With the recent cold, hard conditions in the Pacific Northwest mountains, I ran into quite a few people who had questions about various things related to injuries this past week. Here are some things you probably didn’t know, that might help make your next visit to the mountains a little more enjoyable.
- The rate of injuries requiring care of a physician in skiing & snowboarding is something like 1 per 1,000 visitor days. Disclaimer: of course that varies a lot based on a whole bunch of different factors, but generally, skiing and snowboarding compare quite favorably with other common sports like biking, swimming and tennis. And really, how often do you bike, swim, or play tennis all day? Ok, sometimes some people bike all day, but you get what I’m sayin? Statistically, if you ski/board 50 days a season for 20 years, you’ll only get hurt on the last day. Just stay in the Lodge with your schnapps that day, and you should be fine! (insert winky emoticon here)
- I had a couple people ask about shoulder injuries and snowboarding, and actually, it appears shoulder injuries are pretty evenly divided between skiing and boarding. Boarders get more wrist injuries and skiers more knee injuries. Once you take into account all the various age and attitude factors that can vary between people, the chances of getting hurt skiing versus snowboarding appear to be about equal.
- Generally, most injuries occur to “Intermediate” skiers and boarders. The theory is that beginners go slower and are more cautious, and experts have learned little tricks for avoiding getting hurt (like taking ski pole straps off your wrists when you’re skiing in trees!) so that most of the getting-injured happens to the people in between. Consider professional instruction to help you progress between skill plateaus, and pay attention to the habits and attitudes of long-time boarders and skiers who have avoided (or learned from) injury. Some of those grey-haired rippers have much wisdom to impart, Grasshopper!
- Pay attention to signs. If you’re going too fast to read ‘em, then you’re going too fast! This past week we had a few people get their shorts in a knot because they took long slides after entering areas with “Caution, Long Slides Possible” signs at the top, and had to walk on rocks after choosing a route past “Caution, Walking on Rocks Required” signs. My heart certainly goes out to anyone who got frightened or injured, but my gratitude goes to those who did so and still acknowledged reading the signs and accepting the risks! (Take-away: Please read the signs! We put ’em there for you!)
- Just because your girlfriend / boyfriend / buddy / husband / wife finally feels comfortable on a “green circle” Easier trail, it does NOT mean it’s a smart idea to take them to the top of a really steep mountain because there’s a great view. No matter how “athletic” your companion is, it’s all about gradual progression to steeper and more-challenging terrain. Frightened newbies walking down slick slopes in ski–or worse, snowboard–boots will just end up hating mountain sports. Wanna really do ‘em a favor? Buy ‘em a lesson with a professional instructor! (And tell all your friends that metal edged skis & boards are much better than plastic or rubber edged boots when conditions get firm!)
- On clear cold days, it’s real easy to mis-perceive how fast you’re going. You want to be thinking “Where am I going to end up if I fall down and start sliding?”, then realize you’re probably gonna slide farther and smack into things harder, than you think. (And remember, Washington’s ski/snowboard law sez not to “act in a manner that may contribute to the injury of yourself or any other person”.) Related to that…..
- Hey, that new helmet Gramma got you for Christmas may look all swanky, but it only reduces head injuries, it doesn’t eliminate them! When your body stops quickly so does your head, and your brain keeps moving forward until it smacks up against the inside of your skull. Helmets are a great idea, but there’s a limit to how much they can reduce your noggin’s sudden deceleration, so you still gotta keep in control and avoid hitting hard objects if you fall!
Interested in reading more about how humans perceive (and perhaps mis-perceive) the safety provided by head protection? Follow what’s happening in the NFL here or here, etc. and read the National Ski Areas Association’s Helmet Usage Fact Sheet.
- Most injuries happen just before lunch and just before the end of the day. The prevailing theory is that THAT’S when people are most tired and are giving it all they got before heading in. So the lesson here? Be MORE cautious, not less, as you get more fatigued so you can come back and have more fun another day!