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Ski safety is no accident
By Marc Plante
Most people likely prefer to stay on top of their skis kicking up powder, not chasing after them or sitting in the chalet nursing frostbite. The men and women in the blue and yellow jackets, members of the Canadian Ski Patrol, have the same idea in mind – just have a great day on the hills. These volunteers are your neighbours, friends, co-workers and relatives, spending time and energy to promote safe skiing and boarding, and when things do go wrong, providing first aid in the snow.
The introduction of new high-speed, multiple-person chairlifts, and great deals on season’s passes means more people on the hills, and possibly more accidents. If you want to avoid one, a good start would be the basic elements of ski and snowboard safety:
Be aware of other people on the hill
Stay in control
Maintain your equipment
Ski or ride within your ability
Warm up, stretch before heading out, because skiing can push your body hard
Think of yourself as a driver and your skis or snowboard as the vehicle. On the road, do you merge into oncoming traffic without looking over your shoulder? Do you go hell-bent for speed, ignoring road signs? Do you accelerate downhill until you lose control?
If you’re alive and reading this, the likely answer is No, with a big N, so don’t do it on the slopes. Just like driving, alpine sports contain elements of speed, precision and decision-making. On the road, you don’t merge into oncoming traffic without checking, or park your car in the middle of the highway. You likely don’t blaze through red lights and stop signs. If it makes no sense on the highway, it makes no sense on the hill.
GET INTO PRE-SEASON SHAPE
Your most important piece of equipment is your body. Exercise and diet before the snow falls can make the winter months enjoyable and safe, free of needless injuries and with the satisfaction of quick recovery time from a hard day’s riding.
Staying physically fit is simple, even if you’ve spent the summer by the pool sipping margaritas and munching nachos. Try running, swimming, and biking. All you need is 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times a week. Or visit your local gym where the trainers would be happy to set you up with a program designed for leg strength and stamina.
In most ski areas, long gone are the days of slow, fixed-grip lifts. Those multi-passenger gondolas and high-speed chairlifts mean more of your time is spent on the snow instead of standing in line. Be smart and recognize when it’s time for a rest. The quicker your trip to the top of the mountain, the more runs you’re getting, the more you might be skiing yourself right into exhaustion.
MAINTAIN YOUR EQUIPMENT
Make sure your equipment is in top form, which means digging it out of the basement for a trip to the ski shop for a professional tune-up. Get your edges sharpened and have them fill in any gouges to your bases left over from last spring; check those DIN settings – they should be adjusted to your weight and level of expertise (both may have changed from last year!); and above all ensure your boots and bindings fit you as well as each other. If you get your skis and boards in early, you’ll be ready when the snow flies.
Listen to the weather forecast before you leave. Dress in layers, preferably in fabrics that wick moisture away from the skin (cotton is not one of these). Wear a hat – your mother was right, you lose precious body heat from an uncovered head. Socks, good; too many socks, bad. Layering many pairs of socks may not keep your feet warmer if your boots don’t fit, and that means less circulation and warmth in those tender toes.
You may not be at the beach, but snow glare can still lead to sunburn, so use that sunblock. At the other end of the spectrum is frostbite, so cover up on really cold days and protect those ears, nose, cheeks, fingers and toes. If you notice skin turning from rosy red to white and waxy splotches, go inside fast, warm up and cover up quickly. Never rub the affected area. Instead, use your hand, firm but still, to warm it slowly.
BE AWARE – SKI WITH CARE
Control… to have it, you must be aware of your skill level, the terrain and the people around you. Get distracted, go too fast, lose your confidence, forget about where you are or what you’re doing and you become a liability – to yourself and others!
Know the colour and shapes of signs on ski hills as well as you know traffic lights. A blue circle means a run designed for beginners; a green square indicates intermediate to advanced; black diamond (single, double) is for experts only. If you don’t have the skills, keep practising. Ski and ride within your ability and don’t bend to challenges to go somewhere scary.
Injuries can and do happen, but many are avoidable. Here’s some reasons they do happens:
-Fatigue. Just before lunch and after 2 p.m. energy levels are low and skiers and snowboarders get tired.
-Early season klutziness - when skiers and snowboarders are out of practice.
-Lousy weather. Can mean low visibility and ice. Skiers and boarders lose control when they encounter either.
-Poor judgment. Like, “Hmm, this looks pretty steep. I think I’ll try it anyway.”
-Speed and control. Dangerous when they don’t go hand in hand, and especially when the slope is crowded and doesn’t match the skill level of those on it.
-Lame gear. Improperly adjusted bindings or ill-fitting equipment increase the risk of injury.
So what should you do if you witness, find or are involved in an accident?
-Prevent further injury (to yourself and others). Mark the site by crossing your skis uphill from the accident. This is the universal signal for a skiing accident; it tells others to stay clear and signals the ski patrol that help is needed. If the injured person cannot be easily seen from above (such as the landing of a jump) send someone uphill to divert or slow the passing traffic.-Send someone for help. Notify the lift operator, a patroller or an employee – they can all get on the radio for help.
Clear the area. If people stop to help, thank them and let them know you have notified the patrol and ask them to move on down the hill.-Stay calm and stay with the injured person until help arrives. Do not move the injured person or give them anything to eat or drink, even if they ask. Do not remove skis, snowboards or boots.
-Once the patrol arrives, they are in charge. But stand by – they may need some information about what happened, or possibly even your help. Give a statement to the patrol once they are finished their rescue.
Bottom line is, check your equipment before you leave. Then when you get to the hill, watch where you’re going, dress for the weather, and stop skiing if you don’t feel well. This will mean days full of perfect turns, kicking 180s, and avoiding pain or worse. Have a great season!