There’s nothing quite like that giddy little kid feeling you get in the buildup to ski season. Visions of powder days, deep snowpack and distant peaks dance in your head while you go about preparing by getting back into shape, reorganizing gear, waxing skis and buying and testing new equipment. After all that anticipation, it’s a total bummer when we get injured early in the season because we're so amped about getting on the snow that we forget how early season hazards can wreak havoc on our equipment and our bodies.
Skiers and riders (primarily, it seems, the young, male ones) tend to charge out of the gates at the start of each season, like pent-up broncos blowing off steam. Enthusiasm pushes judgment aside and, before long, they've blown out a knee, ending their season well before the good, deep powder even has a chance to fall. “Whether or not you ski the resort or the backcountry, you need to take it slow,” says Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Mike Werner. “There’s no need to destroy your equipment, no reason to destroy your body.”
Early season snow is often shallow, loose and too weak to hold a charging skier. When you see an untracked snowfield, don't forget what lies beneath that irresistable new blanket of snow—rocks, sticks, log and probably holes. Hit any one of them and you're likely to snap a ski edge or a knee or, worse, your head. If ever there was a time for the old go slow to go fast maxim, early season skiing would be it.
Poorly maintained equipment can also lead to injury. Make sure you keep tabs on your gear before driving to the trailhead or resort. “You can’t leave all your gear in the garage for the summer months and expect it to be in perfect working order when you head out those first few times,” says Teton County, Wyoming, Search and Rescue worker Scott Stolte. “You’re just asking for trouble.”
The feeling of the powder turn is indescribably good. It’s like a drug, and many of us have made important life deciscions—where to live, what work to pursue, etc.—based on chasing it. But to get that feeling requires respect—for Mother Nature, for the mountains, for our bodies, and for snow sports. Bum rushing the mountains rarely goes well, and the would-be sublime moments are often never fully realized when we don’t take the time to ease into the season. As skiers and snowboarders, we should aspire to be better than that. The season isn't going anywhere, at least not yet. As someone who's witnessed far too many early season-ending injuries—and is tasked with the unfortunate job of tobogganing all of the yahoos off the mountain—Mike Werner has some simple, classic advice.
“It’s a long season,” he says. “It just pays to relax.” And that's what we're out there for, anyway, isn't it?