For many Las Vegans, there’s no better escape from the desert than hitting the slopes come December. While snow sports such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and sledding offer a much-needed release, they also can lead to injury if safety precautions aren’t taken.
“Most of us can avoid common injuries when doing any sport by routinely exercising, strengthening and using the proper technique and gear,” said Cef Villafuerte, PT, MBA, WCC, Director of Rehabilitation Services at MountainView Hospital.
Before packing up and heading to the mountains this winter, be sure you’re prepared for a safe trip.
Common winter-sports injuries
There are many types of injury that can occur while participating in winter sports. The most common are sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures, but each sport comes with its own specific risks. “A study by the National Ski Areas Association in 2010 found that the most common injuries were to the knees of skiers. Snowboarders typically injure their wrists and ice skaters typically suffer concussions,” Villafuerte said.
In general, skiers tend to hurt their legs, snowboarders tend to hurt their upper body and ice skaters tend to hurt their head.
Which snow sports yield the most injuries?
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons cites a 2015 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reporting over 246,000 people were treated for winter sports-related injuries that year.
Ice skating: 50,000
Sledding, tobogganing and tubing: 47,000
“Skiing tends to be the most dangerous, and tubing, at resorts at least, is generally the safest. However, the reality is that a person also could get a traumatic brain injury just from slipping on some ice,” Villafuerte said. Rather than limit your recreational activity, it’s important to take steps to minimize the associated risks.
Tips for staying safe on the slopes
While snow sports are seasonal, conditioning and staying active year-round is an integral component in staying safe during the winter. “Regardless of the sport, 30 minutes of daily exercise and stretching will decrease the risk for many injuries,” Villafuerte said.
Other safety tips include:
Wear proper safety guards:
Helmets, wrist guards, kneepads, goggles, gloves and padding. Additionally, be sure to wear light layers of water- and wind-resistant clothing, as well as ankle-supporting footwear and warm socks.
Don’t over-exhaust yourself:
Many injuries occur in the evening when people are tired and have been on the slopes all day, so be sure not to push yourself too far, and rest when you need it.
Go with friends and family:
Always have a buddy and never participate in winter sports alone, especially if you’re in a secluded area.
Professional lessons can be helpful for everyone, especially beginners. Learning proper technique early can help prevent injury later.
Don’t fight the fall:
“It’s important to allow yourself to fall and learn to enjoy the momentary lapse of volitional control. A common reflex is to lock the arms and fall on your hands and wrists. It’s much better to try to have your forearms absorb the fall, and to sit back when you can, rather than falling forward,” Villafuerte said.
Stay in the designated areas of the resort:
There can be many unforeseen dangers in areas less traveled, even if it’s just a small slope.
Be aware when sledding:
Often, skiing, snowboarding and ice skating require you to be at professionally run resorts or rinks, but if you’re in a snowy area, sledding can be done just about anywhere. While the versatility of sledding is part of its appeal, it can add to the associated risks. When sledding, it’s useful to use a sled that steers, and it’s also important to never go head-first or at night, unless the area is well lit. “Additionally, even though it’s tempting to use garbage bags and plastic sheets to sled on, it’s not recommended because they can be pierced by sharp objects, which can cause injury,” Villafuerte said.
Everyone should be cautious, even experienced participants
Even if you consider yourself to be a sage and well-seasoned skier, snowboarder or ice skater, you are still susceptible to injury.
“I always see the best skiers get injured the worst,” Villafuerte said. Being overly confident can lead some to push their personal limits, neglect proper safety guards and allow their attention to wane. Regardless of how adept your abilities are, don’t lose sight of the safety basics.
Villafuerte also recommends cross-training when working out to prevent injury and ensure that all parts of the body are strengthened and muscularly supported.