Cross-country skiing has been a part of Dr. Heather Cichanowski’s life since she was a kid growing up near Winona, Minnesota. Her entire family skied, and when she reached high school, Dr. Cichanowski began to race competitively—taking first place in the girl’s state championship her senior year. Now, as a sports medicine physician at TRIA Woodbury, Dr. Cichanowski combines her love of sports with her passion for helping injured athletes resume sport participation as timely, efficiently and safely as possible.

Outside of work, Dr. Cichanowski volunteers as a team physician for the U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team. She often travels internationally with the athletes as they compete in global competitions. To learn more about cross-country skiing, we asked Dr. Cichanowski a few questions.

What are some of the common injuries you see in elite-level cross-country skiers?

Surprisingly, a lot of what I treat is illnesses like the common cold or pneumonia. Staying healthy is so critical for athletes at this level. Something as basic as a cold can really impact their performance. The team does a great job washing their hands and using hand sanitizer—two practices we should all follow!

Another thing I see is injuries that happen before the skis are even on. Ski boots don’t have a lot of traction, so if you’re not careful, it can be easy to slip and fall trying to get from point A to point B.

We do see some overuse type injuries. The repetitive nature of cross-country skiing can contribute to knee or low back pain. Weak hip and core muscles, improper technique and training errors all contribute.

What safety tips do you have for cross-country skiers at any level?

Know your terrain, skiing abilities and snow conditions. Know which trails are easy and which are more difficult. New, fluffy snow is great for beginners. Not many traumatic injuries happen in cross-country skiing, but they do occur, especially when trying to ski down a steep hill in icy conditions.

What advice do you have for beginners who are interested in giving cross-country skiing a try?

Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy our Midwest winters! It’s a low impact sport that utilizes most major muscle groups and provides excellent cardiovascular fitness. It does require equipment, which can get expensive. One option is to rent through one of our local parks for your first few times to see if you like it, and consider signing up a for a lesson. A few Twin Cities parks even have man-made areas just for cross-country skiing, which would be nice for a beginner.