If anyone is thrilled about the wild winter the Portland metro area is experiencing it’s ski resorts and avid skiers. Throughout the Cascades the snowpack is at record levels — more than they have received in over a decade. As exciting as it can be to hit the slopes, skiing comes with many risks. Perhaps the biggest risk is the possibility of hitting other skiers or trees, which make up the majority of ski accidents. Hitting objects, falling, and even not dressing warmly enough can lead to a bad time. Consider the top most common injuries and learn how to avoid them for a safe and enjoyable ski season.
Before you even break any bones, being immersed in snow leads to Snow Immersion Suffocation, or SIS. This can happen when you fall into a tree well, which is usually not immediately visible. As you fall into the well, the snow can bury and suffocate you in a matter of minutes. Although this doesn’t occur often, it occurs more frequently than avalanches. You should always ski with a friend who can react to a life-threatening situation. You cannot expect a passing skier will notice you or rescue you in your time of need.
Frostbite can occur when a skier is not properly covered for the slopes. Even if the sun is shining bright, skiers should wear all the essential equipment in low temperatures and high wind chill. Dress in layers and be sure to keep your fingers and toes extra-warm, as these are the extremities most prone to frostbite. You will notice signs of frostbite appearing as white and red patches on the face. To prevent frostbite, cover up with insulating clothing, take breaks indoors and avoid staying in wet clothes or taking your boots off.
Like frostbite, hypothermia can creep up on you from being exposed to the elements for too long without adequate coverage or warm enough clothing. When a person’s’ internal body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia can start. The first symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, slurred speech, drowsiness and mild confusion.
To avoid hypothermia, every inch of your body should be covered if you’re spending a day on the slopes. Find shelter immediately and have a friend call for help if you notice symptoms.
Acute Mountain Sickness (ACM)
Acute mountain sickness affects skiers above 2500 meters. The high elevation depletes your oxygen levels and causes symptoms like vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath and swelling. To avoid ACM, simply do not ski above 2500 meters.
Broken legs are more common among inexperienced skiers, out-of-shape skiers, and skiers who try to show off by doing cool tricks; yet, even if you are in shape, simply losing control of your skis can lead to a leg injury. In all, they make up about 5% of ski accidents. The best way to avoid a leg injury is to properly condition your leg muscles before ski season even starts. You should also be aware of the signs throughout the obstacle and avoid skiing beyond your level of ability.
Even years of practice can make this a difficult habit to break. Skier’s Thumb occurs when a skier tries to break a fall with the hands. This is not advised, but it’s still a natural reaction to falling. As you fall, your hand extends to brace for the fall, but too many times skiers are also holding their poles. When the hand hits the ground the thumb hyperextends and causes a tear in the ligament. Not holding the pole when you fall greatly reduces your chances of tearing the ligament in your thumb. Skier’s Thumb makes a total of 10% of all accidents on the slopes.
Head injuries can cause significant damage. A serious head injury can be permanent. The most common type of head injury is a concussion, a brain injury which comes from a severe blow to the head. Signs that you have had a concussion include issues thinking and remembering, physical symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, headache, blurry vision, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise or trouble with balance; mood swings and changes in your sleep, such as sleeping too much or too little, or having trouble falling asleep. You do not have to pass out to experience a concussion.
The best way to avoid a concussion is to wear a strong helmet at all times. Skiers reach up to 80 MPH and when they trip or strike an object the impact is hard. Head injuries make up about 10-12% of all ski injuries.
The most common of all ski injuries is tearing your anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. There are two important ligaments in the knee, one of which is the ACL and the other is the PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). Together they connect the thigh bone with the tibia, a bone of the lower leg. These ligaments can be torn by sudden twisting motions. ACL injuries comprise up to 17% of injuries.
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