How to Avoid the Most Common Ski and Snowboard Injuries
A veteran ski patroller offers tips for skirting a nightmare on the slopes this winter
Nothing says “winter” like a day spent on the slopes: crisp mountain air, fresh powder and a great workout, to boot.
But as anyone who’s spent time on the trails knows, skiing is not a risk-free proposition. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), almost 144,000 ski injuries and 148,000 snowboard injuries happen each year. Poor conditions, improperly used equipment and a lack of experience are just a few ways a fun day can turn into a nightmare.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid getting hurt — and make the most of your lift ticket purchase — with the right know-how. Here are the most common injuries and how to avoid them.
What’s most likely to get hurt
Thumbs. “The thumb is the body part that most often goes unnoticed,” says Betsey Reid, Director of Ski Patrol for Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Massachusetts. “We call it ‘skier thumb,’ which happens when the skier falls on the hard snow — with their pole in hand — which causes damage to the ligaments. A lot of people have experienced it, myself included.”
“Thumbs can be sprained, too,” she adds, whether you’re on skis or a snowboard.
Knees. “The next most common injury we see are sprained knees,” says Reid, caused by falls, rough terrain and general wear and tear.
Lower arms. This one’s specific to snowboarders, who are often more prone to falling due to the nature of their equipment (having both feet latched onto one plane). “Just as skiers can experience ‘skier thumb’ when they fall, snowboarders are prone to fracturing their lower arms, which happens when they fall with an outstretched hand,” says Reid. According to Reid, snowboarders are more prone to injury in general. “If you look at the averages, for every 1,000 skiers, 2.5 of those will get injured. For every 1,000 snowboarders, the number triples: 6.97 will get injured.”
There’s no surefire way to prevent an injury. But after 31 years of rescuing injured skiers, Reid has this advice.
1. Use your own gear and make sure the equipment and your bindings are adjusted correctly by a technician. “Ski equipment these days is pretty modern, and when set correctly, it works in conjunction with the person’s height, weight and ability,” says Reid.
2. Take lessons, “even if you’re advanced, to make sure you know how to ski and ride correctly,” advises Reid. “Getting down the mountain effectively is a combination of skill, experience and plain luck,” says Reid. “Knowing how to fall is important,” which is why taking a lesson, especially for beginners, is key. “You want to ski carefully, and avoid other people and objects."
3. Pick the right trails for your level. “Skiing within your ability is very important,” says Reid. Review a trail map before you get started (most are small enough to fit in a jacket pocket), and pay attention to signage as you go, noting trail difficulty and closed-off areas.
4. Stay hydrated. “On a cold day, you need to drink enough water,” says Reid. “Hypothermia is more apt to set in with someone who doesn’t stay hydrated and eat enough.” Start your day with a healthy, nutrient-packed breakfast. You can also pack healthy snacks, like bananas, nuts, seeds and granola, with your gear for fuel on the go,.
And remember — even professional skiers fall down sometimes. But if you’re skiing or boarding smartly, you’ll cut you risk of a crack, fracture or sprain and be able to dust yourself off for another run.