Nothing beats the feeling of the wind in your hair as you sail down the mountain on a powder day! But if you’re not careful, that wicked stunt you just pulled might send you home earlier than expected. Still, ski and snowboarding injuries don’t have to ruin your day if you observe safety precautions and use proper equipment.
Here at the Adventure Junkies, we want to keep you safe on the slopes so you can get the most out of your day. While skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get some fresh air and adrenaline, these are extreme sports and should only be tackled by those who understand the risks. Read on for tips on how to prevent some of the most common skiing and snowboarding injuries.
TIPS TO AVOID SNOW SPORTS INJURIES
DEVELOP GOOD HABITS
There are many ways to protect yourself from injury out on the slopes. An easy one is to wear a helmet, which drastically reduces your chance of a head injury. Wrist and elbow guards, knee pads, ankle and knee braces can also help protect these body parts especially in terrain parks.
It is equally important to keep the rest of your equipment in good condition. Skis and snowboards should be well-maintained and properly waxed with sharp edges. Boots, helmet and ski bindings should be correctly fitted and checked as suitable for the terrain. Be informed about how to use your equipment appropriately to reduce risk.
Take care of yourself. Stay hydrated and well-fed and wear weather-appropriate clothing, whether that means sunglasses and sunscreen for sunny days or waterproof layers and goggles for cold days. Skiers and snowboarders can be at risk of sunburns, heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia, frostbite and sometimes even altitude sickness. Take breaks every few hours and keep in mind that most injuries occur after lunch or near the end of the day, when fatigue affects your form and your decision-making.
If you are just starting to ski or snowboard, it’s a great idea to start out with lessons. Instructors can teach you safe skiing techniques and gradually move you onto more difficult terrain when appropriate. Additionally, with lessons you will learn good habits that will benefit you for the rest of your skiing or snowboarding career.
Be aware of skiing etiquette and responsibility, such as outlined in the Alpine Responsibility Code. Stay in control and be able to stop if needed, and exercise extra caution in terrain parks, glades, deep powder and the backcountry. Substance abuse, including alcohol, can impair your judgment and cause accidents.
Like all extreme sports, skiing and snowboarding require a high level of fitness. You can put yourself in a better position if you keep up your strength and stamina during the offseason. Some good ways to increase your cardio are cycling, swimming, stair training or running.
Strengthen the muscles you use most in skiing and snowboarding such as your quads, glutes, hip muscles, back, neck and core. Maintain your flexibility with regular stretches of all these muscles.
In the morning, stretch your major muscle areas and warm up however works best for you. It may be with a five-minute walk or light jog in the parking lot. Take it easy in the first few runs.
By the end of the day, you should cool down by doing a few easy runs or walking around for 10 minutes. Drink lots of water and stretch while they are still warm to reduce stiff muscles through lactic acid buildup.
LEARN HOW TO FALL
It’s pretty much a sure bet that everyone will fall at some point. If you feel yourself spinning out of control, sometimes it’s smarter to fall on purpose before you get yourself into even bigger trouble.
We tend to fling our arms out to break a fall, but the best you can actually do is to try to roll with the fall and minimize the impact on your body.
COMMON SKI AND SNOWBOARDING INJURIES
Know the risks. Extreme sports are notorious for causing broken bones all over the body. However, skiers are especially prone to knee and thumb injuries. Meanwhile, snowboarders are more vulnerable to ankle and upper-body injuries in the wrist, elbow and shoulder.
Everybody can get a head injury if they’re not wearing a helmet. Below are some of the typical injuries and how to avoid them.
Head injuries are both the scariest and easiest to prevent. Snowboarders are more likely to suffer injuries to the head because of their stance on the board and the fixed bindings.
It’s important to consider that even if you believe you are skilled enough not to fall on your head, it’s always possible that someone else can collide with you on the slope. A head injury can take the form of anything from a bruise to a concussion and even death. The best way to protect your head is to wear a helmet.
WRIST, ELBOW AND SHOULDER
Upper-body injuries happen especially often to snowboarders. Their feet are fixed to their bindings, meaning any contortion in a fall will mostly take their toll on the upper body.
Beginners in particular often try to break a fall by flinging their arms out. The harsh landing can reverberate through the arm and cause a sprained or fractured wrist, a bruised or dislocated elbow and a host of shoulder injuries.
Wrist injuries are one of the most typical snowboarding injuries, but they can happen to skiers as well. A harsh landing after a fall can also cause a pulled shoulder ligament, a dislocated shoulder, a cartilage tear, a fracture, a shoulder separation, a rotator cuff injury or sometimes even a broken collarbone.
