How can you reduce the risk of snow sports injuries?

It’s been shaping in New Zealand to be an amazing season. Down in Queenstown, we have already experienced a month of excellent snow, and beautiful Central Otago ‘bluebird’ days making magic days up the mountain. Unfortunately, it is an all too frequent occurrence seeing many significant injuries sustained on the ski fields. It is even common for this to occur on the first day of a week-long planned holiday!

Accidents happen, but there are many injury risk factors that we should be avoiding. Even the most conditioned athlete and season skier can still have their season ended and future sporting endeavours affected by significant injury.

Here are the common risk factors:

  1. Inadequate pre-season conditioning
  2. Tiredness (often related to lack rest in the skiing/boarding day) we frequently see those who are frustrated with themselves “it was my last run of the day and I knew I should have called it quits earlier)
  3. Equipment error – poor fitting, faulty or improper equipment
  4. Poor judgement (not noticing warning signs, doing runs beyond ability level, going off trail or out of bounds)
  5. Dehydration / poor nutrition

So, how can we prepare for the snow season? Incorporate a ‘prepare to ski’ programme before hitting the slopes. Here are ten tips on how to prevent injury.

  1. Start an aerobic and strength programme a few months before. Building a good level of aerobic fitness (running, walking, cycling) in conjunction with a strength programme is crucial. Quad strength (even simple squats, wall sits and lunges) involving both static and dynamic exercises with a large eccentric component is advised and then progressing to some plyometric exercises involving jumping, landing and proprioception training. This as well as a mobility/ stretching programme will help make that first few weeks of skiing far more enjoyable, and hopefully safer! Seeing a physiotherapist with a good handle on ski injury prevention is a good place to get advice and tips for this.
  2. Optimise your equipment. Make sure you have good quality equipment, and that it fits you. Get your skis and bindings serviced and checked by an expert prior to ski season.
  3. Get Protective Equipment. if you are snowboarding have wrist guards. If wearing soft boots beginning, consider ankle supports. Have the appropriate length skis. Everyone should be wearing a helmet and have good lenses on your goggles to aid visibility.
  4. Warm up when you get up the mountain. All too frequently we go from the car, in minus degree temperatures, straight into skiing. Don’t be afraid to park slightly further away from the top car park to allow a good walk to get the blood flowing. Spend at least five minutes to do some of the drills and stretching programme (even as simple as some gentle squats and lunges and some mobility) before heading up the T-bar.
  5. Schedule time off the hill. It is not uncommon for DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) to occur day 2-3 into the first ski week of the year. Perhaps scheduling in a half day at some point early on is a good plan to let the body adapt to the first few days!
  6. Take lots of breaks during the day. Enjoy a morning tea and a lunch break in the car. Reminding yourself water breaks are important often in cold weather it is common to drink less water than usual, but hydrating well is important.
  7. Stick to your own ability level. It’s easy to get dragged into a race with mates, doing some jumps because others are, or going off trail which may be beyond your proficiency thus putting you more at risk.
  8. Book a lesson if it’s been a while since jumping on skis or you're learning how to snowboard. A trained instructor can be most helpful in preventing injury as teaching optimal technique, and good falling patterns are helpful.
  9. Keep warm. Proper warm, waterproof clothing with polypropylene layers.
  10. Trust your gut. If your body has had enough, and think one more run is pushing it- listen to it.

If you do have the misfortune to get in trouble on the mountain make sure you or your ski buddy flag down ski patrol. The universal signs of two skis crossed in front of each other are an important flag to others on the mountain- both for flagging help, and also getting others to slow down around the area.