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.
When you've been hit with an injury, it's natural to want to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible. In fact, it's not uncommon for athletes to sidestep doctors' orders and return to the field or the court before an injury has healed.
"It doesn’t matter how much you train, or how much you prepare, injuries are going to happen, especially if you're an athlete," says Jamie Schwab, an athletic trainer at Henry Ford Health System. "But the real trouble arises when athletes try to play through their pain without allowing sufficient time for recovery."
Risks Of Returning Too Soon After Injury
If you sprain your ankle during a cross country run, it can be tempting to finish the race. Unfortunately, hiding your pain and powering through the activity can actually make matters worse.
"If you continue to work out after suffering from an injury, you run the risk of furthering that injury," Schwab says. So what began as a minor ankle sprain can evolve into a major sprain that sidelines you for weeks.
Returning to play after surgery demands extra precautions. "Athletes are a lot more susceptible to re-injury after returning from surgery, especially if they don't complete the entire 9-month or year-long rehabilitation protocol," Schwab says. In some cases, you can exacerbate an injury to such a degree that you'll never be able to participate in the same capacity.
A Safe Return To Play
The road back to play after an injury is a long and winding one. Before you can even consider returning to exercise, you need to reduce swelling, get pain under control and get your range of motion back to almost normal.
"The recovery process takes time," Schwab says. "But if you stick with it, and you take it seriously, it's going to be a whole lot easier for you to return to the playing field in a timely manner."
Once you get pain and swelling under control, you can focus on agility and weight exercises that will help you regain strength and slowly return to baseline. The key tenets for a safer return to play:
► Be honest about your abilities: "So many athletes are afraid to tell the truth," Schwab says. "But if you're hurting and you're not competing at your full potential, you're letting your team down and yourself down, too." Even worse, you could increase your risk of further injury.
► Focus on building strength: Strength training is critical. It can help you become faster, stronger and more agile on the field. It can also help you recover more quickly after an injury.
► Listen to your body: If something doesn't feel right, pay attention to it. Talk to your athletic trainer or a physical therapist to get to the bottom of what's bugging you and put a plan in place to address it.
Boosting Performance Over The Long Haul
Unfortunately, not every coach and athletic trainer stresses the importance of a maintenance program. In fact, focused training and maintenance exercises are key to preventing injuries in the first place.
"The rehabilitation exercises you begin doing on day one after injury need to be maintained at least three to four times each week, indefinitely," Schwab says. "If you follow that regimen, all of your muscular nagging strains will no longer be a problem because your body is constantly adapting to the stresses. It's conditioned, it's strong, it can withstand the constant changes in direction."
Most importantly, don't be afraid to try complementary strategies. Practice using a foam roller, try cupping to release tension in the muscles and enhance blood flow and consider getting a monthly massage.
Jamie Schwab, AT, ATC, SCAT, CSCS, is an athletic trainer with Henry Ford Sports Medicine and works with student athletes at Edsel Ford High School. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified strength and conditioning specialist.
To find a sports medicine doctor or athletic trainer at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/sports.