Gear up for the slopes at Colony Farm park

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      It’s no stretch to say that along with warmer clothes, winter’s arrival calls for a new range of motion when prepping for play in the snow.

      For many, cycling is the year-round exercise of choice, whether for commuting or day-tripping along an ever-expanding network of local greenways. But is spinning your wheels enough of a workout to tone up for the more rigorous pursuits of skiing and snowboarding? According to former Alpine Canada ski-team physiotherapist Carl Petersen—author of Fit 2 Ski: A Complete Guide to Fitness—cycling provides both an aerobic and anaerobic workout that develops general hip and leg strength.

      However, when it comes to preparing the body for sliding on snow, much more is needed.

      On the phone from his Vancouver office at City Sports and Physiotherapy Clinics, Petersen told the Straight that cycling offers only a “one-plane-of-motion workout”.

      “Skiing and snowboarding requires a good dissociation-separation between the upper and lower body as your body counter-rotates to brace for a turn,” Petersen said. “Cycling tightens up the quadriceps and iliotibial muscles, so it’s critical to do twice as much stretching and release work on those muscles to decrease the tension in them so they can work as shock absorbers on the slopes. Cycling also tightens up the hip flexors, so ensure they get stretched out as well.”

      With improvements in design allowing skiers to carve more effective turns with increased force, it’s important to upgrade deceleration skills and the ability to stabilize core muscles. Petersen listed his ABCs for smart ski training to accomplish this. “Start with proper body alignment; enhance your balancing skills with single-legged exercises that challenge balance; connect the core training to work on the abdominals and back muscles in three planes of motion; practise deceleration control with a mix of different squats, step-ups, and lunges; and work on extended hip stability both laterally and backwards to stabilize ski-and-snowboard–specific stances.” Got it?

      A good place to put Petersen’s suggestions into practice is the gym of the great outdoors, where you can combine the pleasures of an extended walk or bike ride with breaks for balancing and stretching. With all that in mind, the Straight recently headed to Colony Farm Regional Park in Coquitlam.

      The charm of this green space that borders both the Fraser and Coquitlam rivers is its level pathways, which are accented by an arched footbridge, as well as the looming duo of the Port Mann bridges, old and new. The wood-planked Millennium Bridge offers a place to stretch tight hamstrings and banter with fellow visitors about dogs, kids, and favourite corners of the park. One of those places might be the sandy mouth of the Coquitlam, where anglers cast for salmon beneath overhanging cottonwoods that house more than a hundred great blue heron nests, easily spotted now as the forest sheds its leaves.

      A short distance west of the rivers’ confluence, along a well-marked, single-track trail, stands a sight to behold: the cable-stayed span of the Port Mann Bridge’s 2012 incarnation poised above its steel-arched predecessor, now undergoing demolition.

      For the moment, access beneath the bridges to Coquitlam’s Maquabeak Park is fenced off. Frieda Schade, manager of Metro Vancouver Parks’ central area, told the Straight by phone that the trail would reopen once work on the two bridges is complete. That could be as far away as 2015, when a walkway on the new bridge’s east side opens.

      Meanwhile, Schade lauded Colony Farm’s improved pathways and new washroom facility (designed to mimic a red farmhouse), located at the entrance to the park’s extensive community gardens. “These improvements have been in the works for a decade,” she said. “We finally got the money to replace the portable toilets that have been around for 20 years. New picnic-table pads can now accommodate visitors with mobility challenges.”

      Up next: Schade pointed to a newly convened community-consultation process on future route options for the park’s Sheep Paddock Trail, a portion of which has been closed for the past few years due to flooding and slope instability where the Coquitlam River has undercut its banks.

      One of Colony Farm’s most endearing attributes is the feeling of open countryside juxtaposed with the suburban sprawl that has mercilessly encroached on the surrounding landscape. Exhibit A: Mary Hill, whose slopes form the park’s eastern perimeter. In 1860, this was the first choice of British Royal Engineer Colonel R. C. Moody—who named the rise after his wife—to be the capital of British Columbia. Decades later, the hill was a proposed site of the new British Columbia University in 1910 that was subsequently passed over in favour of the current Point Grey location. Ponder that historical pedigree while contemplating the always magical sight of the first white dustings on the North Shore peaks’ ski trails.

      ACCESS: Colony Farm Regional Park lies 25 kilometres east of Vancouver in Coquitlam. Take Highway 1 to Exit 44 and follow signs to Highway 7 (Lougheed Highway) east. Turn into the park on well-marked Colony Farm Road. For info on the park, search for Colony Farm on the Metro Vancouver website.