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In general, non-skiers tend to rate skiing and snowboarding as much more dangerous sports than they are. They probably base their knowledge on TV footage of sportsmen careering down icy runs in high-level winter sports. That said, each year there are predictably casualties on the slopes, thankfully few are serious. So, how can you avoid accidents when skiing and snowboarding?
The statistics prove that skiing isn’t the dangerous sport many people perceive it to be. However, there are risks, but the good news is that safety information about them is easy to find online. Getting fit, finding the right equipment, taking lessons, and learning safety awareness on the runs are just a few of the important areas to study. Often the advice is just common sense but things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of.
Medical Disclaimer: The information and other content provided in this article, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
Safety in skiing has come on in leaps and bounds over the years. At first ski resorts didn’t even have any signage to indicate the difficulty of different runs, so you had to ask another skier for their opinion.
In the early days, ski bindings were basic. They worked okay when you skied but if you fell there was no release mechanism. So, if the ski twisted as you fell so did your ankle, resulting in regular injuries. Modern release mechanisms on skis have solved this problem.
Wearing a helmet is also gradually becoming the norm. They might feel a bit restricting on a bright sunny day, but they can save your life even after a minor collision.
How dangerous are Skiing and Snowboarding?
People often rate skiing and snowboarding as particularly dangerous sports. However, the statistics suggest the opposite is true. A recent study, conducted over the same period for three sports shows the different number of head injuries for each. 16,948 head injuries were caused by winter sports, 46,948 were caused by football and 85,389 head injuries were caused by cycling.
Further research from New Zealand studied the number of injuries over five ski seasons and found there were 3.14 injuries for every 1000 skiers. (Costa-Scorse, Hopkins, et al, 2017).
What are the most common injuries?
- Knee Injuries
- Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture or sprain
- Medial collateral ligament (MCL) rupture or sprain
Knee injuries account for 1 in 4 skiing accidents. The rate is so high because the knee experiences the most twisting energy during a fall. If a skier catches an edge and falls, the ski boot would normally release to prevent injury. However, sometimes the boot doesn’t release correctly, and the motion of the twisting ski is transferred to the knee joint, causing ligament damage and sometimes a bone fracture.
The two ligaments in the knee, the ACL and the MCL attach your femur (thigh bone) to your tibia (shin bone). Cartilage in these joints acts as a natural shock absorber and this is also prone to injury.
1. Shoulder Sprains, Fractures, and Dislocations
It’s automatic when falling to save yourself by putting your arms out in front of you. Unfortunately, if you fall heavily your impact with the ground will travel up through your arms and into your shoulders. Different injuries occur depending on the energy and the angle of impact.
At best, it will result in a sprained shoulder, while more serious injuries include a broken collarbone or dislocation. Often skiing fractures tend to occur most in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.
2. Wrist and thumb fractures
Sometimes when you break your fall with your arms the injury is more immediate. With your body weight landing on your hands and wrists, wrist strains and fractures are common.
Skiers’ thumb is caused by wearing the strap of your ski pole incorrectly. In the event of a fall, instead of the strap falling loose when you let go of the grip it acts as a lever and causes dislocation or fracture of the thumb.
3. Head Injuries, Whiplash, and Concussion
Falls and collisions expose your head and neck to considerable risk. Wearing a ski helmet significantly reduces the risk of fracture and concussion. Colliding with another skier creates an enormous amount of energy on impact.
If you are skiing at 30 mph and the other skier, who you collide with, is going at the same speed, then the impact you experience is the same as if you skied into a solid surface at 60 mph.
Head injuries are very unpredictable, and so need to be treated urgently. If you are on a mountainside a long way from a hospital and your head injury suddenly becomes more serious, the outlook can be bleak.
How to avoid Skiing Accidents?
1. Pre-Season Fitness and Poor Fitness
With the luxury of ski buses and ski lifts to take you where you want to go, it’s easy to imagine that skiing isn’t an energetic sport. However, it’s easy for men to burn 600 cal per hour skiing.
So, before you go skiing it makes sense to get your body in shape so it can cope with these demands. Exercise improves your muscle function, and it will strengthen your joints and improve your flexibility too.
2. Personal and Travel Insurance
For a casualty to be airlifted from the slopes to the hospital, and then transported home by air can easily cost $52,000 (£40,000). If you haven’t bothered to buy travel insurance the different parties involved will be coming directly to you for the money. Always check to see if your ski travel insurance also covers theft of ski equipment.
3. Before you leave study Safety Awareness on the Slopes
When you go skiing for the first few times there is a huge amount of information to absorb. You will be using unfamiliar clothing and equipment, as well as different types of ski lifts to get up the mountain. Then you must learn to ski while staying safe around other skiers on the runs.
It’s not possible to learn all this information beforehand but reading through safety awareness advice will start to make you more aware of risky situations. You can search for online information appropriate for your local terrain.
18 Tips to Stay Safe While Skiing or Snowboarding
On a run, skiers in front of you have the right of way and they most likely can’t see you.
If you must stop on a run, pullover to the side, don’t stop in the middle
6. Pulling out
When you start off from the side of the run always check uphill until it is clear.
7. Both ways
Look both ways and uphill before crossing or merging onto a run.
8. Respect Closures
Closed runs have been closed for a reason respect that. Backcountry areas are not monitored, so only ski that with someone who is experienced.
9. Learn the lingo
Take time to understand most of the signs and markers on the runs. They give you useful information
10. Back down
If you’ve underestimated and find yourself on a nightmare run, move to the side, and walk down the run sideways, step-by-step.
11. Wear Sunscreen and Sunglasses or Goggles
It might only be your face and neck that are exposed to the sun, but they can get badly burnt without protection. The sun reflects off the snow surface making it more likely to burn.
Similarly, always wear sunglasses or goggles. The reflected sun can cause permanent eye damage.
Take five minutes to warm up before you start skiing. It’s enough to get your heart pumping and to let your muscles know they are in for a workout.
13. Take enough Ski Lessons
Beginners or returners should start with some lessons. It’s a good investment, your skiing will be twice the standard and you’re less likely to get hurt.
14. Have the Right Equipment
If you’re unsure about the right equipment, ask someone who knows. If you have badly fitting ski boots or the wrong skis, you will probably struggle to enjoy your day or worse hurt yourself.
15. Poor Weather and Snow make for more Dangerous Skiing
Take it easy when it’s foggy, as it’s very difficult to keep your bearings and collisions are more likely.
Hard-packed runs quickly become icy after lots of skiers. Ice is difficult to handle but tries digging your edges in harder to get a grip. If that doesn’t work ski across the icy section until the sound changes back to snow and take control once more.
16. Keep your speed down
After a few days of skiing, it’s natural for your speed to creep up. On crowded runs, things can quickly get out of hand, so moderate your speed according to the conditions. If you want to let rip, find a run with no one on it. 10% of injuries skiers experience are caused by collisions with other skiers.
17. If you go Off-Piste take Precautions
At some point, many skiers decide to venture off-piste to try out the backcountry. This isn’t something to learn by trial and error, so find someone qualified and experienced who is prepared to show you the way.
18. Don’t Ski when you’re drunk
It took a long time, but societies finally accepted that alcohol and driving cars were a bad mix. There are a lot of parallels between driving and skiing, and yet in most countries, it’s still completely acceptable to drink as much as you want and then stagger back to your skis if you can find them.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions, so you suddenly feel convinced you can do all sorts of new stunts but, the sting in the tail is that alcohol considerably slows your reactions. The net result is that tanked-up skiers ski faster with less consideration for others.