have a hard time keeping your hands up when you ski? “That’s a lack of proprioception right there,” Berman says. Get better proprioception, and skiing in the trees or in bad visibility will become way easier (not to mention spending time in the park and pipe!).

With all its leaping and jumping around, Parkour can invoke a great deal of fear. But Parkourists are taught to understand fear and then to use visualization techniques to overcome it. And although visualization isn’t new to the world of skiing, the motivation for using it is different when it comes to Parkour.

“With Parkour, fear can literally stop you from doing the sport,” Berman says—i.e., you can’t do half of a flip, or do half of a jump over a chasm, so in order to do the sport at all, you have to understand the consequences that it can have, and wholeheartedly master your fear.

“On the mountain, though, fear doesn’t stop you from skiing; it just stops you from skiing well,” Berman says. “And people who do Parkour actually have fewer injuries than skiers, because they’re made to be more aware of the danger of what they’re doing.” Inspired yet?

One of the greatest things about Parkour, though, is that the only gear you need for it is a solid pair of shoes. (Accustomed to the expensive world of skiing, this makes my wallet very happy.) It also makes Parkour an ultra accessible sport that anyone can get into.

“People are only limited by their perceptions,” Berman says. “I’ve taught four-year-olds before, and I know people who teach senior citizens, special needs, and those who aren’t in the greatest shape.”

So if you want to begin a summer Parkour journey, the best way to start is to take a class. You’ll learn the fundamentals, how to stay safe, and how to practice “sustainable” Parkour to make sure you absorb the shock that a lot of maneuvers can cause. This is great for the knees, skiers!

“Even one session provides value, because it helps you perceive things in new ways,” Berman says. “Doing Parkour is kind of like skiing—you’ll be super sore after the first day, but if you keep doing the activities, your muscles get used to it.” According to Berman, “light” Parkour is super beneficial as well; because, as he says, “It’s hard to find a better way to get into shape.”

And if you’re slightly intimidated at the thought of going to a gym where everyone performs like American Ninja Warriors—well, you shouldn’t be. Says Berman: “To be honest, I haven’t seen a more open community.”

After your first session, it’s up to you how you want to continue Parkour. Some people turn it into a pseudo workout, doing reps of wall climbing, for instance, while others keep the value of play front and center.

As for me, I’m keeping it playful. After all, the sport’s playfulness is why I love skiing in the first place. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go train—er, I mean swing on some monkey bars.