Why Skiers Need to Work on Mobility

What is mobility? It’s not the same as flexibility, we can tell you that.

Let’s face it, even the most experienced skiers among us wish we were skiing better, faster, and longer. So what’s holding us back (besides endless stacks of cash and/or stashes of pow)? According to trainer John “JC” Cole, director of human performance at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail, many of our limits hinge on mobility.

Mobility is the ability to move your body easily. It differs from flexibility, which is the ability to stretch. In fact, mobility depends on several things—including flexibility, core and muscle strength, balance, coordination, and anything else that affects the range of motion of joints and limbs.

Of course, sport-specific fitness (like strength and endurance) influences how well we skis. But sufficient mobility allows us to execute specific movement patterns with, well, radness. What’s more, mobility can negate the imbalances and weaknesses that too often lead to skiing injuries, especially when fatigued. When the correct muscles are firing, a skier’s functional movement patterns increase efficiency. So we can ski harder, longer.

Cole, who works with world-class skiers including Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, incorporates mobility exercises into ski-specific workouts and training plans. These exercises target each part of the skier’s body, from the head to toes, and include foam rolling, dynamic stretches, and complex full-body movements that call on motor control and muscle strength simultaneously. Here’s an exercise that Cole recommends for increasing mobility in the thoracic spine—one of the biggest points of pain and tightness in the general public. 

Thoracic Spine Mobility

Thoracic mobility allows for independent upper and lower body separation—the mark of an expert skier. During this exercise, make sure you are isolating the trunk and lower body for maximum mobility.

Thoracic Spine Mobility Exercise
Open up the shoulders and chest with this thoracic extension exercise. Credit: Tory Powers
  • Instruction: Start on all fours on a yoga mat or on the floor. Take your right hand and place it behind your head. From there, reach your right elbow across the front of your body towards your left side. Allow your upper body to rotate while you keep your hips stable. Finish the rotation by sweeping your right elbow and head in the opposite direction towards the ceiling. Return to the starting position and repeat. The goal here is to open your shoulders and your chest, while keeping your hips stable to isolate the movement to the thoracic spine. 

Want more ski fitness tips? SKI Magazine and AIM AdventureU partnered with Cole to design the online course SKI Injury Prevention, an eight-week training program to increase range of motion, build strength, and boost skiers’ overall fitness. Whether you’re rehabbing old aches or gearing up for a big winter, this course offers expert insight that will help you get the most out of your ski season. Learn more and enroll at