Unusual tips for ski safety

Winter offers you the opportunity to hit the slopes of nature, often without even walking, bringing happiness to those of you who plan to enjoy it.
Photo courtesy of Clinique de pierre.

Surely you’ve heard the usual advice: be strong, stay flexible, don’t take the last descent and ski with a helmet. Everything is fine, until you notice that the best skiers on ski teams, as well as super fit backcountry skiers, get injured too. So, let’s think about some of the less common ski tips and see if they’ve got you covered this season.

  1. Equipment matters. Sharp edges and well-tuned skis catch snow snakes less often and get you out of trouble when you really need them. Go to the ski shop now and set up your gear.
  2. Wide skis are fun in powder, but they increase the injury rate on groomed trails. The wider the ski, the harder it is to stack it on its edge, which creates more torque on the knee. No ski is better. Rent or buy skis depending on the conditions you find yourself in every day.
  3. Binding design improved only slightly, and there is no unbiased data to show that one link is better than another. The multi-directional heel release (Howell design) should change that. However, the new fasteners have less grit, more precise calibration, and less interface wear. Set them to the correct trigger setting for the skier you really are, not who you think you are.
  4. Helmets have not been shown to reduce significant neck or head injuries, except in certain collisions with tree branches or other objects. Clear view of your glasses and helmet is probably even more important. For the race, no doubt: no helmet, no starts.
  5. Drugs and alcohol are legal in many ski states, but both really reduce athletic performance. Half-baked skiing and boarding sounds cool to some, but dangerous for most. Smoking cigarettes is just plain silly.
  6. Cold feet, cold muscles, and a stiff back cause an overall reduction in the ability to respond to sudden changes in position. Start the day in a hot shower or hot tub. Stretch there rather than on cold ground. If you have poor blood circulation, get boot warmers or heated socks and gloves. They really work, although they are not durable and do not survive washing. Upgrade your clothes with newer, thinner, warmer and more stretchy materials. Go up the covered ski lifts. Drink hot liquids. You will be surprised at how much staying warm decreases minor injuries (including those that can lead to serious injuries).
  7. Look at the mountain grooming card. Surprisingly, few skiers do. There are far fewer injuries on groomed slopes than in difficult ski conditions.
  8. Time your ski. Ski under the best sun and the best snow conditions of the day. Eat breakfast when few people do. The goal is to ski for a long time in life, not long in a day.
  9. Take a guide. Most people don’t appreciate the number of hidden ski trails on each mountain. While skiing is already extremely expensive, local hosts and mountain guides are often relatively inexpensive compared to ski school instructors. Hidden hiding places will make everyone smile.
  10. Fix what’s broken. If your back, shoulders, knees, or other joints are holding you back, get them fixed. The science of joint repair and rehabilitation has come so far that almost any joint injury and arthritis problem can be repaired well enough to get you back to skiing, sometimes during the season.

Winter offers you the opportunity to hit the slopes of nature, often without even walking, bringing happiness to those of you who plan to enjoy it. The key word is plan.

Medically written by

Kevin R. Stone, MD

Orthopedic surgeon, clinician, scientist, inventor and founder of several companies. Dr. Stone was trained at Harvard University in internal medicine and orthopedic surgery and at Stanford University in general surgery.

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