So you’ve booked the flights, secured the chalet and started dreaming about blue skies and perfect powder. Now for the accidents and emergency talk. Hmm…
Let’s be honest, “injury prevention” is about the last thing we want to contemplate when it comes to a skiing holiday.
On the other hand, every winter sports adventure carries risk. Each year about 10,000 Britons are injured on the slopes. And of those, around a third will damage their knees.
In our experience, there are two major ways that people tend to do this.
The first is a meniscal tear. The meniscus is the protective cushion of cartilage inside your knee joint. It’s strong, but not so strong that it can withstand a powerful turning movement at speed – like the sudden torsion (rotation) that happens when your skis get twisted in a fall. If the twist is forceful enough, it will rip the cartilage.
This kind of rotating action is usually also what causes the second classic skiing injury: an ACL tear. That’s where the front-most ligament of your knee becomes ripped, or tears away from the bone. The likely result will be pain, swelling and instability – not to mention an early end to the skiing.
How can we best protect ourselves, then? Based on our experience, these are the six key ways:
Build your muscles
The problem with skiing is that we usually do it for one week out of 52. That means we’re putting a lot of unusual activity onto ill-prepared muscles. The burn you feel on Day 2 is the result of hundreds of tiny stress tears to the tissue (we call it delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS). So aim to strengthen your leg muscles in the weeks before you ski: focus particularly on your quadriceps and hamstrings. You’ll find some sample exercises here and here; they’re aimed at runners, but the principles still apply.
Do a dry run
An even better way to prep your muscles for skiing is to do the real thing. Or at least the closest thing you’ll find near Winchester. We’re lucky to have a choice of ski runs in our locality: the Alpine Snowsports Centre in Southampton or Snowtrax near Christchurch, to name a couple. The advantage of an artificial run is that you can build your strength and confidence before stepping into more unpredictable conditions. On which note…
Watch the weather
Every year we notice a rise in injuries around March. Why? Probably because warmer temperatures create softer or slushier snow. And while ice is more likely to cause head and upper limb injuries through harder falls, soft snow is perhaps more likely to catch the skis and cause twists – as this study from New Zealand implies. So always keep an eye on the forecasts when you head for the slopes – not just for the obvious fog and blizzard hazards, but for the powder under your skis.
Check your bindings
Modern, quick-release bindings have led to a massive fall in leg fractures over the past 30 or 40 years – around a 90% reduction, by some estimates. The flipside to this, however, is that knee twists and tears have greatly increased. One reason for this may be how the bindings behave in a fall; if the toe binding stays put while the heel releases, your knee is going to twist. The best advice here is to get your bindings adjusted by the pros at the resort – at the very least when you first arrive, and even on a daily basis.
Reduce the collision risk
Collisions – either with other skiers, or with obstacles on the piste – are of course a risk when skiing. America’s National Ski Areas Association has some useful advice about how to avoid them: be ready to slow down, stay alert to changing conditions and ease up at classic blind spots, such as uphill slopes and points where the ski traffic merges. Avoiding the crowds and taking a wide berth around other people – especially novices – will also dial down the risk factor.
Give alcohol a swerve
The big issue with alcohol is that it skews both judgement and our sense of risk(!). But drinking also impairs our proprioception, which is that subtle, finely balanced sense of how our body positions itself during movement. If you think how your body would react to walking along a curb with and without alcohol, for instance, you’ll understand what we mean. Most skiers enjoy a tipple with their après ski. That’s understandable. But it’s best left squarely to the après, not the avant.
If you’ve just had an accident on the slopes and need speedy advice or treatment, we can get you scanned, seen and treated very quickly. Click here to make a booking.