With the fun comes risk. While your next ski or snowboard trip probably will not leave you with a serious injury, the risk is always there. Injuries are an unfortunate reality of sliding on snow down a mountain, whether it’s a minor sprain or a season-ending fracture. But while accidents happen, there are steps to avoid a lot of mountain misadventures.
Ensure you have proper equipment: Make sure ski and snowboard boots, bindings and ski/board length are appropriate for your height and skill level. Poorly fitting boots leads to poor foot mechanics and foot pain. One of the most common mistakes with recreational skiers is that their boots are fitted too stiffly and too narrow. Also, wear a helmet! Wrist guards are a good idea too, especially if snowboarding. The wrong gear can mean the difference between a fun, enjoyable day of skiing and a less-than-spectacular day tending to a swollen ankle back at the lodge (or possibly worse).
Respect the conditions: When the slope gets icy, it’s harder to make your edges hold. Your body also tenses up, so you lose that natural fluidity. If conditions are poor, it’s best to stay on the next grade down. And if you happen to find yourself flying over a patch of ice, try to find your edge and avoid turning until you make it back to powdered snow.
Listen to your body: If you are tired, rest. Injuries happen more commonly when skiers and snowboarders are fatigued. When you get tired, your body begins to lose its ability to respond the way it needs to, and your mind starts slowing down just enough to make a poor decision. Bring water and snacks with you to keep your energy up and remember that it is perfectly okay to take a few breaks back at the lodge. When it starts to get dark, wrap things up. There is a reason the last hour the slope is open is often called “insurance hour.”
Avoid collisions with other skiers: Just like driving, skiing has its own set of legally binding rules set by the International Ski Federation (FIS). The number one thing to remember is that skiers in front of you have the right of way. They can’t see you, so it’s your responsibility to keep far enough away. If you’re passing them, you should call out like you would on a bike, “On your right!” or “On your left!” You have the right of way when people are behind you, but that does not mean you can just stop when you feel like it. In fact, you should never stop where someone behind might not be able to see you. When you are starting your way back down after safely stopping, always look uphill and wait until the coast is clear to continue on the slope. Bottom line is: ski defensively… just like driving on the highway. Always assume others are out of control!
Prevent knee injuries: The most common injury is a medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear. In skiing, the MCL is often torn when the ski tips are pointed toward one another in a snowplow position (the common slow or stop position) and the skier falls down the hill. MCL tears are more common among beginning and intermediate skiers than advanced and elite skiers. When skiing you may prevent an MCL tear by making sure that your weight is balanced when you are in the snowplow position and sticking to terrain that is a comfortable challenge but not overwhelming.
Prevent back injuries: Back injuries are also a common yet unfortunate part of the sport. Spinal fractures can occur during a crash via flexion/hyperextension (much like whiplash) or via compression (the heels-over-head is a common mechanism for snowboarders). Muscle injuries can occur when attempting heavy lifting (such as helping a friend to their feet) as well as constant jarring from skiing bumpy terrain like moguls.
The best way to avoid injury is to make sure your body is adequately prepared. That means strengthening core and leg muscles before the season starts and throughout the season. Also, do not forget to stretch! So many injuries can be prevented if skiers and snowboarders take the time to keep muscles supple and flexible.
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