Wrist and elbow injuries can be avoided by wearing wrist and elbow guards or snowboard gloves with built-in wrist braces. When doing a big jump on your snowboard, try to keep your arms close to your body instead of flailing them around.
A common skiing injury is skier’s thumb, which refers to a sprained or torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Skier’s thumb accounts for about one out of 10 skiing injuries and is caused by landing on an outstretched hand while holding ski poles, forcing the thumb to bend sharply backward.
The risk of skier’s thumb can be greatly minimized by holding your poles properly. If you have straps, put your hand through a strap and let the pole dangle loosely from your wrist.
Then, grasp the ski pole with your thumb over, not through, the strap. This way, the pole will come off your hand more easily instead of trapping your thumb when you fall.
Some people prefer to ski with poles that have finger-groove grips instead of straps or a closed grip. Others swear by Leki trigger straps, which have a safety release allowing the straps to come out in case of impact, kind of like your ski boot bindings. Whatever system you use, it’s also good practice to try to let go of your poles if you can when you’re falling.
With their soft boots, snowboarders are vulnerable to sprained ankles and fractures to the talus bone, the latter often referred to as “snowboarder’s ankle.” Snowboarders with softer boots and snowboarders who do lots of tricks and jumps are more likely to get snowboarder’s ankle.
Snowboarder’s ankle can be difficult to spot on x-ray scans, so it’s important to be suspicious if your sprained ankle hurts for longer than a week, as it might indicate your ankle is actually fractured. The condition can lead to long-term damage so it’s crucial that you treat it properly.
It’s a trade-off when deciding whether to protect your knee or your ankle. If you go for harder boots, your ankles will sit more securely, but your knees will be more likely to incur injuries from twisting. Other ways to prevent ankle injuries include improving your balance and proprioception with a wobble board, or wearing an ankle brace, sports insoles or ankle tape while you ride.
Knee injuries are very common in skiing. Ski boots lately have focused on protecting the ankle and shin, which increases the risk that the impact from a fall will transfer to the knee. When bindings don’t release in a fall, the top of the leg can bend while the bottom remains immobile.
This twists the knee and can cause a sprained knee or the infamous torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or MCL (medial collateral ligament). Injuries are also possible to the medial meniscus.
While snowboarders less frequently experience knee injuries, these can still arise when getting on or off the chairlift, since only one foot is strapped into the board. Snowboarders with hard boots benefit from protected ankles, but they have a higher chance of twisting their knees.
To reduce your chance of suffering a knee injury, always make sure your ski bindings are properly adjusted according to your skill level. Expert skiers need tighter bindings to cope with their more aggressive skiing style, but beginner to intermediate skiers will benefit more from bindings that release upon impact.
If possible, try to fall to the side instead of backwards or forwards. This is less traumatic for your knees. Be cautious when making sharp turns. Strengthening your quad muscles (e.g. with wall sits, stair training, lunges or squats) and wearing a knee brace can also help defend against knee injuries.
While not as common as some other skiing and snowboarding injuries, damage to the spine can cause paralysis or death, so it’s definitely worth avoiding. Spine injuries in skiing and snowboarding can occur as a result of jamming your spine, or having your neck suddenly bent too far backwards or forwards.
This happens in collisions with objects or other skiers and snowboarders, when you land hard on your backside or when you land badly off a jump. Attempting jumps or tricks that are beyond you or going super fast are both good ways to incur a spine injury, so always stay within your skill level and keep a safe speed.
A less serious injury is a bruised tailbone, a common complaint in snowboarding because of the way snowboarders naturally fall with both feet strapped in. Beginner snowboarders or people who want to attempt a lot of tricks can wear padding to protect their tailbones.
Whiplash occurs often in snowboarding falls. Strengthening your core and your neck muscles and stretching before a day on the hill are two of the best ways to minimize whiplash. It’s important to follow up on whiplash if it lasts longer than a few days, as it can cause chronic problems down the line.
Skiing and snowboarding are extreme sports practiced in the great outdoors. We can’t always anticipate what Mother Nature is going to throw at us. Know how to evaluate the terrain and conditions before setting out. Remember to always do an easy warm-up run to assess the snow.
Beware of variable conditions such as poor visibility or flat light, intermittent weather or poor snow quality. Ride with a partner and stick to runs suited to your ability level.
If you do experience an injury while skiing or snowboarding, be sure to follow up on it. Many injuries can be treated by a qualified healthcare practitioner, but it’s up to you to get it checked out before it develops into something more chronic.