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Safety and Fun With Skiing and Snowboarding

The temperature has dropped and the snow has started to fall.  That means it is time to get out on the slopes and trails and enjoy some popular winter sports! Skiing (downhill and cross country) and snowboarding are great ways to stay fit and have fun in the winter months. Avoiding injury while having fun is the name of the game when you step out into the cold outdoors this winter. We'll outline some common winter sport injuries and how to avoid these injuries.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are very physically intense sports and are not for the faint hearted. Falls are the primary cause of injuries in these two sports, accounting for approximately 75% to 85% of injuries. Collisions, including those with other skiers/snowboarders, account for 11% to 20%, while incidents involving ski lifts contribute to the remainder of injuries sustained (Statistics obtained from The American College of Sports Medicine). Two common injuries that involve the shoulder and/or the wrist occur when individuals reach out to break a fall. These injuries include shoulder dislocation and/or fractures as well as wrist fractures. Additionally, knee injuries are common, especially involving the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL). An MCL injury can occur with slow twisting falls or when beginners maintain a snowplow position for lengthy periods and place excess strain on the ligament. The ACL can be injured when falling backwards while the legs twist/rotate, causing shearing forces and a possible tear. Foot and ankle injuries can occur with suboptimal alignment and/or absorption when landing a jump. Head injuries can also occur when people fall or endure a collision. With cross country skiing, the most common injuries are overuse injuries and include medial-tibial stress syndrome, achilles tendon problems and lower back pain. 

Avoiding injury will keep you fit and active.  Here is quick 20-point checklist to help you tackle the mountain safely:

  1. Check the weather and slope conditions.  Along with this information, evaluate your experience level and whether today is a good day for you to hit the slopes (for example, if you are a beginner, you will be more likely to get injured on icy slopes).
  2. Check your equipment.  Have your bindings professionally evaluated before you hit the slopes.  Bindings can seize up due to infrequent use or they may have been altered with shared use of the skis, not allowing them to release properly as needed in a fall.
  3. Wear a helmet and googles to protect your head and eyes and increase visibility in snowy conditions.
  4. Keep up with your cardiovascular fitness by exercising in the off season so that you are able to tolerate the altitude changes that typically accompany skiing out West.
  5. Build strength and muscle endurance in your quads, hamstrings, and hips to tolerate the prolonged squatting positions typical with skiing.
  6. Build agility work into your fitness program to allow your body to tolerate the quick turns and moves needed at times to avoid other persons and/or obstacles while skiing/snowboarding.
  7. Be sure to wear layers of clothing so that you are able to accomodate varying climate changes and/or activity levels throughout the day, to optimize your performance.
  8. If you are a beginner, take a lesson and learn how to fall (yes, there is an optimal way to fall to avoid injury). It should go without saying, but ski on hills rated for your skill level.
  9. If you are an experienced skiier/snowboarder, but have not been out in some time, refresh your skills by taking a lesson before you hit the slopes.  Start out on easier trails to begin your day.
  10. Avoid slopes with moguls if you have a history of knee problems.
  11. Study the trails and decide which ones will match your skill level.  Know which trails and which lifts lead to which slopes so that you do not end up in an area above your skill level.
  12. Be cognizant of any loose tags, zippers, loops, etc that might be hanging off of your clothing.  These can get caught on ski lifts, making it difficult for your to embark off of ski lift, with an obvious risk of injury.
  13. If you are unsure of a slope, it is best to ask a ski patrol or ski instructor which ones they would recommend for you.
  14. All skiiers should warm-up on an easier trail and move onto more difficult trails as you acclimate to skiing again.
  15. Learn and follow skier etiquette and rules (i.e., who has the right of way when trails/slopes meet/cross).  Every mountain will have printed skier/snowboarder rules.
  16. Stay hydrated.  Even though it is cold outside, your body is losing fluid through sweat.
  17. Ski with enough control that you are able to stop and/or turn should another out of control skiier come into your path.
  18. Make sure you keep your head/eyes up, especially before you merge onto a trail.
  19. Be aware of fatigue.  Take rest breaks as needed.  There are usually different lodges/buildings interspersed throughout large ski mountain areas for this purpose.
  20.  Injuries are likely to occur at the end of the day when you are fatigued.  Choose easier trails/slopes for the last hour or two of your sporting day.
  21. Know your body and don’t push it too far.  If you are very sore from the day before skiing, it might be a good idea to make the next day a rest/hot tub day.

   Lastly, if you do fall or sustain an injury while skiing or snowboarding, make sure that you stay where you are and wait for the ski patrol to arrive and assist you. You may cause further injury if you attempt to move improperly or without aide. Hopefully, if you follow these tips to avoid injury, the only time you may see the ski patrol is in the lodge warming up after a fun day on the hills.

  If you would like information from our clinic regarding our customized sports performance packages that we offer or if you need to be evaluated following a winter sports injury you recently sustained, please call us at (630) 230-9565 or email us at info@dptsport.com.  DPT Sport is the premier physical therapy and wellness clinic in the Burr Ridge/Hinsdale area, offering evidence-based physical therapy and post-surgical rehabilitation as well as a multitude of customized wellness and injury prevention programs.