While serious skiing injuries are not as common as they are made out to be (around 2-4 per 1000 skier days), this can disrupt a ski break for the injured skier/boarder and even family or friends on the holiday. With the right preparation, your memory of the slopes will stay as pristine as the powder. Here are our top ten tips for staying safe and avoiding injuries while out on the slopes:
1. Are you fit to ski?
A lack of fitness is a prime cause of skiing injuries. Skiing all day requires a certain amount of cardiovascular endurance, strength and balance. If you’re not a regular skier or gym bunny, you feel yourself lacking this.
Develop your strength and fitness in the run up to your skiing holiday to help reduce the risk of injury. You don’t have to join a gym but some simple home exercises such as squats to strengthen the legs, brisk walks for cardiovascular fitness and Pilates classes for core strength are all great places to start.
2. Learn from a pro
Skiing lessons are available at your local dry slope or at your ski resort. This is particularly recommended for new skiers or those who haven’t skied for a while. However, more experienced skiers could benefit from a refresher lesson to iron out any bad habits which could cause injuries.
3. Check your gear
Hire your equipment from a reputable company and ensure that they take your weight, height and ability into account when fitting your skis and bindings. If something doesn’t feel right, make sure you go back and question it.
Also, if you have any old injuries, you may want to think about wearing a support or brace, especially for knee injuries. The knees are put under a lot of force when skiing. As a result, knee injuries make up 45% of serious skiing injuries. An old injury can mean that the joint is less stable than it should be. Although they are in no way guaranteed to stop an injury occurring, knee braces are recommended for injury prevention and they can also help to support the joint.
4. Get your own
Don’t borrow a friend’s equipment as this will be set for their own needs and so may not be suitable for you. Poorly fitting boots, skis which are too long and bindings set too high are all risk factors for injury. Borrowing kit can increase injury risk by 800%.
5. Know your limits
Don’t attempt to make a run which is more advanced than your current level. Stick to what you are comfortable with and don’t try to keep up with those who are more experienced that you.
6. Stick to the rules
The slopes are governed by the F.I.S Code of Conduct which dictates the way skiers should behave, for their safety and that of others. It covers aspects such as: obeying signs; leaving plenty of space when overtaking; stopping and looking both ways when starting a run; stopping at the sides of a run; and what to do in the event of an accident.
7. Don’t go it alone
Don’t go off-piste alone. Skiing off piste is more dangerous and carries a risk of avalanche. If you are going off-piste, be safe and make sure you carry the right equipment.
8. Put a helmet on it
Wearing a helmet may not be cool but it can be a life saver. A helmet protects the skull to prevent fractures and impacts which cause internal bleeding and can be fatal.
9. Learn how to fall
Learning and practising how to fall can help to reduce your risk of injury. This is particularly true for shoulder, wrist and elbow injuries, which are most commonly caused by landing on an outstretched arm during a fall. Try instead to cushion the impact with the whole forearm (bent at the elbow and in front of the chest) when falling forwards. When falling backwards, twist the body slightly to land on the outer hip, absorbing as much impact as you can with the body and keeping the arms tucked in.
10. Prepare yourself and take regular breaks
Warm-ups should apply to skiing as they do to any other sport. Take some time at the start of your day and after any breaks, to warm your muscles by walking and stretching. Once on the slopes, start with a few easy, gentle runs to get yourself prepared, physically and mentally, for the harder stuff. When you feel tired, take a break. Accidents happen when we’re tired and fatigued. How often do you hear someone say they injured themselves on the last run of the day?
Follow these simple guidelines to help ensure your ski trip is safe and fun for everyone involved.
Heidi Mills BSc (Hons) GSR is a Graduate Sports Rehabilitator at www.sportsinjuryclinic.net, the Virtual Sports Injury Clinic, where you can find information on hundreds of sporting and occupational injuries which includes symptoms, causes, treatments and rehab programmes.