Erik Schlopy blazes his own trail. During the 2000-2001 season, he clawed his way back from retirement to a third place GS ranking on the World Cup. A disappointing performance in Salt Lake last season only strengthened his resolve to reach the Olympic podium in 2006. He begins this season fitter than ever, and he got that way after bidding adieu to his longtime mountain home in Utah in favor of an urban milieu: New York City. What lured a rippin' high-country boy like Schlopy to the Big Apple? Her name is Nnenna (yes, that's four N's)-Rhodes scholar, former world-class runner, and financial analyst. A good move for love, but for Olympic glory?
Schlopy thinks so. He says it's entirely possible for skiers to prep for the season without ever leaving the city-all you need is imagination and sweat, and you'll hit your first run feeling like you never left the slopes.
Schlopy is a fixture at Morningside Park, located just a few blocks from his house in Harlem. "The first thing I did at Morningside was look for railings, chains, rocks, and stairs I could use," he says. "It's a matter of becoming organic with the environment and using what you have available. At Morningside I found a set of stairs that are great for agility training and a railing I can jump on to test my balance."
Schlopy's tactics mix agility and balance drills with a hard-earned base of strength, power, and cardio workouts. Late fall is the perfect time to focus on exercises that emphasize finesse over foundation. "You have to be well-rounded in your preparation. Strength, flexibility, and general athleticism are important, but you need to work on agility and balance, too," Schlopy says. "If you do agility work in conjunction with strength training you'll be less prone to injury." When you're skiing, the body must to react to, and overcome, unexpected forces-something that you can't simulate in a weight room.
Sure, Schlopy misses the mountain biking and trail running he once had out his back door, but he has found that Morningside Park-and New York-has everything he needs. It's even better in some ways. "When I lived in Utah, I would get in my car to go to the gym," he says. "Here, I just Rollerblade from my place on 123rd to my gym on 53rd. It takes 20 minutes, and when I get there I'm already warmed up."
1. Park Circuits
Go to the nearest park and take a good look around for stairs, rocks, stumps, and railings. Then get creative. Map out a short sequence of moves that use the landscape to test your quickness and accuracy. Each circuit should take only about six seconds. The idea here is to train what Schlopy calls "speed of movement," not your lungs. Think accuracy first, speed second.
Here, Schlopy starts on the top of the stairway, jumps onto the stair railing, inches his feet down the railing, and jumps off onto a nearby rock. Newbies could start by jumping onto a ledge, then dropping into the grass and leapfrogging over a stump (or other obstacle).
2. 2-Up 1-Down Jumps Stand at the bottom of 15 stairs. Face the stairs, then turn 90 degrees to the right so that you're perpendicular to them. With both feet, jump up two stairs and then immediately down one. Continue this up-down pattern until you've reached the top of the stairs. Give yourself 20 to 30 seconds rest, then repeat facing the other way.
If your stairs are farther apart (see below), go up and down the same stair.
2-up 1-down jumps (part two)
Face the stairs. Keep your feet in synch but not glued together. Jumping off your left foot, leap up two steps, land with your feet nearly together (the right foot will touch first, just slightly ahead of the left one). As soon as you've landed, jump down one step. Continue this up-down pattern until you reach the top of the stairs. Rest 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat from the bottom, leading with tthe opposite foot.
3. Tuck Drills
Find a challenging surface to stand on. Possibilities include a ledge, curb, park bench, fire hydrant, or short wall. Imagine yourself on the slopes and crouch into a ski tuck by squatting down until your knees are at about 90 degrees-whatever feels like a natural tuck position. Hold your balance in this position as long as you can. Start with 20 seconds and work your way up. This drill might seem simple on level ground, but an uneven or above-the-ground surface will challenge your balance skills. Start by holding the position with both legs. Once you've mastered that, try balancing on one leg, coming as close to a tuck as you can. When that's easy, try the drill with your eyes closed.
4. Ski Turns Starting in the same position you used for 2-Up 1-Down jumps, stand to one side of a crack in the sidewalk. As you jump back and forth, landing evenly on both feet, visualize yourself ripping down a slalom course or a bump run, and progress forward as you go. Set your timer for 60 seconds and keep track of how many turns you can make during that time.But don't get so hung up on counting turns that you lose your form and get sloppy. The point of this drill is to move fluidly and precisely. As your balance and agility improve, try it making each turn on only your outside leg. You'll find that you "turn" better to one side, so use this exercise to train your weak side.
Balance requires flexibility, so don't neglect your stretching. Here are Schlopy's favorite pulls:
Lie on the ground with your legs against a wall so your body makes an L shape (1). Widen your legs into a V until you feel a stretch in your groin and hold for at least 20 seconds (2). Next, bend your right leg perpendicular to the wall, cross your left ankle over your right knee, and gently push your left knee toward the wall (3). You should feel the stretch in your hip.
Use your imagination. Schlopy doesn't limit himself to one Park-and neither should you.
"Central Park is another good place to train. There's the loop where I do sprints on my bike, there are dirt paths for circuits, and a couple of free skate parks. Rollerblades and skateboards are great tools for balance. They translate really well to skiing. You don't have to have a lot of fancy equipment. I've been riding a 1970s girl's bike I got for 50 bucks. It has a basket and weighs about 75 pounds, but I don't have to worry about it getting stolen, and it's fun to pass people on a big klunker."