Extreme sports are notorious for causing broken bones. However, the ski industry has millions of diehard fans, because a ski vacation is one that even the least-sporty person can enjoy. Despite how it may look to someone who has never skied before, it is actually a relatively easy sport to pick up. But it is also a fast-paced sport, one that involves sliding downhill over snow that could be concealing rocks, ice, or ditches. Even as a non-contact sport, serious injuries can happen suddenly. Knowing the risks of any sport allows us to properly plan for ways to prevent injury so that we can enjoy our favorite winter sports for years to come.
So what are some common injuries on the slopes? In general, skiers are especially prone to knee and thumb injuries. Meanwhile, snowboarders are more vulnerable to upper-body injuries in the wrist, elbow and shoulder. And everybody is susceptible to a head injury if they’re not wearing a helmet.
Below are 5 ski and snowboard injuries and how to avoid them:
Head injuries are both the scariest and easiest to prevent. Whether you’re an experienced or a first-time skier, it’s easy to slip and fall as you make your way down a mountain. While a lot of the time the snow will cushion your fall and you will be able to resume immediately, you could just as easily strike a tree or rock if you lose control. In general, Snowboarders are more likely to suffer injuries to the head because of their stance on the board and the fixed bindings, which can result in sort of “mousetrap” slam to the head.
It’s important to consider that even if you believe you are skilled enough not to fall on your head, it’s always possible that someone else can collide with you on the slope. A head injury can take the form of anything from a bruise to a concussion and even death. The best way to protect your head is to always wear a helmet during snowsports.
Knee injuries are very common in skiing. Ski boots are very stiff and encase the ankle and shin, which increases the risk that twisting impact from a fall will transfer to the knee. When bindings don’t release in a fall, the top of the leg can bend while the bottom remains immobile.
This twists the knee and can cause a sprained knee or the infamous torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or MCL (medial collateral ligament). Injuries are also possible to the medial meniscus.
While snowboarders less frequently experience knee injuries, these can still arise when getting on or off the chairlift, since only one foot is strapped into the board, or during a hard forward fall. Snowboarders riding alpine boards with hard boots have a higher chance of twisting their knees.
To reduce your chance of suffering a knee injury, always make sure your ski bindings are properly adjusted according to your skill level. Expert skiers need tighter bindings to cope with their more aggressive skiing style, but beginner to intermediate skiers will benefit more from bindings that release upon impact.
WRIST, ELBOW AND SHOULDER INJURIES
Upper-body injuries tend to happen more frequently to snowboarders, because their feet are fixed in place to their bindings. So, any kind of contortion during a fall will mostly take its toll on the upper body.
Beginners in particular – both skiers and snowboarders, often try to break a fall by flinging their arms out. The harsh landing can reverberate through the arm and cause a sprained or fractured wrist, a bruised or dislocated elbow and a host of shoulder injuries.
Wrist injuries are one of the most typical snowboarding injuries, but they can happen to skiers as well. A harsh landing after a fall can also cause a pulled shoulder ligament, a dislocated shoulder, a cartilage tear, a fracture, a shoulder separation, a rotator cuff injury or sometimes even a broken collarbone.
Wearing wrist guards, and not flailing your arms during a fall or jump can help prevent these injuries.
A common skiing injury is skier’s thumb, which refers to a sprained or torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Skier’s thumb accounts for about one out of 10 skiing injuries and is caused by landing on an outstretched hand while holding ski poles, forcing the thumb to bend sharply backward.
The risk of skier’s thumb can be greatly minimized by holding your poles properly, and letting go of your poles if you can when you’re falling.
While not as common as some other skiing and snowboarding injuries, damage to the spine can cause paralysis or death, so it’s definitely worth avoiding. Spine injuries in skiing and snowboarding can occur as a result of jamming your spine, or having your neck suddenly bent too far backwards or forwards.
This happens in collisions with objects or other skiers and snowboarders, when you land hard on your backside or when you land badly off a jump. Attempting jumps or tricks that are beyond you or going super fast are both good ways to incur a spine injury, so always stay within your skill level and keep a safe speed.
In general, prepare for winter sports by building strength in associated muscle groups and improving your general fitness level. This will help to avoid putting undue strain on certain parts of your body. Additionally, skiing according to the right skill level, using the right equipment and ensuring good technique by working with a qualified snowsports instructor can lower the risk of an accident or injury significantly.
In addition, a large percentage of skiers and snowboarders fail to throw evacuation insurance in their equipment bag when they hit the slopes.
Should an injury occur, and you are sent to the hospital, you can prevent the devastating effects of significant ambulance bills wiping out your savings, by purchasing Safe Descents Evacuation Insurance. For only $4.75 per day, you can secure $25,000 in coverage during your time on-snow.
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