Person skiing down a mountain

Tips for Staying Safe on the Slopes

My first advice to anyone skiing this season is to either get much better, or, as I have done, get much worse. Not a lot of data shows high trauma at the bunny slopes as you snowplow your way to safety.

For those of you who won’t heed my encouragement/discouragement, I suggest getting yourself ready. Two ways you can get ready are to build your endurance and strength.  

BUILD YOUR ENDURANCE

  • Aim for 3 to 5 days a week of cardio for at least 20 minutes (e.g., running, stair climber, elliptical trainer).
  • As an alternative, perform one long, slow workout each week for 60 minutes to prepare for a long day of skiing.

BUILD YOUR STRENGTH

Focus on working the following muscle groups:

Quadriceps. Building these muscles helps you stay at the perfect angle.

  • Try deadlifts, one-leg deadlifts and step-ups.

Inner and outer thighs. Strengthening your thighs helps keep your skis together.

  • Do side lunges, sliding side lunges and side-step squats.

Calves. These muscles point your feet toward the ground and are constantly stretching and contracting.

  • Practice a standing calf raise.

Abdomen and back. Make sure you have good core muscles, because you will be in a flexed position, bent over.

  • Hold a plank for 60 seconds and repeat on either side.

COMMON SKI INJURIES

If you’re like me, and haven’t been working out for the last three months to get ready for ski season, watch out for these common injuries:

Knee Sprains

The most common injury on the list! Watch out for that twisting injury with a pop. The ligaments that hold the knee bones together and the cartilage that cushions the knee can suffer from a bad twisting accident.

Ankle or Foot Sprains

Almost as common as knee sprains are ankle or foot sprains. If the bindings on the skis do not let go when strained, the ankle joint ligaments can be injured, and the foot may suffer trauma.

Upper Body

If you have hurt your shoulder, there are several possible injuries that can occur. You can have a torn rotator cuff, from repetitive strain or in a fall. A shoulder separation, is a tear in the connection between the collar bone and the shoulder blade. It is usually treated with rest, ice and a sling. A shoulder dislocation is when the bone pops out of the joint space. This usually needs a reduction (realignment of the bone), sometimes a surgery.

Skier’s thumb: You can tear the muscle responsible for giving a “thumbs-up.” This happens when the ski pole twists the hand and thumb. Treatment is often with a cast or splint, but surgery may be required.

Wrist and finger fractures: We call this a FOOSH injury (Fall On an Outstretched Hand). Treatment is usually with splinting, but reduction or surgery may be required.

Head and Neck

Neck sprains and concussions aren’t as common, but still, don’t headbutt anyone. A helmet is always a good idea.

Some of the more insidious injuries would be frostbite and hypothermia. Remember, the first sign of a problem is feeling cold. Address it before you can’t feel your fingers, and before you are shivering uncontrollably.

People also will have delayed soreness; don’t be surprised if it takes a little more finesse to get off your couch the day after skiing.

The worst injuries usually involve falling off the ski lift or hitting a tree. I suggest not engaging in tree hitting or ski lift falling activities, even if you have a helmet. Even if someone dares you. And, don’t drink and ski!

Ross Klein is a physician assistant who works in Overlake's emergency department.