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News > How to ski safely, prevent injuries
How to ski safely, prevent injuries

Posted 2/5/2010   Updated 2/8/2010 Email story   Print story


by Christina Whaley
Air Force Flight Test Center Ground Safety Office

2/5/2010 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Surrounding Edwards, there are five to eight different locations to go skiing within a two hours. Skiing and snowboarding, downhill or alpine is considered a safe sport, accounting for an average of 34 deaths a year, or 0.69 fatalities per million, that is however, providing skiers were have proper training and equipment.


Do not try to ski into shape - it won't work. In order to get maximum enjoyment out of the sport, one must already be in shape, as skiing puts a lot of strain on the hips and thigh muscles as well as the knees, ankles and abdominal area. When it comes to downhill and alpine skiing, the most common injuries are ligament sprains, soft tissue bruising and joint injuries. The most common injury is a grade 1 to 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament, which is located on the inside of the knee. This occurs when the lower leg twists outward, relative to the thigh and the MCL takes the strain. Other causes of MCL injuries include failure of the ski binding to release, as well as snow-plowing gone wrong - especially when the skier uses a wide and unstable stance.


Before a skier gets anywhere near a slope, they must get fitted with the proper gear. Binding fit is extremely important. Properly adjusted bindings are based on your height, weight and level of expertise. The ski shop staff must know these things so they can provide equipment that properly fits the skier. Properly fitted bindings and boots will go a long way towards reducing injury and severity. A bad boot fit usually results in the skier unbuckling the boot, to some degree, in order to ski without pain. This response can result in a dramatic reduction in the ability to control the skis, which increases the possibility for accidents.

Therefore, if it doesn't fit in the shop, it won't fit on the slopes. When choosing a skiing outfit, ensure the fabric is water and wind resistant, has wind flaps over the zippers, snug wrist and ankle cuffs as well as collars that can be tied tight against the chin to help keep the wind out. Dress in layers, wear gloves or mittens and a headband or hat - approximately 60 percent of body heat loss is through the head. Don't forget the goggles - they improve visibility by reducing glare and wind, as well as protect your eyes from projectile debris and snow. They also protect your eyes against UV rays. Sunscreen is also needed to protect the face from the UV rays. There are currently no laws requiring skiers to wear helmets and opinions are mixed, however, when it comes to children, helmets have shown to reduce head injury severity. When getting a helmet for yourself or a child, ensure it is certified for snow sports - look for the ASTM F2040, Snell RS-98 or CEN 1077 standards. The helmet pads should fit flush against the cheeks and forehead. The back of the helmet should not touch the nape of the neck. The helmet should be snug with the chinstrap fastened, fit above the eyebrows and not slide foreword or backwards.

Know your limits

Studies have shown that taking lessons helps reduce injuries. But don't take lessons from family and friends - get them from a certified instructor. The instructor will not only help accelerate your skill level, they will also asses the skier's ability and know which trails they are most suited for. It is important for every skier to know their capabilities and remain within them.

Trail ratings vary resort to resort, but the following is a basic breakdown:

· Green Circle - easiest trails, generally wide, groomed and have a gentle slope. Good for beginners.

· Blue square - intermediate level; steeper than beginner trails, yet easy enough for intermediate skiers. Gently groomed and may have easy moguls or very easy glades.

· Black Diamond - difficult trails for advanced skiers. Can be steep, narrow or ungroomed as well as icy. Will have moguls and glades.

· Doubled Black Diamond - extremely difficult and for experts only. Extremely steep slope, difficult moguls, glades and/or drop offs.

Learn to fall

Learning when and how to fall, as well as knowing what to do after a fall, will go a long way towards avoiding serious injuries. Keep one's body flexed; legs together; chin against the chest with arms up and forward. Be prepared to use your arms to protect your head. Do this by dropping your ski poles. After the fall, if the skier doesn't stop immediately, they should get into a position which allows them to see where you are going. Resist the instinct to fully straighten ones legs.

Responsibility code

No matter your ability, always ski according to the National Ski Areas Association code:

1. Always stay in control.

2. People ahead have the right of way.

3. Stop in a safe place for all.

4. Whenever starting downhill or merging, look uphill and yield.

5. Use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.

6. Observe signs and warnings and keep off closed trails.

7. Know how to use the chairlifts safely.

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