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The importance of knowing how to ski safely on the slopes

For those of us lucky enough to head off to the mountains this winter, skiing will be something we look forward to with anticipation for weeks in advance because there is just nothing like it. The wind rushing past your head; the sun on your face; the twists, turns and jumps; and the sensation of being able to fly.

However, in the last few years, several high profile news stories, both from famous celebrities and British holiday makers, have drawn our attention to the possible dangers of skiing. Crowded pistes, professional grade equipment and the popularity of wearable cameras seem to have conspired to make skiing an extreme sport. But by following a few simple safety rules, you can always be sure that you are doing everything possible to avoid injuring yourself or other piste users.

1. Don’t Drink and Ride

It seems so obvious, yet at some point during a skiing holiday, most people do it. Alcohol makes us feel happy and confident and often gives a nervous or inexperienced skier a feeling of being a little more supple. This might be true but just as with driving, it also makes you less aware and slows down your reaction speed.

Just like drink-driving, drink-skiing is dangerous and irresponsible. But unlike driving, on this road, there are no airbags and there are kids driving too. We know that part of the enjoyment of a skiing holiday is at least one long lunch with wine, but so many injuries, from bumped heads to broken legs and worse are the result of drink-riding that it really can’t be ignored. If you do choose to have even one small drink on the piste, bear it in mind and ride slowly and carefully. If you realise that you have had too much, go the easiest way back to your chalet, or better still, ride the gondola back down the hill.

2. Speed Kills

Studies show that crashes and falls at 30Kmph are more likely to result in death or serious injury than those at lower speeds. Skiing fast is dangerous to you and to others around you. If you do want to try your hand at speed skiing, join a club which specialises in speed skiing. Alternatively, many resorts have speed pistes, a legacy from when they hosted the Winter Olympic Games. These are really the only sensible options for speed demons.

3. Know Your Limits

Skiing is not a sport for the faint hearted. Most skiers go on holiday with a bucket list. While we would never want to deter anyone from working on their skills, and while you do need to push your limits to do this, at the same time, you need to be conscious of your abilities and approach any skiing goals appropriately.

With the emergence of snowboarding, more and more resorts have embraced snow parks and likewise, more and more skiers have decided to try to give it a go. If you do want to try freestyle skiing it’s a good idea to get some training first. Plenty of UK dry-slopes and indoor facilities offer lessons. Don’t do what so many skiers do and decide to ‘give it a go’ on your last day. You might land your first 360, you might not. Either way, trying it out on the last day, isn’t going to give you the stylish video clip you envisioned. Likewise, stick to the slopes within your proficiency level. You may want to try the blacks, but unless you’re up to them, you won’t enjoy it anyway.

4. Take Lessons

We can’t stress this enough. Taking lessons will not only ensure that you get the most out of your ski trip but it will also teach you to ski in a safe and controlled manner. There are plenty of very good self-taught skiers out there but there are just as many accident prone self-taught skiers. Learn from a professional how to ski defensively as well as how to fall and land.

5. Wear a Helmet

Image of snowboarder going downhill with a mountain backdropThis is something of a hot topic. Several resorts in Europe and the USA have adopted helmet rules, especially for children, but remember, a helmet can only protect you against relatively gentle falls and collisions. At around 25 to 30 kmph, a standard ski helmet cannot protect you from injury and there are other factors to consider too. Riding in a helmet, may give the skier a false sense of security and encourage them to push their speed and limits more than they would without the helmet. Some studies have also concluded that skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets, turn their heads less than piste users without and may be more unaware of their surroundings.

We stand by the rule, that small children should always wear helmets, both to protect them from their own falls and from impacts by others. We also say that wearing a helmet in the park, when riding rails or kickers at low speed, will protect you from frequent, low level head-to-surface impacts. However, as an adult, skiing on the piste, you should treat your helmet as a protective gear with very real limitations. It will protect you against low speed slips falls and tumbles and may protect you from a serious head injury at low speed but to be effective, a helmet must be used in conjunction with points 2 and 3 above.

6. Wear the Right Clothing and Goggles

On a slightly lighter note, a good and safe skier is one who rides with open eyes. Invest in a good pair of goggles with changeable lenses for different snow conditions. Sunglasses should be kept for lunchtime. Likewise, choose properly fitting, ski-appropriate clothing to ensure that you stay warm and don’t overheat on the slopes. Think of bright and colourful shades if you want to be seen easily. Leave black and white to the fashionistas. Most importantly, make sure that your clothing doesn’t flap or have lose straps or buckles which can fly up and hit you or become caught in a lift.

7. Ski With a Friend

Skiing is an inherently social sport and most people enjoy skiing with company. The advantages of skiing with friends are manifest. If you twist a wrist or worse, you have someone to hold your poles and to help you get down the mountain safely. A friend will also be able to raise the alarm if you don’t show up at the bottom of the hill.

8. Keep Fit and Warm Up

While no other form of exercise can really prepare you for a week of skiing, staying relatively fit will help you to avoid the pulls and strains associated with low fitness levels. It’s also a good idea to warm up before skiing and after a long lunch. Before you put your boots on, try a quick jog up and down the hotel staircase. Stretch after you’ve warmed up and take advantage of the chalet steam cabin to ease sore end-of-the-day muscles. But don’t overdo it.

9. Read The Safety Rules

Close up of a skier going downhill with a mountainous backdropMost American and European resorts have a set of safety rules. They expect skiers to follow them and they are usually pretty straightforward. These rules act as a kind of Highway Code for the slopes and include issues such as rights of way. For example, most resorts hold the skier skiing from above as completely responsible for any accidents. This means that if you are overtaking another slope user, you need to give them enough room to make the most ridiculous of manoeuvres without the risk of you running into them.

However, one exception to this rule relates to quick stops or hockey stops on intersections or anywhere other than at the side of the piste or the bottom of the slope. While pulling a controlled hockey stop to look back for slower friends feels great, if someone is following too closely behind or doesn’t have good control themselves, the stopped skier may find that they don’t have time to turn and manoeuvre away. Remember, if your skis are facing forward when you’re hit, your skis and your body will move and reduce some of the force of the impact. If you are face sideways you’ll be knocked over.

Most resorts also have a set of rules regarding lift use. It goes without saying, proper lift behaviour is crucial to your safety. Look out for signs telling users to remove backpacks. Remember if you can’t dismount while holding your backpack, you should leave it at the chalet.

And Finally…

Skiing is hard work and requires a lot of energy. If you feel hungry or thirsty, get something to eat or drink. If you’re tired, physically or mentally, take a break or head home for the day. And it goes without saying, if you’re unwell or hung-over, stay off the slopes, read these safety tips and get ready for a new day of safe skiing tomorrow.