Pre-Season 2005
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speed alone seldom causes accidents & injuries; speed on crowded slopes often does.
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avoiding ski injuries
what you can do...

In this new section of my web site, I answer the most interesting email questions that I receive every month. Here is a recent one:

"Lito, Can you give me some pointers on how to avoid ski injuries...."
G.N.

This is an intriguing and complex question, that in itself, asks a few other questions. Because it brings up not just the topic of ski injuries but of safety on the slopes, and even asks, sotto voce, whether skiing can be considered a safe sport. My response to this most basic question is, yes, skiing can be a safe sport, but never 100% safe, never perfectly and totally safe.

In over 30 years of full-time professional skiing, I've been injured three times, only once seriously (a torn ACL or Anterior Cruciate Ligament) and happily I recovered pretty quickly in each case.

Skiing is after all an adventure, and the outcome of any adventure is always a little uncertain. The possibility of falling, falling in place or falling down a mountainside, and the counter-possibility of using good judgement, fitness and skill to avoid such mishaps, are both part of what makes skiing so exciting.

This said, there are a number of steps any skier can take to avoid on-slope injuries. Here is my list:

Fitness. Where it all begins. The better shape you are in, the less likely you are to get hurt. It's that simple. Don't try to ski yourself into shape. Figure out an exercise program for the off season, one that you enjoy, and stick with it.

One can make a good argument that skiing today is safer than ever, largely because modern bindings are so well engineered. It's true, our bindings will release and save our legs when when dangerous forces build up, but — and this is an important but — even the best modern bindings do little or nothing to protect skiers knees. To badly mix a metaphor, we could say that the knee is a skier's Achilles Heel. In terms of fitness, it is now understood that to protect the knee from skiing injuries, one needs not only leg strength, but balanced leg strength. It is vital to build strength in the hamstrings as well as the quads. And there is another trick too, that you can use to protect yourself from knee injuries: learning how to fall.

Learn to Fall. What a silly idea you may be thinking. One doesn't learn how to fall, one just falls. Well I am thinking about falling safely in situations that could break a skier's ACL. The dreaded anterior cruciate ligament is under particular stress if a skier is falling over backwards, In such cases athletic skiers often try to pull themselves up and forward, back to their feet, with their stomach muscles. Don't. If you find yourself in this position, seat low, knees deeply bent, falling back onto the tails of your skis, just relax and sit down, in the snow, to one side. It's much safer and you'll be up and skiing again in a moment.

Remember too, you are in a much better position in a fall if your skis are parallel. Skis in a wedge or stem or V position during a fall can be quite dangerous when they track in different directions.

Injuries from Collisions. This is worth a moment's thought. There is just no excuse for hitting another skier. This is the ultimate irresponsibility on skis. But we live in an imperfect world and there are irresponsible skiers just as there are irresponsible drivers on the highway. Keep your eyes open. Watch for blind openings into the trail you are on. And wear a helmet. I don't really like helmets, but on a crowded slope, on weekends, they are often the only sensible solution. And ski helmets are getting more comfortable every season.

I hope this short list of injury-prevention factors will be useful. But as I mentioned at the beginning, good judgement is at the core of safe skiing. I'm wishing you all a safe, and exciting season.
                                          Lito

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