10 ways to have a safe ski (and snow board) season
By Marty Silverman of the Hidden Valley Ski Patrol
When people ask me what's the most common injury we see on the mountain, I tell them, "Ego. Bruised and broken egos."
By following these ten steps, you can insure that a brused ego is the only injury you and your family will have to worry about this ski season.
1. Get in shape
If the only exercise you've done in the past year is walking to and from your car, you're going to be pretty sore at the end of your first ski day. You should, of course, start getting in shape long before the snow falls, but anything you do now will still make your first day of skiing easier. A lot of early season injuries could be avoided if more skiers would get in shape before they put their skis on for the first time.
Take brisk walks at lunch or around the neighborhood each day, or start an exercise program at your local health club. Racquetball is probably the sport most similar to skiing in terms of muscles used. But don't try to make up for a year of inactivity in one month. You could hurt yourself and be out for the season. Many health clubs have trainers that can help you set up a safe and effective exercise program that's right for you. And of course, check with your doctor before starting any new heavy exercise program.
Don't start skiing cold. Warm up before you start. Start with a warm shower to loosen your joints and muscles. Then gently stretch the muscles you'll be using most when skiing, your calves, thighs, ham strings and lower back.
Once out on your skis, stretch again by scissoring your skis back and forth and by moving your body from side to side. A looser body will ski better and with more confidence.
At the end of your ski day repeat these stretches. You've worked your muscles hard. Give them a chance to stretch so they don't tighten up the next day. If you have particularly sore areas like your knees, ice them for a while to keep the swelling down. Don't use heat. Heat will cause swelling that could injure your knee even further.
3. Check your equipment
After spending the summer in the basement, your skis could use a bit of a warm up too. Well, tune up really. Bindings should be tested at the beginning of every season. Your safety rests on the ability of your bindings to release at the right time. Old and worn bindings will not perform as well as when they were new.
The ski shop can check your bindings for proper release characteristics, clean them of the grit that naturally occurs on a ski slope and lubricate them. Bindings older than 10 years should be replaced. Most shops won't even work on bindings that old, even if you've only skied on them a half dozen times. The insurance companies won't let them.
If you're using hand-me-down or borrowed equipment, have the ski shop adjust it to your size and ability. A binding set for big brother will be set too high for little sister and could lead to a serious injury.
Have your skis sharpened as well. A sharp ski will carve better on eastern conditions and can help keep you in control on hard and icy conditions.
If you're a beginner, try the new shaped skis. They give you more edge on the snow so you can turn more easily and with less effort. The ski shop has demos you can try.
4. Dress properly
This is more of a comfort issue than a safety issue, but we don't want you to get frostbite. Besides, if you are comfortable, you are likely to ski better.
A simple rule: Don't wear cotton. When cotton gets wet, you get cold. Wear wool or polypropylene socks and thermal underwear. Wool keeps you warm even when you get wet. Polypropylene wicks the moisture away from your body as you perspire.
Fleece is wonderful stuff. It keeps you warm and dry, and weighs far less than wool. Try a fleece neck-up on the next cold day. Your neck will thank you.
The crowning achievement of the ski industry is Gortex™ and fabrics like it. This membrane, sewn into pants, jackets, hats, gloves, and shoes lets moisture out but not in, so it keeps you warm on wet or windy days. No small feat.
Here's a tip for you: If your feet are cold, put on a hat. Your body loses most of its heat through your head and neck. So don't worry about hat hair, put on a hat! Preferably one that covers your ears. Remember, wool is warm but fleece won't itch.
Layer your clothing so that you can adjust to varying temperatures during the day. Rather than one big bulky jacket, use a sweater, fleece vest and a Gortex shell. The nice thing is you won't feel like a snowman as you walk out the door. You'll be able to move more easily and ski more comfortably.
One last note: Don't wear loose clothing. Long scarves can get caught on the lift and hold you there when you want to get off.
5. Take a lesson
Skiing can be great fun. It can also be incredibly frustrating. You could wallow in the snow trying to learn by trial and error. But that's slow, painful, frustrating, cold, wet, and exhausting. Who needs it? Most of the beginners we bring off the hill have never taken a lesson.
Whether you're a beginner or stuck at intermediate and want to advance your skills, a lesson is definitely the way to go. The ski school has programs for both children and adults. Even if you're a seasoned veteran, a lesson is a good way to shake off the cob webs at the beginning of the season.
6. Don't ski on slopes two steps above your level
So now you're finally out on the mountain. You're in shape, warmed up, new skis on your feet, warm clothing on your body, and fresh from a lesson. So what slope are you going to ski on? Well if you're a beginner, I wouldn't suggest Thunderbird. Stay on the slopes within your skill level. Practice what you've learned and progress slowly, allowing each lesson to sink in. Ski in control. If you can't stop within 10 to 15 ft, you're not in control.
7. Stop when you're tired
A lot of injuries come at the end of the day when people are tired and want to take just one more run before they go home. It's far better to call it a day earlier and come back tomorrow, than take a detour on the way home past the emergency room.
8. Don't drink and ski
Do I have to say more? It is a misconception that alcohol warms you up. It actually does the opposite. It reduces your body's ability to warm itself. It also impairs your judgment, impedes muscle control, and leads to many injuries. Don't sit in the bar drinking liquid courage all night, then take your first run of the evening on the last run of the night. Because it could really be your last run.
9. Follow the Skiers Responsibility Code
The Skiers Responsibility Code is posted at ski areas all over the country. It's a list of safety issues that you as a skier should be responsible for. For example:
When you stop along a trail, pull off to the side so you don't become a hazard to other skiers. Make sure the spot you pick to stop and rest is visible to skiers above. If you stop just below the crest of a hill, it significantly increases the risk of someone coming over that ridge and skiing into you because they couldn't see you far enough ahead to avoid hitting you.
Look uphill before merging onto a trail. When you're crossing over from Continental to Stingray, look up hill to make sure you're not crossing into the path of an oncoming skier.
There are others. Get to know the Code before your next ski outing.
10. Use common sense
This is perhaps the most important rule of all.
We hope to see you on the slopes this season. Feel free to stop by and see our facility. But we'd prefer to see you come in on you own two feet rather than lying down. Have fun and ski safely.
The Hidden Valley Ski Patrol is a non profit organization made up of volunteers from Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Ligonier, Latrobe, Somerset, and the Washington D.C. area and all points in between. We're dedicated to providing the best first aid and rescue services possible for the skiing public. All contributions are tax deductible.