Snow has finally arrived and so begins the skiing and riding season of 2017-2018. Each year, skiers and snowboarders constitute thousands of emergency visits to treat sprains, strains fractures and concussions.

Skiers typically suffer from lower extremity injuries including the dreaded ACL tear which can sideline you for the season with a four to six month recovery. Snowboarding, while typically easier on the lower body, is no stranger to wrist, elbow and shoulder injuries. Before you head to the mountain to get your turns in, heed the advice below to help keep you and your family injury-free this season.

  • Maintaining fitness throughout the year can prepare you for the snowy season and build your endurance — skier and rider fatigue from lack of fitness is a major injury risk factor. In addition, warm up before jumping on the lift or make your first runs on easier trails to get your legs ready for the day.
  • Proper maintenance of your equipment will help you ski or ride your best. Maintain edges, check bindings and wax appropriately for conditions. Helmets should be inspected for changes in fit and failure in material. Ill-fitting boots may also affect your ability to maneuver and prevent falls.
  • Be vigilant as changes in weather can leave you unprepared. Skiing and riding when you’re too cold can lead to stiffness and less resilient falls. Also, know when to head to the lodge if conditions are too icy.
  • Learn to fall. Falling will happen, no doubt about it… but your reaction to a fall can make or break your season. Keep arms in front of you if you begin to fall– reaching back with your uphill arm to brace yourself can increase torsion around the knee resulting in ligament sprains and ruptures. Keep knees soft and go with the momentum of a fall instead of resisting it.
  • Always wear a helmet. You have one brain and you’re going to need it. For information on helmet safety and fit tips, check out Live PHAT (Protect Your Head at All Times)
  • Avoid alcohol until after ski time as it delays reaction time needed to prevent falls and ski/ride safely.
  • Invest in lessons. Novice skiers and riders see high injury rates due to improper technique.
  • Wear sunscreen. We are still susceptible to the sun’s skin damaging effects during the winter – don’t forget your SPF.
  • Ski with a friend especially if skiing or riding off trail or in deep powder.
  • Take breaks. Skier and rider fatigue can contribute to injuries so know when to sit it out instead of heading up for one more run.

By Cristine Griffing, Certified Athletic Trainer for Northwestern Medical Center