While skiing is a relatively safe sport if you apply the proper safety precautions, there are some dangers that we should discuss. The number one risk that people think of when they think about skiing are knee injuries. It is unfortunately common for people to twist, fall, jar, or otherwise hurt their knees while skiing. This risk can be minimized through proper adjustment of your bindings, buying modern equipment which releases to protect your knees, and proper training–but knee injuries do happen.
Knee injuries often heal by themselves, but sometimes require surgery. Skiing puts many different types of stress on the knees, so it is important for you to learn about ways to reduce your risks with proper body mechanics. General awareness of your surroundings and proper binding settings can drastically reduce your risks and keep you skiing for decades to come.
Reduce this risk by…
- Exercise in the off-season.
- Stretch before you ski and occasionally throughout the day.
- Take lessons or join a ski club to get tips/tricks on proper ski techniques.
- Have your skis professionally tuned and adjusted for your boots.
- Avoid skiing too slow if your skis are set for intermediate or advanced skiing.
- Be aware of changing snow conditions.
Risk TWO: Skiing into Things
While beginner skiers are likely to slide into anything around them, intermediate and advanced skiers can typically avoid stationary objects. As you progress in skiing, your risk of collision with others both increases and decreases as you gain the ability to quickly maneuver and more easily avoid collisions but also start skiing faster and have less reaction time-just like driving a car.
The featured image for this section is an airbrushed painting of ski patrol responding to a collision with a lift tower when an unsupervised child got off of the lift and went straight into a pole. This particular injury could have easily been prevented with proper training/supervision, but is one type of ski injury that can happen.
Reduce this risk by…
- Ski only within or slightly above your abilities. Don’t be a daredevil on day one!
- Supervise your kids and give them lessons.
- Invest in good goggles and be aware of changing light+snow conditions.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Scope your line before you commit.
Risk THREE: Outdoor Risks
Skiing demands exposure to some of the harshest conditions on earth. We subject ourselves to wind, snow, sun, extreme cold, and other harsh conditions to find the perfect line. While skiing inbounds (within a resort) is much safer than skiing the back-country (outside of resorts), there are some risks that can occur anywhere.
Inbound avalanches can occur anywhere but are most likely to occur in steep areas after a major change in the weather. This can be a big change in temperature, recent precipitation, extremely deep snow, or snow which falls over ice. While inbound incidents are extremely rare, it is best to be aware of the snow each day just like you would if you intended to ski out-of-bounds. This can help you to ski better by being in tune with the conditions, and also help you to make smart decisions about which angle and face you want to ski.
Also called tree well immersion, tree-well death occurs when someone falls into a tree well and cannot get out. Snow is particularly fine in tree wells and is the winter equivalent of quicksand. It can make it difficult to climb out and even be inhaled which makes it difficult to breathe. Skiers can also suffocate when trapped upside-down because your diaphragm will become tired working against gravity. Both types of suffocation risks can be prevented by skiing with a partner, and always be aware of your surroundings. When skiing with a group, I recommend partnering up with someone so that you avoid the group mindset of “someone has eyes on ___” and instead have direct responsibility for yourself and your partner’s safety.
Skiers find ourselves in extreme outdoor conditions. Be prepared to protect your skin from sunburn, protection from wind, and dress in layers so that you are able to stay warm without over-heating. Wear proper attire and make sure that your gear is water-resistant. This is especially important on severe storm days, but awareness of the elements should become a regular part of your ski routine so that you can dress appropriately. Some days you can ski in a bikini and other days you just can’t get warm no matter how many layers you put on, so be aware of the weather and pack plenty of spare clothes for your ski trips.
Reduce these risks by…
- Know the recent weather in the areas you want to ski.
- Ski inbounds (at a resort) or get professional avalanche training.
- Avoid tree-well or deep snow immersion by skiing with a partner.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- And avoid exposure by layering your clothing appropriately.
Risk FOUR: Altitude Sickness
Although I live in high desert and rarely have to worry about altitude sickness, skiers from lower altitudes may suffer illness at high altitudes. This can feel like a mild hangover or have more serious symptoms depending on your overall health and the amount of altitude change that your body experiences. Mild forms of altitude sickness are common, but it can be more dangerous in extreme cases. The best advice I can give is to learn about altitude sickness and be prepared to both prevent and treat it.
Reduce this risk…
- Avoid alcohol for a few days prior to traveling to high altitudes.
- Schedule a day or two to adjust to altitude and time-zone changes.
- Drink extra water.
- Eat nutritious food and get plenty of rest.
Risk FIVE: Travel Injuries
Travel injuries and illness are often overlooked when discussing the risks of many activities, but skiing has specific travel risks that are unique to our sport. Skiers face sudden blizzard conditions on the roads, early morning and late afternoon ice, and sometimes even deep snow. Traveling by air or other mass transit has risks of getting stranded, especially during winter storms that we love so much.
Reduce these risks by…
- Travel during the best window of weather.
- Look for breaks in the storm for departure or arrival.
- Be aware of the weather and recent weather history.
- Pay attention to road closures and other warnings.
- Use proper snow or all weather tires and appropriate vehicle for storm days.
Stay Aware: Stay Safe!
While these risks outline the most frequently discussed hazards to avoid, there are always other things to consider such as your overall health, choice in runs, line choice, lodge/lift maintenance, and other factors…but these are your main hazards that you can do something to reduce the risk of. We encourage you to get out there and live your life. Don’t be afraid of tough conditions, just be prepared.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article and that it helps you to stay safe.