A new ski season is always time for celebration. Chances are it’s been a few months since you’ve donned those rigid boots or bombed down a mountain on some fresh snow and the idea of getting back out there is probably more exciting than you can explain. While that feeling is fantastic, a new season also comes with the possibility of injury and that’s the last thing you want getting in the way of your winter ski sessions.
To help you avoid the potentially painful break in your season, we spoke with two experts on snow sport injury, Dr. Scott Faucett an orthopedist and assistant professor at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Dr. David McAllister who specializes in sports medicine and orthopedic surgery and works with the UCLA Athletic Department. They shed some light on common ski injuries, treatment and, most importantly, prevention.
Though the most common ski injuries are different from common snowboarding injuries, the causes of accidents are the same. Misinterpreting conditions on the mountain plays a big role in accidents, said Faucett. It’s not necessarily poor conditions, but the trouble is when you don’t see a patch of ice or an unexpected drop, added McAllister. Trying to ride above your level is a major cause of injury as well.
According to The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, insufficient rest through long periods of activity, dehydration, altitude sickness or improper or faulty equipment can all cause skier injury.
A knee ligament injury is hands down the most common ailment for skiers (think Lindsey Vonn) but jumps and tricks can lead to more serious injury of the back, neck and head, said Faucett. While you can’t design an accident-safe boot, there are a few things you can do to prevent these and other injuries. First, remember why most of these injuries occur—be aware of the conditions, monitor your energy level and stay within your limits.
Skiers can greatly minimize the risk of devastating knee injury by making sure bindings are fitted correctly. Bindings should be loose enough to release the boot in the event of a fall, especially for beginners. Major ligament tears happen when the bindings don’t release and the knees twist with the ski, said McAllister. You might also want to wear a knee brace, for an added bit of protection.
Training your muscles in the off-season will help prevent injury too and starting off your slow helps. Make time for warming up your muscles—even though jumping jacks may look silly, cold muscles are more prone to injury. You’ve heard this a million times as a kid, but seriously, wear a helmet. “A helmet will not prevent catastrophic head injury but it will help with minor concussions and low grade injuries,” said Faucett.
For beginners, professional instruction pays off, said McAllister. The same goes for people looking to try out terrain parks; they can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. And as a general principle, “the more energy involved, the more catastrophic these injuries will be,” said McAllister.
After injury, treatment depends on the damage. Treatment ranges from alternating ice and heat to ligament reconstruction and setting broken bones. McAllister has treated many snow sport injuries and says people are hardly ever deterred from returning to the mountain. “Most people want to be fixed up quickly so they can get back out there.”
If you're injured get medical attention, said Faucett. A visit to the doctor will likely pay off in shorter recovery time and you'll be less likely to suffer reoccurring injuries.