Medically Reviewed by Patrick K. Denton, MD
“So,” you ask, “why are we talking about ski and snowboard injuries when we are in the Southeast?”
Those who enjoy snow sports on a regular basis and often every year know what to expect. However, if you live in the South and plan an occasional ski trip, it is like a Northerner who takes a beach trip once a year, the unexpected can leave you hurting.
The following tips will help you know what to expect and what to avoid so that you can have a safer, enjoyable trip.
Before You Go
- Skiing and snowboarding are strenuous sports that require coordination and concentration. Ensure that you are in good physical shape before you go.
- Stronger muscles will help prevent strains and avoid fractures from falls and collisions.
- Start drinking more water as soon as you arrive. You will dehydrate faster at higher altitudes, as well as losing body hydration through perspiration.
- On the slopes, plan on wearing layers of clothing. This will allow you to adjust to varying temperature, weather and wind conditions.
- Watch out for the sun. Granted, it is not the beach, but sun in the mountains and reflections from the snow are intense. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are stronger at higher altitudes, because the atmosphere is thinner. Sunscreen and protective eyewear are recommended.
- Cold muscles injure more easily. Try walking for 3 to 5 minutes before taking your first run. Finish your warm-up with an easy first run.
- While up on the mountain, keep an eye out for frostbite. It can strike in minutes for unexposed skin in temperatures below 20 degrees
- Fahrenheit with the wind blowing.
New Equipment Benefits
- Better boots and bindings help avoid some of the lower leg injuries that historically plagued skiers. Be sure that your rental equipment fits well. Do not hesitate to return it for a different size or fit, if it is uncomfortable or painful.
- The addition of helmets has drastically reduced head injuries from falls on the slopes. A study in 2012 showed that 67 percent of skiers and snowboarders now wear helmets.
- Try your equipment out with a ski or snowboard lesson from a professional. Well-adjusted equipment will help you avoid injuries. And, who knows, you may learn a tip or two that improves your skills on the slopes. Chances are you will fall. So, it is important to learn how to fall to avoid serious injury.
- Today’s curved skis make it easier for beginners to make those nice turns. But the new design can easily catch the snow’s edge, steering the ski away from you, twisting and hurting your knee.
- Today’s ski boots better protect ankles and shins, but exert more pressure on the knee.
Skiers versus Snowboarders
- In addition to the generational preference for snowboarding versus skiing (younger vs. older), skiers are more prone to ankle injuries, while snowboarders have more wrist injuries due to their “FOOSH” (Falling Onto Out Stretched Hands).
- More experienced ski boarders use hard shell boots, similar to ski boots. Beginning ski boarders may use soft boots. The soft boots enable the skier to maneuver the board more easily. But the soft boots also pose twice the risk of ankle injuries as the hard boots.
- Most ski accidents happen on the last run of the day, when you are tired. Do not try to be the last one on the slopes.
- If you hurt a knee or ankle R-I-C-E it. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevate.
- Do not try to ski or snowboard with a painful knee.
If you return from a winter holiday with a sore, knee, hip, ankle or shoulder, see an Orthopedic Specialist.
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Find an orthopedic specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, National Institutes of Health, National Ski Areas Association, US Travel Insurance Association, ABCs of Snowboarding