By Alan Sorensen
Want to shoot a sluice box without straining your lungs or knees? How about plunging over a tree shrouded headwall with confidence in your strength and toughness? Maybe you'd like to jump-turn your way at elevation through a waist-high chute of snow no wider than your boards are long?
Those, of course, are extreme cases everywhere except Bear Paw Ski Hill. But they're just the sort of eventuality that students in the ski fitness class will be ready for when the time arrives.
The class, offered by Havre Public Schools community education department, is taught by Noel Henderson and Ron Watson.
Watson said he approached Judy Handstede at community ed and Henderson about offering the class through the public schools when the class offered by the hospital the past few years ended after last year.
"It's cost effective," Watson said about the cost of the class. "We wanted to offer it for free; we're not in it for the money."
Besides being excellent skiers themselves and members of the award-winning Eagle Creek Ski Patrol, Henderson and Watson are successful cross country running coaches. They both have extensive training in athletic development and really enjoy putting their students through the paces of a two-hour gauntlet of exercises designed to increase each student's strength, stamina, balance and enjoyment of the sport.
"The first part is devoted to circuit weight training, upper and lower body exercising with an emphasis on the trunk," Henderson said. "(That is) to try to create a little bit stronger trunk area, stomach very important to skiing."
The first session was built around 21 weight and aerobic stations because 25 students signed up, but only 21 students showed up the first few times. Between a dozen and 20 students from teens to 50-somethings made up most of the classes.
What the students learn in the early sessions are the correct use of the weight and aerobic stations. They then get into the full rotation, starting out with short stays at each spot. Eventually, they move up to double repetitions at each of the stations.
"We started from 20 seconds to 30 seconds stays on the weights," Watson said on the second to last night of the class. "Tonight we're doing 45 seconds at each of the 21 stations."
As if 45 seconds at each station and a completely drenched T-shirt weren't enough, the students repeated the process, going back through the sets a second time. Again, they had to remain active at each station for 45 seconds.
The stations included all of the stations on the universal gym (weight machine): bench press, military press, pull downs, biceps curls, leg curls, knee lifts, leg press, chin ups, knee lifts, inclined sit ups, horizontal pull outs.
Sprinkled in were several individual exercise stations.
A couple were medicine ball exercises: while lying on one's back, the student extends the medicine ball out and swirls it in clockwise or counterclockwise fashion from head to waist and back until time runs out (medicine ball crunches); while standing and extending the medicine ball.
Other stations in the cycle were pushups, crunches, AB Dolly, jump rope, leaning against a wall with legs bent (as if in chair), step ups on a high box, wind sprints in gym, one-legged squats, butterflies with hand weights.
Watson and Henderson said that the number of stations depends on the number of students and that they create as many exercises as students.
Once they're sufficiently fatigued from the weight circuits, the students are led into the middle school wresting room for plyometric exercises. "That's the fun part," Henderson said.
Plyometric training, according to Henderson, is a series of different exercises. Different ways of jumping to simulate skiing are emphasized, but a quartet of balance stations are included to help the students "to stay centered, feel your center of balance."
Those four balance stations require students to stand on different styrofoam shapes.
The first is a 3-foot long styrofoam cylinder about six inches in diameter cut in half and set on the rounded side. A student stands on the half cylinder with one foot forward and one foot back. He then flexes his legs and leans and tips himself in different directions while maintaining his position atop the styrofoam.
The second station consists of two short styrofoam cylinders (about a foot or so long) situated side by side. The student stands with a foot on each cylinder and flexes his knees and waist as though she were skiing, leaning in different directions without falling off the cylinders.
The next station is two longer cylinders side by side. The last is a short cylinder cut in half so the student has to stand on just one foot and maintain balance while bending and flexing.
The students go through the balance cylinders twice, but alternate with quarter jumps and rests.
The quarter jumps are over crosses of tape on the floor. The jumpers are instructed to jump forward and back, side to side or diagonally from open space to open space. The short-distance jumps are done quickly and are extremely fatiguing. That's why the students get to take a break between jumping and balancing exercises.
The final station of the session is the jump over boxes. All sorts of skiing maneuvers are replicated on the jumping boxes, especially side-to-side jumping.
The workouts vary from session to session, though, because Watson and Henderson take turns teaching the class. On Monday, the students jump up and down the steps in the assembly room.
"We switch off," Watson said Wednesday. "I taught Monday and Noel will teach tonight, that way Noel has his lesson plan and I have mine.
Switching off also gives each of them has a chance to stay as fit as their students.
It was obvious at the last class Wednesday, Dec. 6 that the students were ready to hit the slopes. Some already had.
"I've been skiing; I'm ready," telemark skiing expert Tom Dupree said. "We were at Big Sky and skied everything they could throw at me."
That last class was among the toughest on the weight circuit, ski instructor Les Kaercher said.
"They dropped it to one set at a minute," Kaercher said. "That last 15 seconds you really try to push on it."
Up until then, though, the class was designed to allow each student to work pretty much at his own rate and pace.
"You see guys dropping weights or taking a little longer to set up during the second set," Kaercher said. "It's good; you get to go at your own pace."
"My goal is just to offer a high fitness class that offers a little something for everybody from skiers to runners," Watson said. "A class that combines a total fitness workout and that we can have a wonderful time."
Greg Lynnes said he is using the class for conditioning that he hopes goes beyond skiing. "I hope to break 20 for the 5K this year," he said.
The class began meeting at the Havre Middle School weight room and wrestling room in October and was in session every Monday and Wednesday evening from 6:45 to about 8:30.
Henderson said the class will continue to meet twice a week at its regular times until mid January when the next ski fitness class begins.
Henderson and Watson are continuing the class unofficially because the Havre ski season usually gets a late start and athletes can lose their condition quickly when they are inactive.
When the next session gets under way, though, the classes will begin and end a quarter hour later.
"A lot of our students had trouble getting here that early, so the next session will run from 7 to 8:45 maybe," Henderson said.
People who want to sign up for the program can do so by calling the Havre Public Schools community education program at 265-4356 or 265-6890. The eight-week class begins Monday, Jan. 15. The cost is $26 per person or $46 per couple.