Skiing and snowboarding are not exactly dangerous sports yet there is an element of risk involved. On some level, the risk, coupled with the judgment and physical skill acquired through practice, are what entices and challenges riders and skiers to pursue the sport.
Nevertheless, these factors also cause the majority of injuries and fatalities. During the 1996-’97 season, the National Ski Areas Association reported 36 skiing fatalities and 45 serious injuries such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, comas and head and spinal injuries.
Experts say the key to walking away uninjured from a day of skiing or riding is remaining in control.
“A lot of accidents are caused by people going too fast and not being able to stop,” said Dave McConnell, director of ski patrol at Heavenly Ski Resort. “People ahead of you have the right of way. If you are behind someone, it’s your responsibility to stop or maneuver around them.”
Studies show that the most fatalities and injuries occur in males in their late teens to late 20’s who are usually better than average skiers and riders and enjoy high speeds. In fact, of the 45 serious injuries recorded during the 1996-’97 season, 37 were males.
Marie Sweeney, risk management supervisor at Sierra-at-Tahoe, said awareness is the key to slope safety.
“Be aware of what’s going on and don’t think others won’t run into you,” Sweeney said. “Don’t stop in the middle of the run. Be aware of where you’re at and what you’re doing.”
McConnell notes that people should always ski and ride within their own level of ability, respect their limitations and listen to their bodies.
“Stop when you are tired,” McConnell said. “About 90 percent of our accidents occur at the end of the day. Over and over again it’s about people pushing themselves to do just one more run instead of coming back another day.”
People experiencing a problem, such as instability in the knees or a pop in a joint, should immediately get off the slope, cross their skies and wait for ski patrol.
“Even if you think it’s minor, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” McConnell said. “People should also get their equipment checked out. A lot of our early season injuries are a result of equipment not functioning. It’s just a matter of taking it to the shop and having the bindings adjusted.”
Skiers and riders should always bring appropriate clothing to accommodate changing weather conditions, as well as eye protection and sunscreen.
“Visitors should also be conscious of the altitude change,” McConnell said. “You need to rest, eat and remain fully hydrated to deal with it. Listen to your body, it knows how it feels and it will warn you if something is wrong.”
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