Move over juice bars, here comes oxygen. Oxygen bars are breaking ground in high-altitude ski areas, such as Telluride, Colo., and Mammoth Mountain, Calif. For about $1 per minute, oxygen bars claim to provide relief from lactic-acid-filled muscles, as well as altitude-induced headaches and nausea-and to boost the stamina of customers who hit the O2 bar before they ski. The bars combine oxygen with aromatherapy to create blends such as Nirvana-with lavender, balsam and fir needle-or Tangerine Twist. Patrons breathe through a nose hose, which tickles slightly until you get used to it. The hose allows you to breathe regular air as well, boosting your level of oxygen intake from about 20 percent to roughly 40 percent-about the level scientists think was in the air before the advent of pollution. While O2 bars don't claim to be substitutes for medical attention, some doctors are skeptical. Dr. Marty Rosenthal of Telluride Medical Center says that getting oxygen without a prescription could just cover symptoms of a more severe problem. He especially warns that it could be harmful for people with conditions such as lung disease. But others have jumped on the O2 bandwagon. "People who suffer from altitude sickness come here," says Megan Klammer of Octopus's Garden in Mammoth Lakes. "The hospital sends them." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to weigh in on the topic. In the meantime, oxygen bars are bringing a whole new meaning to "taking a breather" after a hard day of skiing.
When it comes to ski-induced muscle soreness, preventive medicine is often the best medicine. Certified nutritional consultant Donna Pessin of Boulder, Colo., suggests taking antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E and bioflavonoids, which help rid the body of soreness-inducing free radicals . They're available in supplement form at most health food stores, but many nutritionists recommend getting them the old-fashioned way: from fresh fruits and vegetables. Oranges, strawberries and dark green leafy veggies, for example, are all loaded with antioxidants.
Before buckling your ski boots, help prevent muscle cramps by stretching your feet. Experts also recommend stretching the lower back, hips and calves before and after skiing. Following is a suggested stretch, as well as other tips for keeping your feet healthy and pain-free.
Sit with both legs extended out in front of you. Place a towel around the ball of your right foot. Using both hands, gently pull the towel toward you. For a deeper stretch, lean forward and allow your foot to come off the floor when pulled. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat on the left side. This stretches your entire calf, including your Achilles' tendon.
To strengthen your foot muscles, sit in a chair with a towel on the floor in front of you. Keeping your heel on the floor, scrunch the towel with your toes and then release. Do two sets of 15 scrunches with each foot.
Take your shoes off. Going barefoot is good for your feet because your naked step stresses all the muscles evenly. If you can't go barefoot, wear sandals or flip-flops. Safestretch
If conventional calf stretches-using a curb or wall-are done incorrectly (e.g. if the arch of your foot is overstretched), they can injure your foot, ankle or leg muscles. Stretching aids such as the Step Stretch and the FootFlex PSD stabilize the foot in its correct biomechanical position and provide a controlled calf stretch. Because the calf muscle-tendon group is the strongest of the lower leg, its flexibility is important for skiing performance and control. The Step Stretch has a rocker design that holds the foot securely in place and naturally induces the movement that safely stretches the calf, hamstring, Achilles' tendon, plantar fascia and ankle. ($25, www.bodytrends.com, 800-549-1667). The FootFlex PSD has an adjustable, four-position toe-plate to help correctly stretch the calf muscles and Achilles' tenddon ($30, 704-948-1002). In our tests, we felt a more intensive stretch in the calf and Achilles' tendon with the Step Stretch, but a more controlled and safe stretch with the static design of the FootFlex.