Injuries happen to skiers of all levels, even under pristine conditions and when using the best available equipment. “Beginners are more likely to get injured. But when experienced skiers go down, they tend to have more severe injuries,” says Michelle Gambino-Gorney, a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
But you don’t have to let the risk of injury hold you back from having fun on the slopes. A few basic safety tips? Stay within your ability level and ensure your skis are in good condition. That said, going beyond ski safety basics and learning how to avoid injuries can help you stay safe on the slopes. Here are six expert tips:
Use caution when getting on and off the ski lift. Ski lifts make a lot of people anxious. Being high off the ground on your journey up the mountain can invoke a fear of falling. “But it’s getting on and off the ski lift where the vast majority of lift-related injuries occur,” Gambino-Gorney says. To lower your risk of injury, remove pole straps and backpacks before loading, look over your shoulder to make sure you sit squarely on the seat at the correct time, and don't try to retrieve items you lose hold of (including poles, gloves and phones). It’s best to let them go and ski back for them.
Keep it simple at terrain parks. Terrain parks include human-made features like ramps and rails that enable skiers to do jumps, flips and other maneuvers. Any time your skis leave the ground, injuries are possible. You can safely enjoy terrain parks by starting with smaller obstacles and maneuvers and mastering them before moving on to other challenges. Do not rely on online tutorials to learn new skills. Ski instructors can help you learn the correct technique and provide personalized tips for achieving your goals.
Beware of trees. Trees present multiple dangers. Colliding with a tree, especially at high speed, leads to some of the most severe ski injuries. A small number of skiers die each year from tree collisions. To avoid collisions, ski with control. Other concerns include tree wells and snow immersion suffocation. This type of injury occurs when a person falls head first into a pocket of loose snow near a tree trunk and gets trapped. Skiing with a partner on ungroomed paths, which typically run past tree wells, is essential. If you become immersed in a tree well, a partner can step in to help you break free.
Pay extra attention during your final run of the day. Injuries are more common during skiers’ last runs. “Skiing later in the day can be dangerous because small changes can affect your ability to maneuver and react to conditions,” Gambino-Gorney says. Fresh powder may get matted down. Groomed areas become bumpy. And fatigue can make you less aware of hazards and other skiers. While it may be tempting to give it your all on your last run, it’s better to ease up and take your time.
Follow the Skier Code of Responsibility. People of all ages, abilities and ski levels can safely share the slopes when everyone follows the National Ski Area Association™ Responsibility Code. Key points include: Giving right of way to people ahead of (downhill from) you, staying off closed trails, and looking uphill for other skiers when merging.
Expedite access to help in an emergency. Being prepared can help you quickly reach ski patrol in an emergency. Most ski areas list their ski patrol phone number near the lifts. While you are waiting in the ski lift line, program it into your phone. If you or someone nearby experiences an injury, being able to call for help will save precious time. Instead of waiting for someone to ski down the mountain and ask for help, you can stay with the injured person and call for help. Calling also makes it easier to share important details so that ski patrol arrives with the appropriate people and equipment.
“Skiing is like any sport in that there’s a risk of injury. But many people hit the slopes without incident. Some skiers go decades without a single fall,” Gambino-Gorney says. Follow these insider tips and don't forget to wear a helmet so you can relish your next powder day and get the most out of the season.
Michelle Gambino-Gorney is a certified athletic trainer at the Henry Ford Kutcher Clinic for Concussion and Sports Neurology.
With temperatures getting colder, it may be tempting to get back to the gym.
Winter Weather Workout Tips
While cold air can make it challenging to breathe, our bodies adjust to reduced temperatures over time. The key thing to watch for is hypothermia (dangerously low body heat).
"Viruses are more likely to attack our bodies if we're in a cold state," says Ramsey Shehab, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health. "If your internal body temperature drops significantly, it can suppress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection."
The good news: Adopting these six strategies can help ensure your outdoor workouts are safe and effective.
Check the forecast. Know what the outdoor weather is and plan accordingly. Pay attention to the temperature, wind and moisture level. If temps dip below zero, the wind chill is extreme, or it's raining or snowing, exercising outside can be risky.
Dress in layers. Dressing too warmly can increase your risk of overheating (even in frigid air). Instead, dress in layers so you can remove layers as you warm up. "The innermost layer should be made of moisture-wicking material," Dr. Shehab says. "The middle layer should have thermal protection like wool or fleece, and the outermost layer should be waterproof and breathable to protect you from wind, rain and sleet." If you get wet and moisture soaks through your clothing, you may not be able to keep your core body temperature up.
Pay attention to your hands, feet and head. When you're engaged in a heart-pumping workout, blood flows to your core, leaving your fingers, toes and head vulnerable to the cold. Wear a hat, gloves and warm socks. If it's especially chilly, consider wearing a scarf.
Take time to warm up (and cool down). Instead of leaving your cozy house and launching straight into a sprint, take time to warm up your major muscle groups. "Your joints may be stiffer when it's cold, so warming up and stretching out is especially important during the winter months," Dr. Shehab says.
Stay hydrated. People tend to think more about dehydration during the summer months, but you can get dehydrated in the winter, too. "Proper hydration before, during and after exercise is very important, not just to maintain health and well-being, but also to stave off infection," Dr. Shehab says.
Take a vitamin D supplement. Even though you're exercising outdoors, sunlight is in low supply in Michigan during the winter. To keep your immune system humming, consider taking a vitamin D supplement. "Making sure you have sufficient vitamin D can enhance your bone health, boost your immune system and keep your hormones in balance," Dr. Shehab says.
Get Savvy About Outdoor Workouts
Frigid temperatures can create obstacles for even the most enthusiastic exercisers. While it's tempting to table exercise until warmer weather returns, there are things you can do to make outdoor — and indoor — workouts more enjoyable.
You don't have to stick to the same routine of running, walking and circuit training. Take advantage of the winter chill to participate in activities like ice skating, sledding, hiking, skiing and cross-country skiing. You can even take interval workouts outdoors. Climb stairs, hike up hills or just play with a kettlebell in the snow.
"Exercise is medicine," Dr. Shehab says. "It can sometimes replace medication for people who have diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions. It's good for the mind and the body, and it can help stave off infections, including COVID-19."
The caveat: Working out, outdoors or indoors, is not recommended for people who are currently battling the coronavirus. Instead, it's important to preserve your energy. Once your symptoms begin to improve, you can gradually increase your exercise level.
Dr. Ramsey Shehab is the deputy chief of Sports Medicine at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Center for Athletic Medicine and Henry Ford Medical Center - Bloomfield Township.